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Shock Trauma anti-violence worker held in federal drug case

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After leading a life of crime, being charged with murder and being shot, Howard McCray was ready for a change. In 2008, he began working with Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he had been treated for gunshot wounds, to reach out to other victims who come through the hospital to help them reform.

The work he did with Shock Trauma’s Violence Prevention Program received national attention, with McCray appearing on CNN and National Public Radio. “I’m a changed man,” McCray said in the CNN segment.

But on Thursday, federal authorities unsealed criminal complaints charging McCray, 33, and 10 others with being affiliated with a drug trafficking conspiracy that involved couriers sent across the country to bring drugs back to Baltimore on buses. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

McCray and the other defendants made their initial appearances in U.S. District Court Thursday afternoon. His court appointed attorney, Carmen Hernandez, said he “asserts his innocence,” and declined to comment further, saying she did not know the details of the case.

In an affidavit unsealed Thursday, authorities recount wiretapped phone conversations in which they allege McCray arranged drug transactions, with some conversations taking place while he was at work at the hospital. One wiretapped phone number had the last four digits of McCray’s work number listed on Shock Trauma’s website. Late Thursday, his name had been removed.

“I was trying to make a sale. A crack sale,” McCray said in one recorded call in March, records show.

At Shock Trauma, McCray met with victims of violence, helping connect them with community programs and facilitating weekly, two-hour “Brother-to-Brother” support group conversations. The program was started in 2000, and has been credited with significant reductions in the number of patients who make a return visit to the hospital.

Dr. Carnell Cooper, who runs the Violence Prevention Program, said in a brief interview that he was not aware of McCray’s arrest.

“I'm surprised, very surprised,” Cooper said. “He was doing quite well.”

A spokeswoman for the University of Maryland Medical System, which runs the trauma center, said they were investigating the matter.

McCray, a round man known as “Pooh,” ran into trouble at least twice since he began working at Shock Trauma, court records show. A Shock Trauma supervisor wrote to the judge in his case asking for leniency so he could keep doing his job.

McCray was pulled over in January 2011 in Baltimore County, and police smelled an “overwhelming” odor of marijuana, records show. At the Pikesville station, where he was taken for booking, he dropped 12 plastic baggies containing crack cocaine that had been concealed in his sock, which he told police he intended to sell. Another baggie dropped from his pant leg, and more drugs were found during a strip search, records show.

McCray received a four-year suspended sentence in November 2011 and was placed on probation. In February 2012, he was recognized as one of the University of Maryland Medical System's employees of the month.

In March 2012, he wrote to the court on Shock Trauma letterhead, asking to be taken off home detention. Nicole Otto, his supervisor at the Violence Prevention Program, or VPP, also wrote to the court on Shock Trauma letterhead, saying that McCray was not able to make visits to clients in jails and prisons due to an ankle monitoring device. Both letters are in the court file.

“I am well aware that Mr. McCray is due some consequence for his discrepancies, however I would like [sic] advocate for Mr. McCray for this particular consequence to be reconsidered for the welfare of our clients at VPP,” Otto wrote.

He was arrested again in June 2012 after being stopped in his car with marijuana in plain view, according to police. McCray denies that in a court filing. Though records show prosecutors wanted a conviction, which would have triggered a probation violation, the case was later dropped. A spokesman for the Baltimore state’s attorney did not respond to questions about the charges being dropped.

In 2000, McCray was twice charged with murder and both cases were dropped, records show.

This week’s criminal complaint alleges that McCray was affiliated with a drug trafficking organization that operated mostly in the area around Coppin State University. The affidavit says members of the organization held drug meetings in Pigtown and owned homes throughout the city through a limited liability corporation, which investigators said was a common way to launder drug proceeds or stash product.

Malone had women act as couriers, sending them to places like Arizona and Texas to retrieve drugs and bring them back on Greyhound buses, records show. 

The affidavit provides detail on code language used in drug dealing — for example, the affidavit alleges that on Feb. 28, McCray walked out of the hospital to the corner of Pratt and Paca streets to sell a “vic,” seven grams of marijuana that gets its nickname from NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s uniform number.

At one point McCray, who made $40,000 in his position at Shock Trauma, according to court records from an arrest last summer, told another man charged in the case that he “needs to get a J-O-B,” the records show.

Cooper, of the Violence Prevention Program, said he believed McCray had done a “good job” at walking the line of interacting with men engaged in criminal activity without straying himself. “He's a human being, and he is not obviously making a lot of money in his job and is trying to meet the needs for his family,” Cooper said. “But that's not an excuse. ... It's disappointing.”

Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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