As FBI agents investigating the Black Guerrilla Family gang closed in on a new round of suspects in the Baltimore jail corruption case this fall, one of their targets packed his bags and left the country.
Derrick Jones, a corrections department K-9 officer, was shipping out to Afghanistan with the Maryland National Guard. Now authorities are faced with the unusual challenge of how to get him back to Baltimore for trial.
One of 14 corrections officers named in charges unsealed last month, Jones stands out because of his long military record as well as his seniority at the Baltimore City Detention Center. In intercepted phone calls, gang leader Tavon White allegedly described Jones as his "homeboy."
Jones, who lives in Aberdeen, has been accused of smuggling cellphones into the jail for White and other inmates over several years. The FBI contends the phones were a vital tool as gang members arranged to bring contraband, such as cigarettes and drugs, into the jail and send the proceeds out to the street.
The FBI said Jones made $3,000 to $5,000 each week smuggling banned items for a single unnamed inmate.
That far exceeded Jones' combat pay in Central Asia, which amounted to several hundred dollars a month. In Afghanistan, Jones is earning a total of about $6,000 per month in base salary and other pay, according to a military spokesman. As a corrections officer, he made about $3,300 a month in base pay, according to state records from 2011.
The 1229th Transportation Company, in which Jones holds the rank of staff sergeant, deployed to Afghanistan in mid-October, following a round of training at Fort Hood in Texas. He had been promoted in August and has been in the military since 1991.
Jones' National Guard company is tasked with ferrying supplies through dangerous territory in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar.
Lt. Col. Charles S. Kohler, a Maryland National Guard spokesman, said the military was "surprised" by the charges. He did not have specifics about how officials would handle the case.
"What we have to make sure to do at this point is make sure the judicial system has a chance to work through its process," he said. "I couldn't comment about what he did or does in his civilian life."
It is rare for a deployed soldier to be charged with a civilian crime back home, according to Greg T. Rinckey, an attorney who specializes in military cases. He said the military will have to weigh the importance of Jones' mission with the need to bring him home.
"If he's in a mission-critical job, they're going to let him finish the convoy," Rinckey said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert R. Harding didn't have a timetable for Jones' return. In a memo last week to the judge handling the case, he wrote that he did not want to wait for Jones' return to carry on with the case.
"Although we have started the process to get him back here, we do not have an idea when that will happen," Harding wrote. "We do not think it wise to wait for Mr. Jones to get here."
The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment on what steps they are taking to secure Jones' arrest, and U.S. officials in Afghanistan did not respond to emailed questions.
But Rinckey said prosecutors would typically contact military authorities and arrange for the soldier's arrest by military police. At that point the soldier would be detained, put on leave and flown back to the United States to be met by U.S. marshals at the airport, Rinckey added.
No attorney is listed for Jones in court records, and a woman identified in court records as his fiance declined to comment on the case.
Jones is among only a handful of male officers who have been accused of corruption in the sprawling case. Twenty-three of the 27 officers charged are women, and several allegedly conceived children by inmates.
Much of the discussion surrounding the scandal has focused on the youth of the 13 female officers originally charged in April, and some lawmakers have questioned the suitability of having women overseeing male inmates.
Gang members used sex and romance to cement their relationships with officers, and many of the officers seemed to revel in their behind bars dalliances, according to court documents.
Jones, who allegedly began working with White in 2011, is not accused of any sexual improprieties. Instead, court documents say he used his position to help contraband pass smoothly into the jail.
Inmates kept an eye out for searches by K-9 officers, according to court documents, and White sometimes got tips from corrections officers ahead of when they were scheduled.
"Let everybody know K-9 in the building, yo," White told another gang member, according to an intercepted call.
But as a K-9 officer himself, witnesses told authorities, Jones was subject to less scrutiny as he entered the facility, allowing him "to freely smuggle contraband into the jail," an FBI agent wrote.
Jones was "very careful about his smuggling business" the agent added, making calls using a blocked number and only accepting payment in cash.
Jones met with friends and family of inmates to obtain the contraband, then hid the items in his work vest, the FBI agent wrote.
According to an intercepted call summarized in court documents, White was a satisfied customer.
"My homeboy Jones," he said, "he bring me all my phones."
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