ATF says Safe Streets employee led drug organization

Federal authorities allege that an employee of the city-funded violence intervention program Safe Streets has been leading a drug trafficking organization involved in "several" shootings.

A complaint charging Terrell Allen, 43, with distribution and possession with intent to distribute drugs was unsealed Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, two days after his arrest. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives alleges Allen was overseeing a drug organization operating in the Latrobe Homes area.

Among the locations watched by agents was the Safe Streets office in McElderry Park, authorities say. Agents also wiretapped his phone, which was registered to the Living Classrooms Foundation, the operator of the McElderry Park site. Allen had no attorney listed in court records.

The allegations are the latest for the Safe Streets program's McElderry Park site, which has twice been shut down and investigated after law enforcement made allegations of criminal activity.

Safe Streets hires ex-offenders to use their credibility on the streets to mediate disputes and prevent violence, and city officials say it has been successful in cutting down violence in historically troubled areas. The area covered by the McElderry Park Safe Streets site has gone 117 days without a gun homicide, according to the city Health Department website.

The city Health Department said Allen was employed by the Living Classrooms Foundation, and said it was "closely monitoring" the case. Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said in a statement that the program has been proven to save lives.

"This model works because of our employees," Wen said. "Safe Streets hires many individuals with criminal backgrounds, giving returned citizens a second chance by supporting the very neighborhoods they are from. Our outreach workers have truly walked in the shoes of the people they serve."

James Piper Bond, the president and CEO of the Living Classrooms Foundation, said Allen had been employed since 2013 and has been a valuable outreach worker. He said Allen is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

"Here's a guy who had, and has, an opportunity to turn his life around, and he was doing great work as a violence prevention mediator," Bond said. He noted that employees are asked to cultivate relationships with high-risk individuals to help curb violence. "That's their job, and so it's a very challenging, stressful situation."

Allen was previously targeted by the ATF, with authorities alleging he was part of a drug organization whose feuding with rivals included the abduction of a rival dealer's younger brothers and a wave of retaliatory shootings and killings.

In a search warrant filed in 2008, federal authorities said Allen was believed to be one of three men who abducted the younger brothers of Stephen "J.R." Blackwell after a dispute over heroin prices. The ATF said a confidential source told them Blackwell paid Allen and another man a $500,000 ransom for their release.

Six weeks later, gunmen took revenge with a quadruple shooting outside the Allen & Family Appliance store in East Baltimore. Allen's father and another man were killed, and Allen was injured. Several associates of Blackwell were killed in the ensuing months, and a shooting broke out during a memorial cookout to commemorate their deaths. Twelve people were shot and wounded, including Blackwell.

Agents laid out the allegations regarding the feud in an affidavit that charged Allen with being a felon in possession of ammunition, a charge that landed him in federal prison for four years. But Allen was never charged in connection with any of the violence, and his attorney at the time said the information contained in the affidavit was "invented."

Allen is one of at least six people charged in the latest investigation. Though it makes reference to violence, there are no specific allegations and he is not charged with any crimes of violence.

Authorities said they intercepted hundreds of calls between Allen and other alleged members of the drug organization discussing drug transactions, though it does not detail any large seizures of drugs.

In one call, they say Allen can be heard saying he wants to acquire "two to three ounces" of "that Miley Cyrus," which the agents say is believed to refer to cocaine. At one point, police pulled him over after returning from New York City, though only a small amount of cutting agents and "wax bindles," commonly used to package drugs, were recovered.

Baltimore funds several Safe Streets locations throughout the city, in Cherry Hill, McElderry Park, Park Heights and Sandtown-Winchester. Different nonprofit groups run each site. The program ran into funding trouble in 2016, and received $500,000 from the governor's office.

A review by the Johns Hopkins University found Safe Streets "has had a larger effect on reducing nonfatal shootings than any other single public-safety strategy in Baltimore," Wen said last year.

The McElderry Park location is the city's longest-running, but has also run into trouble.

In 2015, police chased two robbery suspects into the Safe Streets office, where they said they found guns and drugs stashed in closets and the ceiling. Two Safe Streets employees were charged. The program was suspended pending a review by the Health Department.

Before that, the program was shut down for a review in 2010, after the Drug Enforcement Administration said that the East Side Safe Streets program was "controlled" by the Black Guerrilla Family gang and helped gang members get jobs after their release from prison.

No one from Safe Streets was charged as part of the 2010 indictment that contained the allegation, and in the 2015 case prosecutors eventually dropped all charges against all nine people arrested.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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