It wasn't easy to get suspected Black Guerrilla Family leader Gerald Johnson on the phone, investigators learned as they tried to build a case against him last year. Rather than answer calls himself, he would often use a female associate to screen his conversations.
The conversations would often play out like this one summarized in court documents: "Where Geezy at?" a suspected gang member asked, using Johnson's nickname. After a woman replied, he continued, "Put him on the phone."
But even that break came after great effort by investigators, who for months were frustrated by the alleged gang members' tactics of using girlfriends, mothers and others to screen calls and pass on information.
It's just another example of alleged drug crews trying to evade eavesdropping police — a cat-and-mouse game former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon depicted in "The Wire."
Finding a phone that Johnson regularly used proved a hurdle for investigators as they sought wiretaps in the case.
An informant working for the officers found multiple numbers leading back to different women, but none for Johnson himself.
That made it hard for police to make consistent contact with Johnson using an informant. They also were unable to monitor his most intimate conversations, according to court documents.
Police decided instead to tap the phone of an associate who was less careful about getting on the phone. That led investigators to a line that was regularly in Johnson's hands, according to the documents.
In August, the associate got a call over his tapped line letting him know police were talking to Johnson at a bus stop, and officers noticed Johnson's phone ringing. A record of that call showed up in data compiled by police from a number of different lines, according to court documents.
Even though the phone was registered in a woman's name, the visual surveillance, along with other evidence that Johnson often used the phone, was enough to persuade a judge to authorize a tap on that line as well.
From there, the investigation rumbled on through the summer and into the fall, with police leaping from one wiretap to the next. It ultimately ended in a sweeping takedown based on charges against 48 alleged members and associates of the gang.
Johnson has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
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