Prison gang leader Roark pleads guilty, agrees to life term

Perry Roark, the co-founder and "supreme commander" of notorious prison gang Dead Man Inc., pleaded guilty to federal racketeering and related murder and drug charges this week, accepting a life sentence as part of the deal.

Some of the charges would have made him eligible for the death penalty.

The 43-year-old, who was rearraigned in U.S. District Court in Baltimore during an unpublicized hearing Thursday, has been incarcerated since he came of age. State prison is what he knows and where he built DMI into a militarized group of organized killers and enforcers who trade lives for heroin, a gang expert said.

He was set to be released from a combined 25-year prison term — a 15-year sentence for a lumber store robbery and an additional 10 years for violating probation — early last year, when state prosecutors in Anne Arundel County blocked his discharge by resurrecting an old murder charge against him. Then federal authorities indicted Roark and nearly two dozen others in November on racketeering gang charges, which were once reserved for Godfather-style Mafia members but are now trained on street and prison thugs.

Maryland U.S. AttorneyRod J. Rosensteinsaid in a statement Friday that the strategy plays a "critical role" in reducing violent crime. Roark "will spend the rest of his life in federal prison," Rosenstein said.

The Anne Arundel County murder case was dropped once federal investigators stepped in.

Lawyers expect some of the 22 others indicted in the federal case, including a mother and daughter, to also seek deals now that one of the DMI leaders has fallen. One man, Michael Forame, already has, pleading guilty to the racketeering conspiracy Monday, though he signed the agreement 10 days ago.

Roark, who is white, developed DMI by merging three other gangs within the Maryland prison system in the late 1990s, after he was rejected by the African-American Black Guerrilla Family gang, said Agent Ryan Shifflet, western regional director of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Gang Investigations Network.

DMI began as a sort of white contractor for BGF, carrying out killings and assaults in exchange for drugs, and grew into its own criminal brotherhood, looking out for its members' safety and addictions. Many in DMI are hooked on heroin, said Shifflet, who has studied the organization.

Shifflet said he met with Roark — who went by the nicknames Pops, Slim and Saho the Ghost, according to the indictment against him — in Allegany County's North Branch Correctional Institution about a year ago, to interview him about the gang and its growth. Roark's reputation among inmates was that of a "superhero," Shifflet said.

When Roark was imprisoned on the 1991 robbery charge, he stood 6 foot 1 and weighed 155 pounds, according to court records. Today, he's a power lifter with intimidating bulk.

"Physically, he's a big person, so he automatically has a commanding presence, and to sit and talk with him, he's a likable guy. … You could see where he could be influential," Shifflet said.

DMI has since spread to other states, including Texas and Pennsylvania, and grown to include thousands of members, Shifflet said. Leaders frequently conduct business using contraband cellphones in prison and runners on the outside.

As part of his plea agreement, Roark admitted arranging multiple murders — only one of which was carried out — and assaults and to trafficking in illegal drugs.

His attorney, William C. Brennan Jr., declined to comment on the case Friday because Roark has not yet been sentenced. A hearing is set for Sept. 26, during which U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett is expected to honor the agreed-upon life term.

Whether the shift to federal from state prison will have much effect on Roark's role within DMI, however, is unclear.

"As long as he has the ability to communicate, he'll be certainly able to hold a leadership role either through mail or by phone," Shifflet said.

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