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Essex man first to plead guilty in Harford drug investigation; prosecutors negotiating pleas with others

A Baltimore County man pleaded guilty to federal drug charges following a months-long wiretap investigation by the Harford County Narcotics Task Force that led to federal and local gun and drug charges again 22 people.

Joel William Hammond, 35, of Essex, pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute at least 28 grams of cocaine base, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.

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Hammond is the first of nine federal defendants snared in the investigation to plead guilty.

The Harford County Narcotics Task Force’s investigation led to 22 indictments and uncovered more than 2.5 kilos of cocaine, more than 66 grams of crack cocaine, 69 fentanyl pills, about 435 grams of marijuana, 28 guns, 19 vehicles valued at more than $258,000, and approximately $110,000 seized, the task force announced in early June. The cases are spread across federal and state courts.

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According to the DOJ, Hammond sold crack cocaine to other members of a drug trafficking organization.

Investigators intercepted a text conversation on March 15, 2020, arranging for Hammond and an unnamed person to meet to buy and sell crack cocaine, according to Hammond’s plea agreement. Detectives surveilling the deal confirmed it happened.

Between March 15 and April 21, 2020, investigators intercepted text messages and phone calls where Hammond would coordinate meet-ups with his customers, often at his Baltimore County home, according to the plea agreement. Often, Hammond would invite buyers to his home; they would travel there from Harford County and return after a short meeting, the plea states. The documents do not make clear if one or multiple people bought drugs from Hammond.

On April 21, 2020, one of Hammond’s alleged customers was driving back to Harford County when the Harford County Sheriff’s Office and the task force stopped him. Police found 16 grams of cocaine and 41 grams of crack cocaine on his person, according to the plea agreement. The cocaine appeared to have been cut off a compressed kilogram.

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Hammond’s home was searched on April 22, and investigators recovered a “small quantity of crack cocaine,” according to the plea agreement, and numerous firearms.

According to the DOJ, Hammond agreed it was reasonably foreseeable that the conspiracy involved at least 112 grams but less than 196 grams of crack cocaine.

As part of the plea agreement, Hammond agreed to forfeit more than $10,800, seven handguns, a rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, all of which was seized on April 22, according to the documents.

Correspondence filed in court states that prosecutors are negotiating pleas with the remaining two defendants in the case: Reginald Bolden, 37, of Bel Air, and Tremayne Murphy, 40, of Aberdeen. Information on defendants cooperation with prosecutors is not publicly available.

Spokesperson for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office Kyle Andersen previously said that Hammond was Bolden’s supplier. Bolden’s case files do not present a narrative of the alleged offenses, but he is accused of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana, according to the indictment.

If the court accepts the plea agreement, Hammond and the government agreed he will be sentenced to six years in federal prison and all other charges against him will be dismissed at sentencing.

Hammond’s sentencing before U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett is scheduled for Oct. 27.

Reached by phone, Hammond’s attorney declined to comment.

As a result of the investigation, 18 people were indicted on charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and four others were charged with standalone cases involving firearms and/or the possession with intent to distribute controlled dangerous substances, according to the task force.

Nine of the 22 defendants were federally detained, according to Chris Romano, a prosecutor with the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office. That included the alleged leaders of the drug trafficking organizations: Che Durbin, 42 of Aberdeen, and Bolden.

Two community tips led to wiretaps of 18 phones and one social media messenger platform. The investigation spanned more than a year, and multiple search warrants were executed throughout Harford County. The state and federal indictments occurred between July and October 2020, with arrests continuing until this April, according to the statement

The Harford County Drug Narcotics Task force is a multi-jurisdictional entity composed of police from the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, Maryland State Police, Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace police departments, the DEA and Harford State’s Attorney’s Office. It is focused on mid- to upper-level drug, homeland security, and vice issues.

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