A federal jury convicted John Baumgarten and his two sons yesterday of running a much-feared drug smuggling ring out of their Severna Park barbershop, which they used as cover to sell more than 60 pounds of cocaine in Anne Arundel County.
The Baumgartens appeared stunned when the verdicts were read in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Moments earlier, John Baumgarten Sr. had given a big smile and a "thumbs up" sign to his wife.
The defendants' wives and relatives wept when a clerk announced the guilty verdicts on federal drug-distribution charges. Minutes later, one of the Baumgarten relatives cursed the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, yelling as she left the courtroom, "I hope your mother dies."
The elder Baumgarten, 54, and his sons, John Jr., 34, and Anthony, 32, face up to life in prison when sentenced Oct. 2. A source familiar with the case said John Baumgarten Sr., who masterminded the drug operation, rejected a plea offer of a 17-year sentence because he believed he would be acquitted.
Minutes after convicting the men of the criminal charges, the same jury of eight men and four women ruled in a special verdict that the Baumgartens had made roughly $3.2 million in the drug trade in the past five years and that 17 properties they own in Maryland and Florida must be forfeited to the government.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea L. Smith said the verdicts capped seven years of work by local and federal drug agents who tracked the Baumgartens' drug operation from their homes in Cape St. Claire to beach condominiums in Key West and Fort Lauderdale in Florida.
Smith said breaking up the organization was difficult because the Baumgartens used fear to keep their couriers and sellers in line.
At one point, they nearly put out a $25,000 contract on the life of a man who was cooperating with authorities.
"We got a very strong sense during the investigation that these people [the Baumgartens] were considered untouchable because of intimidation and fear they instilled," said Smith. "But this case shows that no one is untouchable."
The Baumgartens used their barbershop to mask their occupations as drug dealers, according to cooperating witnesses who testified during the six-week trial. Some men who joined the drug organization said they were trained as haircutters by the Baumgartens, who paid for them to attend barber school.
One man testified that a haircutter once found a bag crammed with cocaine under one of the hot towels kept in the back of the barbershop.
Baumgarten relatives were furious at the verdicts yesterday. John Baumgarten Sr.'s wife cursed so much outside the courtroom that a U.S. marshal approached and told her, "Madam, please watch your language."
"Our justice system is so screwed up," said John Baumgarten Sr.'s daughter, Donna Marie Baumgarten. "People get five to eight years for killing someone, and here this family is going to get life for drugs."
Lori Baumgarten, John Baumgarten Jr.'s wife: "There is no justice. Every person who testified against them has prior drug convictions."
One of the key figures in the Baumgarten drug business, John S. Luke of Cape St. Claire, testified against the men as part of a plea deal with prosecutors. Defense attorneys Peter D. Ward, Howard Margulies and Alan Bussard had maintained that Luke was the kingpin of the organization.
Luke testified that he regularly made trips to Florida to pick up 2.2 pounds of cocaine and bring it back to Maryland, sometimes coated with petroleum jelly to throw off drug-sniffing police dogs.
Pub Date: 6/02/98