Eight months after a deadly gang rivalry erupted in gunfire at a crowded East Baltimore block party, federal authorities said yesterday that 12 men have been charged with running the violent, well-armed drug gang responsible for five city murders, including the Memorial Day shooting that killed one woman.
The federal indictment charging members of the East Baltimore gang known as the "Hot Boys" with various narcotics and weapons offenses gave a grim accounting of how members gained respect and intimidated drug trade competitors by gunning down rivals, including the machine-gun killing Nov. 11, 2000, of rival gang member Keith "Bones" Hamlet.
The Memorial Day shootings that stunned city residents and led to the indictment made public yesterday happened at a "Rest in Peace" block party thrown to remember Hamlet. The May 28 party ended with gunfire from members of the Hot Boys that wounded 11 people and killed Lakeisha Monich Moten, who was 24 and the girlfriend of one of the leaders of the rival "North Avenue/Harford Road Boys" gang, the indictment said.
Authorities who announced the indictment at a news conference yesterday afternoon said the tough federal charges, which could carry a sentence of life in prison or, in some cases, the death penalty, should send a stern warning to every violent drug dealer in Baltimore.
"What they're seeing now, with the weight of the federal government getting involved in this case, ought to send a message to the murderous thugs of Baltimore City," Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris said. "When was the last time you heard of a drug dealer on the streets of Baltimore facing the ultimate penalty?"
U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio said prosecutors have not decided whether they will seek the death penalty in the case.
Charged in the 23-count indictment are reported Hot Boys leaders Darryl "Tiger" Robertson, Leon Coleman and Charles "Bok" Byers, as well as nine other men who are accused of playing varying roles in the drug operation: Dietrich Fortune, Darryl "DJ" Hairston, Kevin "Manny" Glenn, Elijah Richardson, Cornell Ward, Maurice "Moan" Boston, Anthony "Stink" Joyner, Brian "Little Brian" Belton and Gary Hall.
All of the men are from Baltimore, investigators said, and all of them are in custody.
Five of the men - Robertson, Coleman, Byers, Hairston and Fortune - first were charged last spring with federal drug and firearms charges as authorities began laying out their theory of what led to the Memorial Day shootings.
The new indictment describes drug activity and a pattern of violent intimidation and retribution dating to 1996 as leaders of the Hot Boys gang protected their turf and a thriving cocaine and heroin business at East Lafayette Avenue and North Washington Street.
The indictment charges four gang members with murder in the furtherance of a drug conspiracy in the Sept. 16, 2000, deaths of Randolph "Bert" Homes and Darrin "D-Nice" Griffin in a wooded area in the 4500 block of Clifton Road. Griffin allegedly stole money and drugs from one of the gang's stash houses.
Two Hot Boys members are charged with fatally shooting Robert "Tony" Bland, believed to be a rival gang member, at Harford Road and Cliftview Avenue on Jan. 6, 2001.
The two other killings are the ones that captured the city's attention: the Memorial Day shootings that left Moten dead and the Nov. 11, 2000, killing of Hamlet in a spray of machine gun fire at his aunt's home at 2032 E. North Ave. - the same site of the bloody shooting at the block party six months later.
Tavon D. Dixon was initially charged with Hamlet's death, but state prosecutors dropped murder charges against him after witness accounts of the slaying unraveled and police uncovered evidence pointing to other suspects.
The block party shootings became one touchstone last year of the city's unrelenting gun violence - what has become a prominent issue for DiBiagio, Maryland's new top federal prosecutor. DiBiagio, who was sworn into office September, has repeatedly said his office would target large-scale drug conspiracies, violent crimes and weapons violations to help combat street violence in Baltimore.
"We are going to do the big drug cases," DiBiagio said yesterday, pointing to the Hot Boys case as an example. "We are going to do the drug cases that will have a significant impact on violent crime in Baltimore City, regardless of how difficult the cases are, regardless of how many resources they need."
In the past month, DiBiagio has been criticized by Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley for deciding not to prosecute in federal court more routine gun crimes where felons with only one prior conviction are accused of illegally carrying a weapon.
DiBiagio repeated yesterday that those cases should be tried in state court, where convicted offenders would get longer prison sentences.
Norris, who appeared at yesterday's news conference with DiBiagio and Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, said he supports O'Malley's position on gun crime prosecutions, even as he welcomes federal involvement in drug and violent crime cases. Norris said that as a practical matter, offenders are less likely to face prosecution or to get stiff sentences with no chance of parole in state court.
"While the U.S. attorney's office is technically correct, I think you're going to have fewer people going to state prison," Norris said after yesterday's event. "It's never going to happen, and we're going to have a problem seven or eight months down the road."
The case announced yesterday is replete with a history of violent, armed clashes between what authorities say are two of Baltimore's most ruthless drug organizations.
An affidavit by a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency investigator filed in the earlier federal case rising from the Memorial Day shootings detailed the sometimes muddled conflict between the two sides. According to the affidavit, that history included the "retaliation" killing of a Hot Boys member two months after Hamlet's death.
The affidavit said the shooting at the block party was likely designed to send a message from Hot Boys leaders, who wanted to hurt members of rival gangs and to target a girlfriend of one of its leaders.
Sun staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.