They met three times at Penn Station to discuss the robbery of a cartel's drug stash house, then on Thursday, strapped with handguns, gathered at a 7-11 in Hampden for a last-minute rendezvous before carrying out the plot, according to court documents.
The whole operation was a ruse, however, set up by federal agents. It's at least the second time the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has used the method in recent months to identify and arrest home invasion suspects. The first time, it led to gunfire and a car crash in South Baltimore as the suspects tried to flee.
If that sounds like entrapment, you're making the same case as a group of suspects charged in a similar ATF sting in Texas, as well as Antonio Martinez, who tried to blow up a military recruiting station in Catonsville. All of them eventually pleaded guilty.
Edward Neal Ellis, Corey Brian Barnes, and Domonic Terrell Thompson, who police say are armed drug traffickers in the Greenmount neighborhood of Baltimore, have been charged not for possessing drugs, but for a conspiracy to steal the 10 to 15 kilograms of cocaine that agents say they believed they were going to get away with in the robbery.
On Jan. 24, a confidential source working with law enforcement met with Ellis and Barnes at Penn Station, talking about an associate named "Fat Mike" who wanted to contract with someone to steal from the Latin American drug cartel he was working with, records show. "Fat Mike" was willing to split the stolen cocaine with whoever was willing to carry out the robbery, they were told.
The meeting was being recorded and observed by the ATF, and agents say the men agreed to the robbery and discussed tactics, records show. Ellis said that cocaine has been "increasingly scarce in Baltimore City, and, as a result, the opportunity to steal a bulk quantity of cocaine would be particularly lucrative," according to the court documents.
They met twice more at Penn Station - on Jan. 26 and Feb. 1, according to court records. An undercover agent posing as "Fat Mike" said the cartel was using locations in Hampden, and that the bricks of cocaine were stamped with the New Orleans Saints logo and would need to be repackaged before they were re-sold.
When the undercover officer asked how they planned to commit the robbery, Ellis and Barnes said they would "come in like the Baltimore Police" and order everyone to the ground, according to records. Police have been dealing with an increasing number of home invasions in which the suspects have posed as police to gain the cooperation of their victims.
On Feb. 2, the undercover officer contacted Barnes and told him to assemble his team and meet at a 7-11 store in Hampden; the specific location is not given in court documents. Ellis, Barnes and Thompson were driven by a fourth man. The officer asked if the suspects were ready, and had them follow him to a pre-arranged location where agents could take them into custody.
When the officers moved in, the three suspects fled on foot, discarding a loaded .38 caliber revolver and a .9 mm handgun. Inside the suspects' vehicle were ski masks, gloves, duct tape and zip ties, records show.
Ellis, 36, is awaiting trial on a three-county drug indictment in Baltimore Circuit Court, court records show. He received 10 years in prison in 2003 on drug and firearms charges. Thompson, 21, also has pending charges of drug distribution and car theft, after last year recieving a five-year suspended sentence for drug distribution. Barnes' prior criminal record was unclear.