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DEA seeks warrant for phones of Canton homicide victim, alleging he was major supplier to indicted opioid ring

Federal drug enforcement officers have sought a warrant to search nine phones linked to a 46-year-old Baltimore County man who was found fatally shot in Canton in September, alleging he was the supplier to a major heroin and fentanyl ring whose members were indicted in July.

Antoine "Georgie" Rich was a player in the city's drug trade, authorities say, and was the subject of a federal investigation into those alleged ties when he was found fatally shot in the head and torso in the 3400 block of Harmony Court in Canton on the night of Sept. 2.

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When medics arrived and began treating Rich, $12,625 in cash fell out of his pocket, and video from the scene showed a suspect running with a satchel that investigators believe held drugs or additional drug proceeds, according to court documents. A black baseball cap and an iPhone — one of the nine phones investigators are now seeking to search — were found on the ground nearby, along with five 9-millimeter casings.

The Labor Day weekend killing spurred some residents of the neighborhood to consider paying for private security patrols, and many others to wonder out loud what had caused the violence.

According to Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force Officer Brian Shutt, Rich's phones — the rest of which were found during a raid of his girlfriend's home — could hold the answer.

"I believe that the cellular telephones … were used by Rich and contain evidence of crimes committed by Rich, which may assist in determining who murdered Rich," Shutt wrote in an affidavit seeking the warrant.

The request, filed in U.S. District Court downtown last month, is the latest twist in a sprawling investigation by the DEA and the Baltimore Police Department into a Northwest Baltimore drug organization that, according to other court records, was pushing large volumes of illicit drugs in the city.

In addition to heroin, the organization is alleged to have pushed fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that recently overtook homicides and heroin as Baltimore's biggest killer, and carfentanil, a similar but even more lethal compound that is used to tranquilize elephants and can kill humans in minuscule amounts.

In documents filed in the broader case, in which 11 alleged members of the organization were indicted in July, investigators have described the raids on a luxury apartment in McHenry Row in Locust Point, where they set up a closed-circuit video system and watched their targets cut up heroin; and of a home in Ednor Gardens-Lakeside in Northeast Baltimore, where they discovered an "incredibly lethal amount" of carfentanil.

"Twenty-five percent of the amount of carfentanil that was recovered from the defendant's home could kill the entire population in the state of Maryland," investigators wrote in court records.

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The investigation began in early 2016, Shutt wrote, and involved wiretaps, which led to the raids.

At some point, a confidential informant being paid by law enforcement told investigators that Rich was the organization's supplier, Shutt's affidavit says.

Shutt, a Baltimore police officer detailed to the DEA task force, wrote that Rich had "been identified in numerous investigations as a multi kilogram heroin supplier for the Baltimore metropolitan area," citing a 2007 federal conviction for possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine and a 1996 state conviction for possession with intent to distribute heroin.

In February, a judge approved a wiretap for a phone belonging to Rich, but investigators soon began to suspect he was using an app which prevented his calls from being intercepted, Shutt wrote.

Investigators were working to corroborate a second phone number for Rich when he was killed.

They believe Rich had driven to the city from his girlfriend's Perry Hall home "for the purpose of selling narcotics" to an unknown contact, Shutt wrote. They believe he and the contact parked their cars near Harmony Court, got out and walked into the block, where a second suspect was waiting with a gun, Shutt wrote.

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Not long after, investigators obtained additional information that there were drugs and guns in the home of Rich's girlfriend, whom Shutt identified as a corrections officer. He did not identify which corrections agency she worked for.

During a subsequent raid of the home, police found eight cellphones stacked together in a nightstand.

The girlfriend hasn't been charged in federal or state court, according to court records, and could not be reached for comment. Rich's family members also could not be reached for comment.

In his affidavit, Shutt said he believed the agency already had a right to search the phones from the nightstand because they were taken under a warrant for the home, but was seeking the additional warrant "out of an abundance of caution."

It was not clear if the warrant had been granted.

T.J. Smith, a Baltimore police spokesman, said homicide detectives are working "hand in glove" with the DEA task force in the pursuit of Rich's killer.

"As is the case with a lot of homicides in the city, it's a tangled, twisted web of people that are involved, and we think that some of the people that he might have associated with and some of the things he was associated in might help us figure out who was involved in his murder," Smith said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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