Law enforcement officials and federal prosecutors announce a drug conspiracy case in Baltimore, (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun video)
Federal authorities secured indictments against 13 people — and filed charges against three more — as part of a 10-month investigation into a violent East Baltimore drug gang that has peddled heroin, crack and cocaine in the open for years, they said Wednesday.
The investigation into the so-called McRae and Bagley drug organization — named for two of the defendants — was conducted by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in conjunction with Baltimore police, and involved wiretaps, surveillance and undercover buys, officials said.
It culminated Wednesday morning with the unsealing of the indictment and raids by hundreds of ATF and police personnel at 12 city locations and a home in Joppa in Harford County, where several hundred grams of heroin and cocaine were recovered, officials said.
The organization had operated out of the 1100 block of N. Montford Ave. in the city's Biddle Street neighborhood, a few blocks northeast of Johns Hopkins Hospital on the city's east side, officials said.
In an affidavit in the case, ATF Special Agent Brendan Plasha wrote that the gang had operated "an open-air drug shop" in the block since at least 2012, with heroin as its primary product. Plasha wrote that, based on surveillance, the shop opens by 6:30 a.m. and "continues to operate non-stop throughout the day and into the early evening seven days a week," with about 10 drug transactions per hour.
Police and ATF officials said the investigation will have a positive impact in the Eastern District, which is leading the city in homicides this year — the deadliest on record, to date — with 50.
"Without question, East Baltimore is safer today because of this 10-month investigation," said Daniel Board, special agent in charge of the ATF's Baltimore field division.
Deputy Baltimore Police Commissioner Dean Palmere said police will be searching for connections between guns recovered in the investigation and shootings in the area — which he described as being "under siege" by the drug organization in recent years.
"We're not done investigating that area," Palmere said.
Among the indicted are alleged gang leaders Ernest "Rat" McRae, 37, and Jackie "Juicy" Bagley, 38.
McRae and Bagley were acquitted of attempted murder in a 2014 shooting that Plasha mentioned in his affidavit as being related to a heroin debt. Acting Maryland U.S. Attorney Stephen Schenning said Wednesday that law enforcement still believes the gang was involved in the shooting, which speaks to its "background of violence."
Also indicted were Rodney Addison, 39; Deandre Anderson, 22; Kurt Atkins, 55; Vernon Bartee, 51; Johntae Brown, 19; Dominic Durham, 18; Wilbur Forrester, 38; Keith Johnson, 46; Antonio Jones, 23; Andrew Manuel, 21; and Stancil McNair, 20.
Of those indicted, only McRae and Bagley had attorneys listed as of Tuesday night. Tony Garcia, who is McRae's attorney, declined to comment. Christopher Nieto, who is Bagley's attorney, also declined to comment.
All of the defendants are from Baltimore except Forrester, whose home was raided in Joppa.
Plasha wrote that Forrester works at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel downtown and sold drugs to hotel guests in addition to working with the East Baltimore gang. The hotel did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Officials believe Forrester was looking to assume leadership of the gang after McRae was arrested in September, Plasha wrote.
"Ain't nobody else new gonna just step in there and be like, 'Oh, now I got the block,' " Forrester said during a wiretapped conversation, Plasha wrote. Forrester also remarked that it was "more stressful to have a job" than to "just be out here hustlin'."
McRae had been arrested by ATF agents after they overheard him on a separate wiretap ask McNair for a "Jimmie Mac," a term for a firearm, and feared for public safety, Plasha wrote.
Forrester, Durham and Jones were considered fugitives as of Tuesday afternoon. The other 10 defendants were in custody.
McRae also faces up to life in prison for possession of a firearm as a felon. McNair also faces a minimum five years in prison for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, to run consecutive to any sentence for conspiracy.
During the raids, authorities said they also arrested Tonarsha Coward, 34, identified as McRae's girlfriend; Sammy Davis, 39; and Antonio Coleman, 54. All three face drug possession charges and remained in custody Tuesday.
Palmere said police know they "have to sustain this area" around the block, and not let the vacuum created by the dismantling of the McRae and Bagley organization cause more violence.