After killing a federal witness, members of Edmondson Village’s “N.F.L." gang believed Dominic Gantt, a rapper known as “Nick Breed," was planning to avenge the murder. They placed a bounty on him.
When Gantt was gunned down Oct. 21, 2018, another member of the organization said in a wiretapped phone call the deed was done: “We got the rapper outta there.”
Federal prosecutors obtained a racketeering indictment this week, tying reputed members of N.F.L. — which refers to the streets of Normandy, Franklin and Loudon in Edmondson Village — to four killings as well as drug overdoses across the region that they say trace back to its drugs.
Maryland U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur said Thursday that the evidence assembled by the FBI and other investigators was “remarkable” and that the gang’s alleged crimes touch on a wide range of public safety issues, from gun violence and the opioid crisis to prison corruption and witness intimidation.
“One case captures so many of the distinct yet related issues that afflict our city and state,” Hur said at an outdoor news conference at the Mary E. Rodman Recreational Center in Edmondson Village. He was joined by local leaders of the FBI and DEA, and Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison.
The indictment says members of the organization knew the drugs they peddled were particularly potent — one member’s own father fatally overdosed on them.
“That s— — killed my father," Donte Bennett said on a wiretapped phone call.
“Goddamn, that s— — crazy, yo,” responded Gregory Butler.
The new indictment places Butler, 28, at the top of the “massive” drug organization and behind some of the group’s contract killings.
Hur said a “major driver” of the long-running investigation was the June 2018 killing of federal witness Wilbert Epps, who was cooperating after being indicted federally on drug and forearms charges in 2016. The indictment says Butler offered money to have Epps killed, and another man, James Henry “Bub” Roberts, 29, recruited people to carry it out.
Epps, 37, and a woman named Jermiah Harper, 21, were gunned down June 16, 2018, three days before he was scheduled to be sentenced, as they sat on a porch in the 3900 block of Edmondson Ave. Hur said Harper was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“To be crystal clear, if you touch a witness, we will bring you to justice, and we will bring to justice anyone else involved,” Hur said.
When Butler came to believe that Gantt wanted to avenge Epps' murder, he had Gantt killed, prosecutors say.
Butler’s defense attorney, Staci Pipkin, declined to comment Thursday on the charges.
Gantt was an up-and-coming rapper who collaborated with some of the city’s biggest names, including YBS Skola and Young Moose. His music videos, often filmed on the blocks near where he grew up, garnered millions of views online.
Another murder, of 33-year-old Leonard Shelley, followed 10 days later on Oct. 31, 2018, inside a neighborhood convenience store. Prosecutors say Darran Butler, 21, and D’andre Preston, 23, carried out the killing, with Darran Butler posting his cash payment on Instagram.
Hur said N.F.L. had no beef with Shelley but wanted to collect a bounty offered by someone else.
Other plots followed. Prosecutors say the group sought to kill a former N.F.L. member while he was incarcerated at the Chesapeake Detention Center, paying another federal detainee to carry out the killing. On Jan. 3, 2019, they also had someone shot multiple times outside a federal halfway house, prosecutors say.
In another case, a member of the group is accused of posting a photograph on Instagram of court paperwork that identified a witness.
The new indictment traces an array of overdoses from Mount Airy to Prince Frederick, Virginia, some of them fatal, back to the gang’s drugs. In the Mount Airy case, a man bought drugs in 2017 and overdosed while driving home. He was revived with Narcan, then continued using at home and fatally overdosed. Prosecutors say Gregory Butler coordinated the sale from jail.
The indictment charges five fatal overdoses and nine other overdoses.
“These are the overdoses currently supported by evidence — there may be more,” Hur said.
Gregory Butler and 22 others were first charged in 2019 with distributing heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and crack cocaine in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Five of the defendants were from West Virginia; two others were from Virginia.
The number of people charged in the case has since grown to 31, and at least 14 have pleaded guilty, including Bennett, who was recorded saying the group’s drugs led to his father’s death.
If convicted, many of the defendants face a maximum of life in prison for each of the counts of racketeering and conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance resulting in death or serious or physical injury. Three of them, including Gregory Butler, face a mandatory minimum of 20 years in federal prison.
Darran Butler already is serving 12 years in state prison after pleading guilty to two handgun cases last year.