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Baltimore Police Detective Momodu Gondo pleaded guilty last week to racketeering and drug charges. He is expected to testify during a federal drug trial that begins this week.
Baltimore Police Detective Momodu Gondo pleaded guilty last week to racketeering and drug charges. He is expected to testify during a federal drug trial that begins this week. (Baltimore Police Dept / Handout)

When Antonio Shropshire drove to an auto repair shop last year and learned his car concealed a GPS tracking device, prosecutors say, the suspected drug boss called his confidant.

He knew the confidant as "Poppy." The Baltimore Police Department knew the man as Detective Momodu Gondo.

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"I took the car to the shop and, uh, the thing was — the thing was lit," Shropshire said, according to prosecutors.

"You definitely gotta get rid of it, alright?" Gondo said.

A federal trial begins Monday for Shropshire, 31, and four men accused of operating a deadly heroin ring that police say stretched, under Gondo's protection, from The Alameda to Pennsylvania.

The drug trafficking case — and Gondo's admitted role — led federal investigators to an alleged racketeering conspiracy by Baltimore police officers to rob and extort drug dealers. Four police officers face federal prison sentences after pleading guilty to racketeering; four more head to trial next year. More than 100 people they arrested have been cleared of criminal charges or freed because their cases hinged on the officers' word.

Det. Momodu Gondo pleaded guilty Thursday to robbing and extorting citizens and protecting a North Baltimore heroin ring.

Gondo, 34, pleaded guilty last week to federal charges of racketeering and conspiracy to distribute at least 100 grams of heroin. With his plea, the officer from Owings Mills admitted to the phone call with Shropshire, and to tipping off dealers to police whereabouts.

Police in the region said the activity affected their investigations.

"We came to believe we were being thwarted," said Capt. Lee Dunbar, who investigates heroin overdoses for the Harford County Sheriff's Office.

Gondo is expected to testify during Shropshire's trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The trial, scheduled to take three weeks, is the latest step to a case by federal agents and local police that has drawn attention from across the city but began with quiet tragedy in the suburbs.

In September 2015, a young man from Bel Air with green eyes and recording-career dreams was found dead in a friend's bedroom beside two needles and a spoon. His cellphone held two clues: a telephone number, 443-690-9371, and name, "Chris Party."

The overdoses of Jordan Roche and others led police and federal agents to a widening web of suspected drug dealers. Police and prosecutors say more than 60 people overdosed and 15 of them died from a powerful grade of heroin sometimes called "missile."

Roche had been 10 months clean, his tolerance weakened, when he texted Chris Party: "I'm coming tonight."

A medical examiner found the needle punctures on his right foot.

Lamar "Chris" Kaintuck is serving seven years in prison for selling Roche the heroin. Ivan Brown is serving 10 years after police raided his White Marsh home and uncovered more than half a kilogram of heroin — worth more than $50,000 — hidden in a pet carrier. He pleaded guilty this year.

Police say these two convictions set them on the trail to Shropshire, a man known on Baltimore's streets simply as "Brill."

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The heroin ring, prosecutors say, operated around the Alameda Marketplace, a worn strip mall of Shoppers, Rite Aid and Rent-A-Center, the sort of place where cashiers don't linger outside after their shifts and the gas station security guard comes to work in full bullet-proof armor.

For at least six years, prosecutors wrote in an indictment, Shropshire's gun-carrying crew sold heroin, working from secret stash houses to cut and package their "missile" and "fire," often discarding their "hammer jacks," or cellphones, to evade detection.

"They were the main heroin-trafficking organization for customers here in Harford and Baltimore counties," Dunbar said.

Shropshire insulated himself with a network of street dealers, prosecutors wrote, including Omari Thomas, a middle man known as "Lil Brill" who took calls for Shropshire and sold at prices set by the boss.

The crew also included Antoine Washington and Alexander Campbell, prosecutors wrote. The two men allegedly hashed out business by phone, even after Washington was imprisoned for selling the heroin that killed a teenage girl from New Jersey two days after Christmas in 2011.

Warren Brown, the defense attorney for Baltimore Police Det. Momodu Gondo, discusses his client's guilty pleas Thursday afternoon outside the federal courthouse in Baltimore. Gondo pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges of racketeering and drug conspiracy. He awaits sentencing next year. (Tim Prudente, Baltimore Sun video)

One call was recorded from a Baltimore jail in late 2015, prosecutors wrote.

"What you got the missile right now?" Washington asked, according to prosecutors.

"Umm hmm," Campbell said.

"I'm going to do this s — when I get back, yo," Washington said, according to prosecutors. "I'm getting the team back, me, Brill, Lou and you, doing everything boss."

Attorneys for the five Baltimore men charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin — Shropshire, Washington, Campbell, Thomas and Glen Kyle Wells — either did not return messages or declined to comment.

Gondo's attorney, Warren Brown, said last week his client feels remorse.

Gondo and seven other members of the Gun Trace Task Force were charged in the racketeering conspiracy. The elite police unit was once celebrated for ridding the Baltimore streets of guns. The officers are accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from suspects.

"There were more lives saved from their success at getting guns off the street, than any loss by their abuse," Brown said. "In a perfect world, we would have these guys playing by the rules all the time. But as much as we pay lip service and ceremonial service to first responders they're paid like crap, quite frankly. And when you put them in these positions where they're out there chasing the bad guys and the bad guys have all the money, yeah, sometimes they're going to snatch a stack or two."

Gondo and Wells grew up together. Though their paths diverged — one becoming a police officer, the other an alleged drug dealer — they spoke of an enduring friendship in a wiretapped phone call last year, according to prosecutors.

"Look, when I be talking to other people," Wells said, "I be like, man, my best friend went right. I went left, man, but we still here."

Each man faces up to 40 years in prison.

"Oh, yeah, no question," Gondo said. "We through thick and thin, man. It's always gonna be like that."

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