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Smuggling opportunities abounded for inmates at city jail, gang leader testifies

The way Tavon White describes it, being sent to the Baltimore City Detention Center was no reason for Black Guerrilla Family gang members to stop hustling.

Key to keeping the money flowing, however, was recruiting corrections officers to smuggle tobacco, marijuana, prescription pills and cell phones into the jail. The officers were also needed to transport the items from one section of the jail to the other, and to help tip inmates to looming "shakedowns."

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White told jurors in U.S. District Court on Tuesday that one sergeant, Michelle Ricks, went so far as to join the gang by learning its pledge, reciting it for White in a recreation room after he instructed her to provide her "oatmeal" — code for oath.

During White's second day of testimony in the wide-ranging racketeering conspiracy trial, the 37-year-old convicted murderer gave jurors new insight into how he says he presided over the illicit marketplace inside the jail.

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His testimony directly connected several of the eight defendants — including Ricks — to the enterprise.

Prosecutors say White was the leader of the BGF gang within the jail for years. But he was also one of the first to plead guilty last year, and said he is hoping his testimony will lead to a sentence that will run alongside a 20-year prison term already handed down in an unrelated case.

Defense attorneys have not yet had the opportunity to cross-examine White, but said in opening statements that his claims were merely innuendo from someone trying to impress the government to reduce his sentence.

White's testimony, along with wiretapped phone conversations with corrections officers who have already pleaded guilty, painted a picture of a facility so rich with opportunity that inmates were able to be selective over the business relationships into which they entered.

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For example, White testified that Ricks set up a phone conversation between White and one of her sons, who offered to sell him 100 extra-strength Percocet pain pills for $2,200. White passed. He could get them for $1,600 or less, he testified.

Ricks' attorney, Edward Sussman, said in opening arguments that the Navy veteran and mother of three was not caught doing anything illegal on any wiretapped calls or law enforcement surveillance.

If she used "Green Dots" — the prepaid debit cards cited by prosecutors as the currency in the jail — "it was her own money," Sussman said.

White said Ricks aided the inmates, but she refused to smuggle contraband into the facility.

He said another corrections officer on trial, Travis Paylor, "always had pills." White said Paylor offered package deals that became more attractive as inmates increased the amount they were purchasing. Again, White said, he passed when the price went out of his range.

"I already had a lot of other avenues of getting it myself," White said. By that time, he estimated he had already paid Paylor $10,000 for his services.

White testified that he could make $10,000 to $20,000 monthly.

Paylor's attorney, Michael Montemarano, said earlier in the trial that authorities found no drugs in a raid of his home.

"Doesn't any business have inventory?" he asked jurors. "Not this one, apparently."

The number of inmates and corrections officers named by White, sometimes only by nickname, has grown with each day of testimony.

"The unindicted co-conspirators are outnumbering the indicted co-conspirators," defense attorney Carmen Hernandez complained to U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz.

White said the business relationships with female officers often veered into the romantic. His testimony and the recorded phone calls were full of high school-esque drama and gossip surrounding inmate-officer relationships.

In one recorded call with officer Tiffany Linder, who has pleaded guilty, White tells how he could have had sex with another corrections officer but passed. The claim ignited jealousy in Linder's voice.

"I respect you for telling me that," she said. "I'm not trying to let that stuff get to me …The past be the past. I just be worried about the future, for real."

The revelation that White impregnated four corrections officers while incarcerated has garnered headlines around the world.

Asked Tuesday to name those officers, White stumbled while ticking off their names, and chuckled.

White testified that he had personal knowledge of sexual relationships between inmates and corrections officer Clarissa Clayton, a defendant at the trial, and had to broker a peace agreement between two inmates fighting over Michelle McNair, a food service worker at the jail who is on trial and who White said helped facilitate smuggling.

When White and his cell mate Kenneth Parham cooked up a scheme to use Parham's lead paint settlement checks to invest in contraband, he said, corrections officer Riccole Hall helped bring them the legal paperwork that Parham needed to sign.

According to White, Hall was having sex "all day long" with an inmate who was also an ally of the BGF. Prosecutors have said that Hall had a relationship with an inmate who described her as his wife, and resigned after pictures of her — including one showing his name tattooed on her wrist — were found on the inmate's phone.

"She complained about him always wanting to go into the [staff dining room] to have sex," White testified.

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