Two dozen alleged gang members have been indicted on federal racketeering and other charges after an investigation determined they oversaw a violent drug operation in Baltimore City and County that was associated with murder, extortion, witness intimidation, money laundering and other crimes, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said other gangs in the Baltimore area should consider the indictment of the "Murdaland Mafia Piru" members — the result of an extensive investigation involving wiretaps and reviews of social media postings — as a warning from local and federal law enforcement.
"We know that most of the violence in Baltimore City is fueled by violent drug organizations such as the one that we are indicting today," Rosenstein said. "On average six people are murdered every week in Baltimore City, 12 more victims are shot and wounded every week, and by working together we can bring those numbers down."
The Murdaland gang, associated with the California-based Bloods organization, first gained a foothold in Northwest Baltimore and surrounding communities in Baltimore County — as well as in correctional facilities in the state — in 2008 after another federal indictment helped to dismantle the then-dominant local Bloods gang, the Tree Top Piru, prosecutors said.
Several former members of the Tree Top Piru "took advantage of the power vacuum" and eventually met with West Coast gang leaders to seek permission to establish the new Baltimore group, and then quickly began establishing their own territory, prosecutors said.
The gang charged its members dues and other drug dealers a "tax" to operate on the gang's turf, violently enforcing its control through a hierarchical system modeled on the Italian Mafia, prosecutors said. Those who killed for the gang got lightning bolt tattoos, while those who betrayed the gang, including by talking to law enforcement officials, were marked for reprisal — including death.
The gang dominated drug markets from Windsor Mill to Wakefield, Forest Park to Howard Park and throughout the Gwynn Oak and Woodlawn area, taking particular advantage of its proximity to Interstate 70 to sell drugs to customers "driving from Western Maryland and neighboring states," prosecutors said.
Gang members allegedly took over legitimate businesses in the area as bases from which to peddle heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine, prosecutors said — including a BP gas station that was padlocked and forced to close for two months by the Baltimore Police Department for its alleged role in facilitating criminal activity.
"It was not unusual for MMP members and associates to sell over a kilogram of drugs per week at this location, which could translate to over $100,000 in drug revenue per week," prosecutors said. Gang members then "funneled drug proceeds through casinos to launder the money by making it appear as though they had won the money gambling," prosecutors said.
The casinos were not specified, though prosecutors said they were both inside and outside the state.
Those indicted include Dante "Gutta" Bailey, 37, the alleged leader of the gang, on racketeering, conspiracy, gun and drug charges. Rosenstein said the indictments also involved "folks on the front lines" for the gang, including members believed to be responsible for violence.
For example, the indictment alleges that a gang member named Dontray "Gambino" Johnson, 31 — facing similar charges as Bailey's — killed a fellow gang member in September 2015 because he "refused to pay gang dues."
It says Johnson visited Bailey in the Baltimore County Detention Center at the time, where Bailey was locked up, and discussed the killing with him.
"In a recorded conversation, Bailey approved the murder, saying 'I told you about this. ... Blow a f—ing head off!'" the indictment states. It also alleges the gang was involved in multiple other attempted murders and shootings.
Neither Bailey nor Johnson, both of whom have been arrested, could be reached for comment, and they did not have attorneys listed in federal court documents. Andy Alperstein, an attorney who represents Bailey in a separate Baltimore County case, declined to comment.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 17 of the 24 individuals indicted had been arrested. Officials were still looking for the remaining seven. All 24 defendants could face a maximum sentence of life in prison for the racketeering conspiracy, while some face additional time behind bars for other alleged crimes, prosecutors said.
Rosenstein said the investigation could lead to more indictments at the national level.
"One of the things that we'll be pursuing is whether or not we can work our way up to any national gang leaders — potentially some of the leaders in California who are referenced in the indictment as people who sanctioned or approved the activities of this Bloods set in Baltimore — because our goal is not to have to keep doing this," Rosenstein said. "Our goal is to make this the last Bloods case. We know we may not achieve that, but that's our goal."
Special Agent in Charge Daniel L. Board Jr. of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which helped lead the large-scale operation to arrest those indicted, said there are "more organizations that are on our radar," including the Crips and the Black Guerrilla Family gangs.
Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said the indictments were "yet another example of a united front" of local and federal law enforcement in Baltimore to root out and arrest criminals who she said are driving disproportionate amounts of violence in the city.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said that "word hits the street when these guys are taken into custody and are no longer available to harm our communities."
"The bad guys should be fearful," Davis said.
Neither Davis nor Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson would specify what actions they are taking to prevent a new gang from taking over the MMP's territory, as the MMP did after the dismantling of the earlier gang, but both said they are working closely to do so.
Rosenstein said law enforcement officials in Baltimore are well aware of their responsibilities now that they have disrupted a large criminal enterprise that dominated a wide swath of territory in the city and county for years.
"We're not under any illusions that you can indict one gang and then disappear and assume everything's going to be great," he said. "There's continuing work to be done, and that's the sort of work that's being done day in and day out."
Rosenstein said his office also is working with law enforcement officials in neighboring states to investigate how the drugs sold by the MMP made their way into networks there, and with state regulators who oversee casinos in Maryland to continue to "follow the money" moved through those facilities by criminal organizations.
"The casinos are heavily regulated, as you know, and as a result they do tend to cooperate with law enforcement," he said. "So we have success when we are looking for records of criminal proceeds that we believe have been laundered through casinos."
A spokeswoman for the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, which regulates casinos in the state, said in a statement that agency officials "stand ready to assist all law enforcement agencies regarding any casino investigations."
Individuals still being sought as of Tuesday afternoon are Tiffany Bailey, Randy "Dirt" Banks, Delante Lee, Jamal "Lil Man" Smith, Kenneth "Bean" Torry, Shakeen Davis, and Takuma "Oop" Tate. Anyone with information is asked to contact the ATF's fugitive tip line at 888-ATF-TIPS.