Organic honey business owner charged after drug, gun raids

Really Raw Honey is known for its straight-from-the-hive product, a creamy white treat sold online and in hundreds of stores like Whole Foods.

But the buzz about the Highlandtown-based company this week involved handguns, rifles, ammunition and cocaine Baltimore police say were seized in raids on the firm's warehouse and its owner's North Baltimore home.

Owner Frantz Walker was charged with armed drug trafficking and held at Central Booking on $1 million bail until he posted bond Wednesday morning.

Walker's attorney, Marc Zayon, said police moved too quickly from investigating a community complaint about drug activity on a loading dock to swooping in to Walker's office and home. He emphasized that Walker is not a drug dealer and said authorities are painting the business in an unfair light.

"They were investigating a case that has nothing to do with Mr. Walker, and then they go from zero to 60 [mph] without any investigation," Zayon said Wednesday. "He's a legitimate business owner, and he has a Second Amendment right to own weapons."

A woman who answered the phone at Really Raw Honey and identified herself only as Nicole said: "This thing has gotten way out of line."

Victor and Miriam Bennett, Walker's parents, started the company 30 years ago in their Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment when Victor brought home a 60-pound tub of raw honey from upstate New York. They loved it, and it was popular with friends. They began selling it at fairs and flea markets

"I remember sitting on the living room floor and scooping it into jars as a kid," Walker told the Urbanite magazine in 2009.

The family moved to Baltimore and began selling it to hundreds of health food stores up and down the East Coast. Walker took over as president about eight years ago. Its pesticide-free products are shipped from beekeepers in upstate New York.

Police said the investigation began after they received community complaints about possible drug activity in the 3700 block of Gough St. in Highlandtown. Police conducted surveillance and believed drugs were being sold from the company's loading dock, and arrested two men on minor marijuana charges. Both were released from custody on their own recognizance.

Zayon said one of the men arrested was an employee, and that he will be terminated.

Those arrests led to a search warrant for the business. Police said they found a doorway hidden by drywall and plywood in the warehouse, and that inside was equipment and supplies consistent with a marijuana-growing operation: grow lights, gallon-sized buckets with soil, a ventilation system, a heat sealer, large plastic baggies and a scale.

Police say they found suspected cocaine and a 12-gauge shotgun in Walker's office. That led to a search warrant for Walker's home, in the 600 block of St. Dunstans Road in in the Mid-Govans neighborhood of North Baltimore, where police said they found 10 handguns and rifles along with 3 ounces of cocaine, a small amount of marijuana and psychedelic drugs.

Police said Walker had told them about the drugs and firearms and consented to a search, charging documents show.

The charges Walker faces — 20 criminal counts, including multiple counts of distributing drugs using a firearm and use of a firearm in a drug-trafficking crime — are often used to prosecute drug rings and cartels, but Walker's attorney said nothing could be further from the truth.

"He does not distribute or sell drugs, and was not using guns to sell or distribute drugs," Zayon said. "I'm very confident that when all the facts come out, the case will be dismissed."

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