A year after an effort to eviscerate a local gang fell short in Baltimore Circuit Court, federal authorities are taking another crack at nine alleged leaders of the Black Guerrilla Family by bringing racketeering charges.
Among those charged in the new indictment, which was unsealed Thursday, is Gerald Thomas "Geezy" Johnson, 34. He had been described by authorities in 2013 as the leader of a BGF cell located in the Barclay area, but was acquitted by a jury last fall of all charges, including conspiracy to commit murder, robbery, drug distribution and criminal gang activity.
More than a quarter of the 48 defendants in the earlier case had their charges dropped. Only a handful saw more than five years in prison, though many had been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, which under a gang statute carries a potential 20-year prison sentence.
Federal authorities have now re-charged nine of them, on largely the same allegations.
"Effective prosecutions put the killers out of business and deter others from following in their footsteps," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said in a statement.
The Baltimore state's attorney's office did not respond to a request for comment. Both cases were investigated by Baltimore police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Authorities appear to be have continued to keep close tabs on Johnson. After his release, federal prosecutors say, he recorded a rap video under the name Gzy Tha Prince in which he mimicked the firing of a gun and called out two BGF members who had testified against him.
"You know what you did," he says into the camera. "N—— on the stand. N—— crazy."
Johnson has been in federal custody since July after being pulled over when an informant said he was driving around with a firearm, police said. Officers found no gun, but said they found residue amounts of drugs inside baggies in the vehicle — enough to charge him with possession with intent to distribute cocaine.
Prosecutors also allege that in November 2015 he tried to sell an AR-15 to another person for $1,200, and in court papers cite text messages sent between March and May 2016 discussing drug and gun transactions.
Johnson's attorney, William Brennan, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The new federal indictment charges all nine defendants with conspiring to violate federal racketeering and drug trafficking laws. Johnson and Wesley Jamal Brown, 24, are also charged with conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering and murder in aid of racketeering.
Authorities say the pair were involved in the May 2013 murder of Moses Malone, who had provided information to law enforcement about a robbery and shooting allegedly committed by Brown's half brother, Norman Handy.
Brown was acquitted of Malone's murder in state court last year but convicted on a gang charge and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Defense attorney Joshua Insley represented Brown at his jury trial and said the murder case "was a disaster from start to finish" for city prosecutors.
"The jury only convicted Wesley Brown on one count because of some drugs found near some gang literature," said Insley, who is not representing Brown on the federal charges. "They never established he had any real rank in the gang, never established that he had ordered anything to happen, never established that he participated in any murders. The jury acquitted him for a reason."
Handy, 22, is also charged with racketeering in the new indictment. It's a third try for authorities against Handy. He was first charged with shooting Malone in 2013, but five months later the case was dropped. He was then charged in the massive state case and pleaded guilty to gang and robbery charges and received 15 years in prison, with all but five years of that time suspended. Now Handy is charged again on essentially the same allegations.
"Not unexpected," said Handy's defense attorney on the state charges, Richard Boucher, who otherwise declined to comment.
No attorneys were listed for other defendants in court records for the new charges.
The Barclay neighborhood for years experienced a rash of shootings, first blamed on a crew called the Young Gorilla Family, which folded into the BGF as that group's influence on the streets of Baltimore grew in the mid-2000s. The shootings sought to avenge shootings of BGF members, silence witnesses, or punish BGF members themselves for infractions, officials have said.
In November 2013, police and prosecutors announced that 48 BGF members and associates from the Barclay area had been indicted. Thirty-eight faced charges under the state's gang statute, which was rarely used at the time.
When the cases went to court, few saw lengthy prison sentences, including many who had been charged with murder conspiracy. Defense attorneys complained that many of the defendants faced charges based on crimes for which they had previously been convicted, but were being charged again under the umbrella of the gang statute.
Two of those charged in the new federal case were among those who did receive extended time. David Hunter, 29, got two consecutive life sentences plus 40 years. Kenneth "Slay" Jones, also 29, was sentenced to two consecutive life terms.
"It's a new day for gangs in Baltimore City, who have for far too long turned promising communities into drug war zones," State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby had said of Jones' state conviction.
One of the suspects, 24-year-old Marquise McCants, remains at large. The ATF asked anyone with information about his whereabouts to call 1-888-ATF-TIPS. All state charges against McCants were dropped in November 2015.