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Guard pleads guilty to smuggling drugs into city jail for gang

Charged with policing inmates in the Baltimore City Detention Center, correctional officer Jennifer Owens admitted to doing the opposite Tuesday.

Owens, who worked as a correctional officer in the Baltimore jail from 2007 to 2013, pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering conspiracy charge Tuesday, accepting a plea agreement that dropped two other criminal counts. Prosecutors say Owens smuggled in marijuana and prescription drugs for a gang leader who fathered two of her children while incarcerated.

Owens, 31, is the U.S. attorney's office's second conviction among 25 people indicted as part of a drug and cellphone smuggling operation at the jail.

The FBI and federal prosecutors continue to investigate, and Rod J. Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for Maryland, said Tuesday that recorded phone conversations and evidence seized in home searches are pointing toward more suspects.

"I anticipate there will be additional defendants charged in this investigation," Rosenstein said. "The FBI has devoted significant resources in the case, and they're pursuing all available leads."

FBI agents are zeroing in on suspects who "may include inmates, they may include correctional employees, they may include people outside the facility," Rosenstein said.

Thirteen correctional officers were among those implicated in the federal investigation, leading to questions about correctional oversight, legislative hearings and pledges of reform from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, whose top official moved his office into the jail to oversee the changes.

Tavon White, a Black Guerrilla Family gang member whom prosecutors described as a jail overlord, ran the illegal scheme inside and outside the jail and has acknowledged impregnating four jail officers. Last week, he pleaded guilty to federal racketeering conspiracy charges and state charges of attempted second-degree murder and a handgun charge. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison on the state charges and is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 20 in federal court.

All other defendants have pleaded not guilty, but Rosenstein said most federal cases end in plea agreements.

"We have an open door if any defense attorney believes it's in the interest of his or her client," Rosenstein said.

Owens, whom prosecutors said had "Tavon" tattooed on her neck, replied "yes ma'am" or "no ma'am" repeatedly as U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander asked routine questions to make sure she was accepting the plea agreement voluntarily. Owens declined to comment as she walked out of the courtroom. She will be released until she is sentenced early next year.

Two to four times a week in 2010 and 2011, court records say, Owens sneaked marijuana and tobacco into the Baltimore jail before concentrating on smuggling in prescription Percocet pain pills and Suboxone strips — a controlled substance often used to treat heroin dependency.

Owens received the drugs from Tyesha Mayo and Ralph "Boosa" Timmons Jr., the plea agreement said, and was paid with cash or Green Dot prepaid debit cards. Mayo is a co-defendant in the federal indictment. Timmons was charged in the case but was shot to death in West Baltimore before the indictment was unsealed.

Prosecutors say White, 36, has been a BGF member since 2000 and rose from lieutenant commander to chief at the jail in 2011. They say he used relationships with jail officers to win them over and persuade them to assist in the gang's smuggling and serve as its conduits outside the jail.

By accepting the plea agreement, Owens will not face charges of conspiracy to distribute and possession of drugs with intent to distribute and money laundering conspiracy. Owens could be sentenced to 20 years in prison and five years of probation on the federal racketeering conviction.

Her attorney requested a "sentencing date as far out as possible" to investigate her background and come up with mitigating factors that might lessen her sentence. Hollander scheduled sentencing for Jan. 24. Pretrial services recommended that Owens be released until then, and she left the courtroom with her attorney, C. Justin Brown, and another woman.

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