Two Baltimore police officers who have pleaded guilty to racketeering will testify against the accused leaders of a heroin ring, telling a federal jury they robbed one drug dealer at the behest of another, prosecutors said in court Tuesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise revealed his plans to call forth Detectives Momodu Gondo and Jemell Rayam — two “bombshell witnesses,” a defense attorney said in court.
The two officers — both of whom have admitted to robbing the rival heroin dealer — will testify against five men accused of operating the Shropshire drug ring, which investigators say was the single largest supplier of heroin to suburban Baltimore and Harford counties.
Gondo pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to distribute at least 100 grams of heroin. Both Gondo and Rayam have pleaded guilty to racketeering in a separate criminal case. Rayam faces as much as 20 years in prison; Gondo, 40 years.
“Both men, as they will tell you candidly and honestly, hope — hope — the United States will recommend a lesser sentence because they decided to cooperate,” Wise told jurors.
The police detectives, Wise said, helped the Shropshire crew by robbing the rival dealer of 800 grams of heroin and then selling the drugs.
“One of the ways drug dealers get supplies of heroin is by robbing other drug dealers,” Wise said.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys addressed jurors Tuesday for the first time in the Shropshire drug trafficking case. Antonio Shropshire, 31, the alleged boss, and four other men are charged in U.S. District Court with conspiracy to distribute heroin. The accused include Antoine Washington, 27, Alexander Campbell, 29, Glen Kyle Wells, 31, and Omari Thomas, 25.
Thomas is a running back for the Baltimore Cobras, a semi-pro football team.
The five men are accused of operating a deadly interstate drug ring since at least 2010 with headquarters around The Alameda.
All have pleaded not guilty.
As Harford County sheriff deputies investigated suburban heroin overdoses two years ago, they began to suspect their efforts were being frustrated by a complicit Baltimore police officer. With his guilty plea, Gondo admitted to tipping off drug dealers to police whereabouts.
The investigation shifted to Gondo and soon threw open the door on an allegedly rogue unit of the Baltimore Police Department. Prosecutors say Gondo, Rayam and six other members of the elite Gun Trace Task Force robbed drug dealers and innocent civilians for years, and stole from the city itself through fraudulent overtime claims.
Four officers have pleaded guilty to the racketeering conspiracy. The other four head to trial next year.
Prosecutors have dropped criminal charges against more than 100 defendants whose cases hinged on the word of the accused officers. Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis disbanded the task force and ordered other plainclothes units back into uniform to restore accountability. Mayor Catherine Pugh requested an audit of the soaring costs of police overtime. And the city’s top lawyer says officials are bracing for lawsuits from robbery victims.
One Carroll County woman has already sued in Baltimore Circuit Court for nearly $1 million.
Police say the sweeping scandal began with suburban heroin overdoses.
Wise showed jurors a photograph of a teenage girl, sprawled on a couch, her belly exposed. She had overdosed in Bel Air two days after Christmas in 2011.
“She went to sleep and never woke up,” Wise said.
Capt. Lee Dunbar, who investigates overdoses for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, said more than 60 people overdosed and 15 died from heroin supplied by Shropshire’s crew.
Wise told jurors he would take them inside the alleged drug crew during the trial, which is scheduled to last three weeks. He described a professional operation in which users would call a phone number to place orders and arrange pickups.
The number was changed routinely to evade police detection, Wise said. The dealers would send a text message to inform customers when the number changed.
Dealers would advertise potent heroin as “missile,” Wise said, and even announce when a batch caused an overdose.
“That may seem really perverse to you,” Wise told jurors. “The unfortunate truth is if you’re addicted to this and spending hundreds of dollars, sometimes thousands a week, you want value for your money. So the more potent it is, the more desirable.”
Attorneys for the five men accused in the drug case each addressed the jury in turn. Some sought to shift blame to drug dealers already imprisoned. Others questioned whether jurors can trust testimony from heroin users.
Wise told jurors they would hear from people who bought heroin from the five men and from other drug dealers. He said some had been promised immunity to testify.
“A lot of people under a lot of pressure are going to come in here and say a lot of things to save their neck,” said Robert Bonsib, Washington’s attorney.
Washington is charged with selling the heroin that eventually killed the teenage girl four years ago. Kenneth Diggins, of Bel Air, is serving 10 years in federal prison for directly supplying her the heroin. Prosecutors say Diggins bought the heroin from Washington.
Bonsib said Diggins alone is to blame.
Diggins is scheduled to testify. Bonsib said the man supplied the girl heroin in exchange for sex.
“He bought her body for some heroin,” Bonsib said.
Shropshire’s attorney said the case hinges on suspect witness testimony. Attorney Alfred Guillaume urged jurors to withhold judgment, saying the evidence will fall short of convincing jurors of Shropshire’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The attorney for Thomas tried to impress upon jurors the high threshold required for a conviction.
“You must find these facts beyond a reasonable doubt,” attorney Harry McKnett said.
The attorney for Campbell sought to distance his client from the other men accused of taking part in the alleged drug crew.
“We absolutely, 100 percent dispute that he was a member,” attorney David Fischer told jurors. “My client was an independent guy … he had nothing to do with the death … he had nothing to do with these dirty cops.”
Wells’ attorney asked jurors to consider whether they can trust the word of criminal witnesses.
“The government,” attorney Marshall Henslee said, “will ask you to rely on the word of thieves, drug dealers and robbers and corrupt cops.”