Tavon White, center of Baltimore jail corruption scandal, returns as murder trial witness

Tavon White, center of Black Guerrilla Family gang jail corruption scandal, returns as murder trial witness

Former Black Guerrilla Family leader Tavon White, who oversaw racketeering at the Baltimore jail and flipped to become the federal government's key witness, returned to a Baltimore courtroom Wednesday to take the stand in a murder trial.

White, 39, was escorted into the courtroom surrounded by a platoon of security guards as a state witness at the trial of Freddie Curry. Curry, 44, is accused of killing Raynard Benjamin in January 2011.

White testified that he had facilitated a plot to kill Curry at the jail because Benjamin was a Black Guerrilla Family member.

"The call came down for Freddie Curry to be deleted," White testified. Curry was stabbed, but survived.

The attack on Curry came after he was initially jailed for the killing in 2011, but prosecutors dropped charges a few months later.

White's pronouncement on wiretapped conversations that the Baltimore City Detention Center was "my jail" helped lead to the indictment of 48 people in 2013, including several corrections officers, in a wide-ranging scheme to import drugs, cellphones and other contraband.

The case uncovered a free-for-all behind the prison walls, led by gang members and facilitated by guards — four of whom White impregnated.

The FBI eventually took down the BGF leadership at the jail, and White agreed to cooperate with authorities. His deal with prosecutors landed him 20 years in prison for both his role in the racketeering scandal at the jail and also a separate attempted murder.

At the jail corruption trial in December 2014, the attack on Curry was one of scores of misdeeds about which White testified.

Around that time, prosecutors refiled murder charges against Curry.

An attorney for Curry told jurors Tuesday that the state was employing "professional witnesses" after having to drop the original charges in the summer of 2011.

Attorney Tony Garcia called White a "master manipulator."

"He has a deal — 'The more I talk, the less time I have to serve,'" Garcia said. "They're attempting to build a case based on liars, who have a clear incentive to lie."

Assistant Attorney General Charlton Howard, who left the state's attorney's office last year but is trying the case with Assistant State's Attorney Charles Blomquist, told jurors in opening statements that Curry had plotted to kill Benjamin because Benjamin kidnapped someone close to Curry and held her for ransom.

White testified that Curry told him that the BGF was trying to take over drug dealing in a certain area, and Benjamin kidnapped Curry's then-girlfriend. White said he recalled that the ransom was "large," possibly $40,000 to $60,000, and Curry was intent on revenge.

"Some time passed, and [Curry] caught him slipping," or letting his guard down, White testified.

Benjamin, 30, was shot to death on the evening of Jan. 28, 2011, outside his girlfriend's home in the 800 block of W. Pratt St. Police said three men were seen climbing into a gray truck and fleeing the scene.

White said he knew Curry from the streets. But when Curry landed in jail on the murder charges, he did not realize White was a BGF member.

White said Curry asked him to pass a note to his cousin, who was also incarcerated. The note contained $200 and asked that the cousin procure a knife for him so he could protect himself in the battle he anticipated with the BGF.

White said he pocketed the $200 and told fellow BGF members what the note said. He said BGF leadership authorized a hit on Curry.

With the help of a corrections officer, White said, Curry was let out of his cell. He said BGF members Curry knew from the streets tried to distract him and make him feel comfortable "so he didn't know what was going on."

Curry survived the stabbing. He later returned to jail, and "the beef was called off," White testified.

White testified under cross-examination that his brother dated a sister of Benjamin, Curry's alleged victim, in the 1990s.

Defense attorney Ivan Bates said White had admitted to a conspiracy to murder Curry, yet had not been charged with conspiracy to murder or attempted murder.

Details of White's incarceration have been kept secret. His location has been concealed from state and federal databases and court records.

Two federal marshals sat on either side of the witness stand as White testified, and three men who appeared to be plainclothes law enforcement — two of them with earpieces — sat in the back of the courtroom gallery.

Another key witness in the case, prosecutors said, is a longtime friend of Curry named Travis Howell. Howell made a plea agreement with the federal government in a drug case and agreed to testify that Curry told him about killing Benjamin.

White said testifying against Curry was not part of any agreement with authorities.

So why was he testifying?

"Just to better myself, to rid some of the skeletons and move forward," White said.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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