James Cabezas investigated public corruption for three decades while working in the Maryland state prosecutor’s office before retiring two years ago. And he did it while going blind and even after he lost his sight.
Cabezas, with local journalist Joan Jacobson, recently published a memoir of his life and career — from working as an undercover Baltimore police officer looking for mob influence on the docks and The Block to taking down top elected officials. The book, “Eyes of Justice,” is filled with fascinating anecdotes of corruption, which every Maryland resident should never forget and which The Baltimore Sun will highlight over the next several weeks.
As a new Baltimore police officer, Cabezas quickly learned how interesting investigating public corruption could be. On Jan. 27, 1973, a federal grand jury had “returned indictments charging six Baltimore City police detectives and two former detectives with taking bribes from three different illegal lotteries,” according to the book. “Such ‘numbers’ businesses were very lucrative in the years before the Maryland lottery was established.”
Baltimore’s reform-minded police commissioner Donald D. Pomerleau had initiated the probe by contacting federal authorities to look into the department’s vice unit, “which was supposed to ferret out illegal gambling.” The commissioner had hired retired FBI agents and assigned them to internal investigative divisions that reported directly to him.
More federal indictments came on June 14, 1973.
“Now police commanders were charged with taking bribes from gambling operations,” the book says. “Five lieutenants, six sergeants and three patrolmen were charged with protecting a large illegal gambling organization which operated within the Diamond Cab Company located in the Western District.
“Among the gamblers named in the indictment was Carroll T. Glorioso, who ran a $7.5 million gambling operation,” according to the book. “He was once married to Blaze Starr, the nationally known stripper who owned the Two O’clock Club, located in the infamous Baltimore red-light district known as The Block.
“Apparently the bribes were so routine that the money was picked up weekly by a ‘bag man’ — a former officer — who took it to the Western District police station, where it was doled out in the parking lot and the men’s room.”
But Cabezas’ interest in public corruption wasn’t sealed until later that year, on Oct. 10, 1973, when Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, former Maryland governor and Baltimore County executive, pleaded no contest to tax evasion charges and resigned from the vice presidency.
“That day a kernel of an idea entered my head: maybe one day I would have the acumen to work a case against a corrupt elected official,” he wrote.