On Aug. 28 a federal grand jury in Maryland indicted three men on drug-trafficking charges, including a business partner of Los Angeles-based filmmaker Lavern Whitt, producer of a documentary about the four women who hold the highest elected offices in Baltimore City.
Whitt is also the founder of Hollywood in a Bottle, an educational initiative aimed at helping young people get into the entertainment industry--a project that touts City Comptroller Joan Pratt as a top sponsor.
Due to Whitt's business ties to one of the accused traffickers, 37-year-old Lawrence Schaffner Reeves, the indictment brings Baltimore's drug-fueled shadow economy from Los Angeles to the steps of City Hall. Reeves, who had prior drug convictions in Maryland and Arizona, made his first appearance in federal court on Aug. 28. He has a detention hearing on Sept. 3, along with a Baltimore man named Devon Anthony Marshall, who has a prior conspiracy conviction and numerous criminal charges in Maryland for drugs and violence dating back to the early 1990s.
Whitt, a Baltimore native, independent filmmaker and former stuntwoman now living in Los Angeles, is completing the Women in Power documentary with Kevin Liles, a legendary entertainment executive formerly with Def Jam Records and now an executive vice president of Warner Music Group. The film focuses on the four women--Mayor Sheila Dixon, City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Comptroller Pratt, and State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy--who govern Baltimore City. A seven-minute promotional version of the documentary, which was screened at Baltimore's historic Senator Theatre earlier this year, is available for on-line viewing on YouTube.
Whitt and the director of Women in Power, Freeman White III, also are business partners with Reeves in Hollywood in a Bottle LLC (http://www.hollywoodinabottle.com), a Maryland company that on July 26 held a symposium at the National Academy Foundation High, a Baltimore City Public School in Federal Hill. On Aug. 29 the U.S. Attorneys Office in Maryland confirmed that the indicted Lawrence Reeves and Hollywood in a Bottle's Lawrence Reeves are one and the same.
At the July symposium, Hollywood in a Bottle's publicist Sharon Page of Synergy Communications, heralded Pratt's involvement. "Joan Pratt was our biggest sponsor," Page told a City Paper reporter who visited the event. Hollywood in a Bottle's website lists Pratt as one of its four sponsors, along with Pratt's private attorney Sharon King Dudley.
State business records also show that Pratt filed incorporation papers on behalf of the group's publicist, Synergy. After the event, though, on Aug. 29 Page downplayed Pratt's involvement, saying "She paid for our t-shirts." When informed of Reeves' indictment, Page said, "I'm not going to talk about this any further."
In an e-mail, Pratt confirmed her involvement with Hollywood in a Bottle, but did not respond to a follow-up request for comment about Reeves' indictment. She confirmed that she knows Whitt, but asserted that she does not know Reeves.
Lavern Whitt, however, was reached by phone in Los Angeles. She said she met Lawrence Reeves through an acquaintance with ties to the music-video business and an interest in high-end cars. She said Reeves "seemed like a pretty cool brother. He said he was into Hollywood and was willing to help me with my vision. I just want to give back."
Hollywood in a Bottle is separate from her documentary work, Whitt insisted, as she expressed dismay over the indictment of Reeves, who she referred to as "Lorenzo."
"I just met him five months ago," she said. "Oh my God. This is my hard-earned idea. I need sponsors to help me. I have no idea about that other world. I don't know him like that."
Whitt referred any further inquiries to Baltimore criminal-defense attorney Warren Brown.
The indictment [pdf] charges that Reeves, Devon Anthony Marshall, and Justin Santiago Gallardo conspired "with each other and with others known and unknown to the Grand Jury" to distribute cocaine from approximately March 2006 until August 2008. Gallardo, who was released following his arrest, appears not to have been charged before with crimes in Maryland, though he has a drug-related criminal record in Arizona.
The most recent Maryland court case involving Marshall, before this federal indictment, was a rent-escrow case he filed in 2006 against New Trend Development, one of the companies whose offices were raided Aug. 18 by federal agents investigating the business activities of politically connected bail bondsman and real-estate investor Milton Tillman Jr., and his son, Milton Tillman III. This year City Paper has published extensive coverage of Tillman, including about the raids ("Tillman Properties Raided by Feds," News Hole, Aug. 20; "Citizen of the Year," Mobtown Beat, Aug. 27).