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Mobtown Beat

The Dealer Returns

Baltimore and New Orleans law enforcers' say dealer-turned-informant Fred Brooks is back in the heroin business

By Van Smith

12:49 PM EDT, July 15, 2014

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By the time he was in his mid-20s in the early 1990s, Fred Douglas Brooks III claimed he was one of Baltimore’s biggest heroin dealers, using 50 aliases as he sat atop an organization with 30-plus employees and drug ties in 17 countries. Later, in the early 2000s, after federal agents caught up with him for a second time, he became a first-class snitch, helping the government build a high-stakes, West Coast drug case filled with international drug-cartel intrigue. Now, according to law enforcers in Maryland and Louisiana, Brooks is based in Houston and back to his old ways, overseeing the complex logistics of supplying kilograms of heroin from Mexican sources to wholesalers in Baltimore, New Orleans, New York, and elsewhere, and laundering the high-volume flow of cash that comes back to him in return.  

Brooks was indicted in Louisiana on July 10 for being on top of a heroin-dealing and money-laundering conspiracy involving eight others, while the probe into his activities also spawned a Maryland heroin-trafficking indictment brought against seven men on July 8. If the scheme is as described, then it displays many of the same characteristics of Brooks’ prior exploits, detailed in a two-part 2008 City Paper exposé by Jeffrey Anderson called “The Dealer,” which explored Brooks’ ingenuity in coming up with innovative ways to deceive law enforcers and, when an informant, other high-level drug dealers. Based on public records and extensive interviews, “The Dealer” included excerpts from letters Brooks wrote to Anderson.

"When millions of dollars is just a five-minute phone call away,” Brooks wrote, by way of explaining his drug-dealing motivations, “I saw it as a means to the end of solving my family's poverty issues,” adding that "I am not some evil monster."

Veteran criminal-defense attorney and former federal prosecutor David Irwin was Brooks’ lawyer when he faced federal drug charges in 2003 and became an informant. Called for comment on what’s happening with Brooks now, Irwin says, “I know nothing about it,” adding that “his family contacted me and asked me to get in touch with him, but I haven’t been able to. I’m heartbroken if he’s jammed up again. He’s such a good guy.”

Brooks’ prior cooperation with prosecutors, as described in “The Dealer,” helped make cases against players in the Arellano-Félix cartel in Tijuana, Mexico, who had previously been Brooks’ main source of supply. He also helped advance a longtime federal probe of George Torres, a Los Angeles-based grocery-store mogul who used to be partners with Horacio "Carlos" Vignali, the father of a drug dealer pardoned in 2000 by President Bill Clinton. Brooks' help was the linchpin in law enforcers’ successful effort to prosecute a violent drug-dealing associate of Torres, Raul Del Real, though they were less successful in bringing down Torres himself, who, after being convicted of racketeering charges, was set free in 2009 due to tainted evidence. For a heroin dealer who cut his teeth on Remington’s streets, Brooks’ cooperation was far-reaching.

Brooks' current chapter with law enforcers opened when he and another target of the investigation, David Humphries, were detained on June 30 by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in Houston, prior to raids there at locations allegedly used by Brooks and Humphries to move drugs and launder money. Humphries told agents he had known Brooks for 30 years and that “he had been acting as a transport for [Brooks’] trafficking activities because he owes [Brooks] for taking care of him.” Brooks confirmed for agents what they already knew: that he was directing a major heroin-distribution network.

The Baltimore end of the Brooks probe began in Nov. 2013, and court documents in the case have been signed by DEA special agent Michelle Zamudio and DEA task-force officer Brian Shutt, a Baltimore police detective with prior experience ferreting out cartel ties to Baltimore (“Corner Cartel,” Feature, February 23, 2011). DEA agents in New Orleans, meanwhile, learned Brooks resides in Houston and got wiretaps on his phones, establishing that he was in regular contact with Baltimore heroin traffickers who were depositing drug money in Baltimore banks.

Both probes emerged publicly on July 1, when charges were filed in both Baltimore and New Orleans. Sworn statements by DEA task-force officer Andrew Roccaforte supported charges that Humphries and Mississippi resident Jermaine Reynolds were coordinating multi-kilogram heroin deliveries from Brooks to two New Orleans wholesalers. Once detained, Reynolds allegedly told agents that on three occasions he’d delivered kilograms of heroin to the New Orleans dealers and arranged to get payments back to Brooks. Humphries, meanwhile, allegedly was more prolific, moving three to five kilograms per month—at $70,000 a kilo, that’s $210,000 to $350,000 per month—for Brooks since at least June 2012.

Typically, Brooks allegedly would direct Humphries “to go to a known common carrier” in Louisiana to “pick up a shipping box with a container inside,” the court documents state, which Humphries would take to an apartment where the wholesalers would open it and take delivery of the heroin inside. Sometimes Brooks allegedly would have Humphries ship heroin to locations other than New Orleans, including to an address in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In Baltimore, meanwhile, seven people were charged after agents working the Brooks investigation seized about 10 kilograms of heroin and more than $1 million in cash on June 30 at The Courts of Avalon private apartment community in Pikesville. Two of the people arrested—Salomon Teran and Vincente Mariaca-Teran—arrived at the scene from Chicago in a pickup truck, and told agents they were there to meet someone to help them fix Taco Bell equipment. The agents doubted this story, so they brought in drug-sniffing dogs, which detected the presence of narcotics, allowing them to search the truck. They found several pipes in the truck bed and, opening one, discovered it was stuffed with $200,000 in cash.

One of those charged in Baltimore, Timothy “Gringo” McDermott, is a prior co-defendant of Brooks in a 1990s federal heroin case in New York. McDermott was described in “The Dealer” as one of the Remington and Hampden youngsters Brooks recruited into his organization who, unlike Brooks, is intimidating, so he acted as an enforcer. When McDermott, who has a lengthy criminal history involving drugs and violence, was arrested at his Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, home on July 1, agents found a large pot-growing operation involving nearly 600 plants, according to local media coverage. His role in the alleged Brooks conspiracy, as described in court documents, was to transport kilograms of heroin and bulk cash to and from Chicago and Baltimore, including a stop en route in Youngstown, Ohio, in March to give some of the heroin to a man named Jason Payne, who was later indicted with Brooks in Louisiana.

Also charged in the Brooks probe’s Baltimore end are Sean Wilson, Carvell “Cuz” Jones, James “Country” Bryant, and Phillip Wheeler, and all except Wheeler have prior drug-trafficking convictions. Wilson and Jones were co-defendants in a 1990 heroin-and-cocaine conspiracy in Maryland in which both received 188-month sentences, but appear to have been free of major charges since then.

Bryant is currently facing Baltimore County heroin charges resulting from a traffic stop at Interstate 70 and the Baltimore Beltway on March 28—a stop made at the request of agents working the Brooks probe—that prompted a search of his pickup, turning up two kilograms in a Ramset toolbox. Earlier that day, McDermott and Bryant had met in Charlestown, West Virginia, just after McDermott had returned from Chicago with a shipment of heroin, as case agents watched.

After being released on bond, Bryant allegedly kept working for the Brooks conspiracy by preparing a Freightliner tractor-trailer he owns to transport drugs—a method used by Brooks in his past drug schemes. Brooks, in one of his letters to Anderson, boasted that “you name it, I did it," including "planes, cargo boats, FedEx, cruise ships."

Wheeler allegedly helped distribute the heroin and collect proceeds involved in McDermott’s Chicago trips on behalf of Brooks. Case agents developed sufficient evidence to obtain a “sneak and peek” warrant of an ExtraSpace storage unit in Abingdon leased by Wheeler, allowing them to enter the unit in order to photograph and record its contents without seizing them. Among the large amounts of bulk currency in bags, bundles, and boxes found inside the unit was, according to court documents, “one aluminum shipping container with a torn off sticker that appears to be from ‘Forward Air,’” the same California-based freight shipper Brooks used in his drug-trafficking business in the early 2000s.  

Wilson was in regular phone contact with Brooks as agents monitored their communications in May and June, including a discussion on June 29—the day before Brooks was detained in Houston—in which Brooks, while visiting Miami Beach, said he expected to be charged due to cooperators in New Orleans. “The lawyer said it going to be about, I’m looking about a dime,” Brooks says, meaning a 10-year prison sentence. Later in the conversation, Brooks and Wilson discuss whether Brooks should become a fugitive, but Brooks says he’s “figuring if I should face just face it,” since “maybe I can get it down to a nickel or something.”

If Brooks, a 1986 graduate of City College who reportedly had one of the highest SAT scores in his class, ends up charged and convicted in the current probe, he’ll be a three-time federal drug felon. How he’d get only five or 10 years in prison under such circumstances is anybody’s guess, but given his publicized history as a snitch who helped put cartel figures behind bars for decades, any more time in prison is going to be tough.