The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is helping Baltimore police gather evidence against alleged members of a what court documents describe as a "violent street-gang known to investigators as the Ridgewood Avenue Crew," which takes its name from the Northwest Baltimore street where it's believed to operate.
In doing so, the Feebs have committed to posterity some of the private phone conversations the targets have been having, including this one, from January 25:
"Where black Smoock's ass at?" asks one, an inmate using a jail phone.
"Shit, yo out this bitch. Down the street for real. Shit, what's the word though?" the other responds.
"Shit yo, tell tell tell black Smoock give you ten dollars for me and you. When gonna see Bertman?" the first says.
"Shit, yo just pulled off. Yo probably be back like two, three, five minutes," responds the second.
"Shit yo, get a ten piece from Smoock and you put ten dollars for me, yo, so I can get these books," says the first.
"Alright, alright I got you," confirms the second.
"Bertman basically gonna put the rest for real. Him and him and l'il Tay gonna put the rest for real. It was like 60 dollars," concludes the first.
Ciphering such talk, and the conversations that follow, requires an understanding that "yo" is apparently an all-purpose (though generally third-person) pronoun, a general-use interjection, and a handy greeting. Even knowing that, though, what's being said here?
FBI special agent Jonathan Kehoe, who included this exchange in a recently filed affidavit in support of a search warrant for a bevy of cell-phones seized from alleged Ridgewood Avenue Crew members, explains in the affidavit what he thinks is being said: the first man is instructing the second man to collect money from other men for a drug payment owed to the first man. All told, the amounts involved appear to add up to less than the cost of four Manhattans at the Chesapeake. So, to borrow an analogy from The Wire, these are not Stringer Bells we're talking about here. More like Snot Boogies.
The first man, according to Kehoe's affidavit, is inmate Anthony Christian. The second is Deandre "Don Ray" Gwynn, and the man they're referring to is Sean "Bertman" Dyer, who has since been charged with Gwynn in Baltimore City on drug-conspiracy counts. Two days later, on Jan. 27, Christian again got on the jail phone and called Dayon "Cadi" Bailey, who's since pleaded guilty to a minor pot-possession charge.
(Note: in quoting the affidavit's transcription of these conversations, yours truly has taken the liberty of copy-editing the text that's included in the horribly ungrammatical court document–without, though, changing the so-called "meaning" of what was alleged to have been said.)
Here's what they said:
Christian: "They got locked up with my god damn money, man!"
Bailey: "For real?"
Christian: "Fuck yeah."
Bailey: "The 90 piece?"
Christian: "Niggas had like a buck thirty of mine, shorty."
Bailey: "Ah I figured that too, … I swear, yo, that bitch drove by, though I was sure they had your money like they had that couple for yo."
Christian: "You know I was in their ass, yo. I, look, something told me say, 'Yo, get the money to Cadi,' yesterday, right?"
Bailey: "Yep, yep."
Christian: "There was a little alarm, right?"
Bailey: "We was at the phone store. I thought that's what you were gonna say, yo, when I got this on me. I gotta put this together. I'm like, aight."
Christian: "I'm like, shit yo, you know what I mean? Yeah, I ain't trippin' about that shit, though them niggas probably gonna need it now."
Bailey: "They said they wasn't really trippin' about that shit. … Good fight for them boys, though."
Christian: "Yeah, they said they was fighting the police or some dumb shit."
It's clear that the two are talking about money–this time, about enough to buy six Manhattans at the Chesapeake–and that Christian has a yen for gut instincts, but Kehoe boils this conversation down to: "Christian was explaining to Bailey that Dyer and Gwynn were arrested after the car chase with $130 that was owed to Christian."
According to the affidavit, the chase with police occurred on Jan. 26, starting in the 1500 block of Russell Street and ending with both men's arrests after they got stopped in traffic at Mulberry and Charles streets. The conversation continues, discussing their friends' bails and the circumstances of their arrests:
Christian: "Little nigga Don Ray get a bail, yo?"
Bailey: "Yeah, shorty got no bail, you feel me … Shorty, shorty probably out on too many bails all ready, yo. Shorty probably ain't get no bail, yo."
Christian: "What they give Bert then?"
Bailey: "150," meaning $150,000.
Bailey: "Smoock around there trying to scrum that shit up now."
Christian: "150, what they have to pay on that, yo? What, a five piece, six piece?"
Bailey: "No, they say the nigga might want $4,500, but he said he'd take 35 or something."
Bailey: "He fucked Bertman up or something. Bertman got staples in his head and niggas had like 88 joints, some shit like that."
Turns out, Kehoe explains, that the "88 joints" Bailey refers to is "very close to" the 94 orange-top vials police seized when Dyer and Gwynn were arrested. Earlier, on Jan. 15, law enforcers intercepted the following conversation, in which a man named William Lee talks to another man, Lamar Wallace, about what Kehoe suggests are attempts to pick up drug money from Tavon "Tay" Paul and Kendrick "Benny" Henson, so Wallace can pay his drug supplier. Wallace, Paul, and Henson have since faced various criminal charges, though it appears that Lee has not.
Lee: "Yo. They ain't answering, yo."
Wallace: "I know, I just called them niggas from my phone, too. Them niggas ain't answerin'."
Lee: "I don't know where Benny at, though. I know Benny, they say Benny been dipped, earlier. I know, uh Tay, Tay, his little bitch, and, uh, Don Ray together though."
Wallace: "I don't know. I'm at my mother's shit. I ain't even got no ride, for real, yo. I told yo I was in here. Yo was like, man, he goin' to hit the phone back. He was waitin' around. He don't know what's going on, but I text him back. Like I told Jelly, I mean, I told Ashley to tell you I was at the hospital with my son. … So, I don't know, I'm just tryin to catch up with them niggas before then, basically yo. Whitey is still on standby. Everything still the same how it was, though. I'm just trying to go ahead get dough so we can – you feel me? And them niggas are some slow, procrastinating type shit, yo."
Lee: "I ain't know yo was going to the mall, though. I seen yo when yo pulled out, though he say he never come back early. … You hit Benny's shit, too?"
Wallace: "You know Benny ain't got no mic," which is slang for a cell-phone.
Lee: "I don't know. I'm wait for Tay call back, for real."
Wallace: "Shit, I ain't going nowhere. Just sitting right here. I ain't got no wheels. Just hit my phone when you ready."
This exchange makes clear how low-level these targets are: living with mom, no car, no phone, hanging at the mall. The next day, Jan. 16, the aforementioned Ashley calls Wallace, after an incident during which Paul's phone was taken by police when he dropped it while they were chasing him near Ridgewood Ave.:
Ashely: "Do you have any type of money to give to my grandmother?"
Wallace: "Ummmh, I might. I got to check. I don't know. I don't got no money on me right this second cause fuckin', um, knockers just chased Tay. I'm trying to figure out where he at. They said the knockers got his phone."
So, the girlfriend needs money, and Wallace hems and haws. And now Tay, who might be a way to get some cash, has no phone, just like Benny. The missing phones are under FBI analysis, which apparently has time for low-hanging fruit like this so-called Ridgewood Avenue Crew. Seems the best strategy–though it's a bit late now, given their arrests–would be for this crew to get wage-paying jobs at the mall. The pay is low, but, hey, so is the pay for low-level dealing, which also exposes them to arrests, getting their heads cracked open when they resist said arrests, and the need to make bail-not to mention all the hassles of collecting money and deflecting girlfriends' desires to access said money. At the very least, though, if they're going to return to the drug-dealing life, they better watch what they say on their phones-if they have any.
Turns out, even the Snot Boogies of the Baltimore drug world sometimes qualify for wiretaps.