The Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post have provided excellent coverage of the latest correctional-corruption development involving the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang: a superceding indictment unsealed yesterday, naming 14 correctional officers (COs), a jail kitchen worker, two inmates, and two outside suppliers as racketeering defendants. These are in addition to those already charged in April with lead defendant Tavon White, an inmate and BGF leader, bringing the total to 44 people, including 27 COs.
The expanded accusations of systemic smuggling of contraband by mostly female COs whose loyalty to the BGF's command of the prison economy was gained through money, sex, or both, describe a nettlesome situation in which at least two correctional facilities – the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC) and the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center – are in fact run by the gang. Enabling the situation, according to federal investigators, have been policies and procedures administered by Maryland's correctional agency, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which ease smuggling and so complicate the disciplinary process that the pursuit of corruption allegations is often dropped.
The latest phase of the ongoing investigation, according to court documents, relied in part on 14 cooperating witnesses, all but one of whom testified before the grand jury and seven of whom are helping the government pursuant to plea agreements. As more pleas are entered – so far nine COs, four inmates, and three outside suppliers have admitted their guilt – another round of fresh allegations against even more defendants can be expected to follow.
Lacking on the list of those charged so far, though, are supervisors. Surely, if so many staffers were working for the gang in charge – one of the cooperators, a former CO, told investigators that 75 percent of COs at BCDC "actively smuggle contraband into the facility," according to court documents - their bosses must have either been willfully blind to the situation, tacitly allowed it, or actively participated in it.
The two search-warrant affidavits in the case – one signed by FBI special agent Sarah Lewis in April, the other signed Nov. 20 by FBI special agent Karen Franks – include powerful suggestions that the command staff is culpable, too.
Lewis wrote that "some prison officials have informal verbal understandings with White and other BGF leaders" in which "the officials will turn a blind eye to contraband smuggling and actively protect White and the BGF by warning them of investigations and interdiction efforts" while "the BGF leaders reduce the violence inside the prison."
A specific example of this arrangement was described in Lewis' affidavit, involving Joseph Young, a BGF leader and co-defendant in the case who was the heir apparent to White. A "corrections lieutenant," Lewis wrote, "pulled Young aside and told Young that the lieutenant knew that Young would be taking over control of the prison if White was released from jail and agreed to let Young make money by selling contraband inside of BCDC if Young and BGF would keep down the incidence of prison violence."
Franks' affidavit, meanwhile, explains that the BGF's drug-trafficking activities in the jail generates "a significant amount of money" that is "used to bribe" not only COs, but also "prison management."
Lewis and Franks are FBI public-corruption investigators, so presumably they are rankled by evidence that higher level officials helped the BGF's racketeering scheme. In pursuing this case, they are assigned to the Maryland Prison Task Force, a multi-agency outfit that, as Franks describes it in her affidavit, "investigates corrupt correctional officers." Maybe soon, the evidence will lead them to start taking down bosses.
Notably, Young – who, based on the evidence Lewis described, must have personal knowledge of the culpable lieutenant - has not pleaded guilty. But White and nine COs have. Surely someone will help to make sure some well-paid supervisors get their comeuppance, too, because if only low-level, low-paid COs take the hit for this, critics can easily conclude that justice in this case would appear to have been selective, unequal, and fundamentally unfair.