Racketeering, Smuggling, Sex with Guards: Forty-four charged in Baltimore jail scandal

The recent sentencing of former correctional officer Ashley Newton marked the latest step in a wide-ranging prosecution involving the smuggling of drugs and other contraband at the Baltimore City Detention Center.

Forty of the 44 defendants have been convicted in a racketeering conspiracy in which members of the Black Guerrilla Family gang maintained sexual relationships with correctional officers — resulting in multiple pregnancies — and smuggled cellphones, tobacco, drugs and other goods into the state-run facility.

Correctional officers were rewarded for facilitating this underground economy with payments, gifts, or a share of the profits, federal prosecutors said. Police say the conspiracy allowed gang members to run their criminal enterprise within and outside the jail.

Twenty-four correctional officers have been convicted in the case. Newton, according to prosecutors, opened cell doors, enabling BGF members to attack fellow inmates, and warned them about upcoming prison searches. Newton, 31, of Baltimore, was sentenced to 51 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

Tavon White, 37, the BGF ringleader who fathered children with four correctional officers, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison in February.

The scandal was uncovered after the formation of the Maryland Prison Task Force in 2011.

The beleaguered Baltimore City Detention Center will close its doors immediately, and advocates for prison reform as well as defense attorneys are hoping the hundreds of inmates slated to be relocated will find better conditions wherever they end up.

The inmates paid their co-conspirators through Green Dot Money Pak prepaid cards, and even purchased luxury items for guards who were working with the gang. For example, officials say White gave corrections officer Jennifer Owens a diamond ring and bought Mercedes Benz, BMW and Acura automobiles for Owens, Katera Stevenson, Chania Brooks and Tiffany Lender — all guards that he allegedly had sexual relationships with. These relationships, were used to influence the women who in turn helped the smuggling operation.

But these five were not the only ones involved. Other prison officers performed duties ranging from smuggling contraband into the prison to tipping off BGF members about law enforcement “shakedowns” to standing lookout while the guards had sex with inmates. Thirteen of twenty four convicted corrections officers are female.

The scheme was busted when 30 Maryland corrections officers from outside BCDC, along with federal agents, carried out surprise searches of inmate cells, unearthing caches of drugs including oxycodone, benzodiazepines, hydrocodone and marijuana.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced plans Thursday to immediately shut the Civil War-era facility at the scandal-plagued Baltimore City Detention Center, rebuking former Gov. Martin O’Malley for allowing inhumane conditions to fester there.

Hogan called the fortress-like Men’s Detention Center, which houses 750 male pretrial inmates, a “black eye” and an “embarrassment” for the state of Maryland.

“The Baltimore City Detention Center is a disgrace, and its conditions are horrendous,” Hogan said.

But several Democratic state lawmakers and union officials criticized the first-term governor for not seeking their input before making his decision. And advocates said closing the men’s facility, while a welcome first step, will not fix problems at other parts of the complex.

“While we applaud the move toward a safer and more secure facility, we are troubled by the process,” Glen Middleton Sr., executive director of AFSCME Chapter 67, which represents corrections workers. “Governor Hogan once again failed to reach out to the relevant stakeholders.”

David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, expressed relief “that Baltimore detainees will no longer be forced to live in the Men’s Detention Center, a building that should have been condemned decades ago.”

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