Tavon White, the accused Baltimore jailhouse leader of the Black Guerrilla Family gang, pleaded not guilty Monday to allegations that he oversaw a corruption scheme that employed corrections officers to smuggle drugs, cellphones and other contraband into the city detention center.
White's appearance marked his first in U.S. court since the release last week of a broad federal corruption indictment against White and 24 others, including 13 officers. Wearing a gray sweatshirt, dark-colored pants, New Balance sneakers and ankle shackles, he walked into U.S. District Court with his hands cuffed at the front, escorted by four guards.
He was followed in court by Tiffany Linder, a corrections officer who was impregnated by White last August, according to court documents. Linder, 27, also pleaded not guilty to charges in the scheme. Prosecutors did not ask the judge to detain her, noting that she is eight months pregnant.
White, 36, has been described by prosectors as the man who orchestrated the jailhouse conspiracy, coordinating with a highly organized network of inmates and collaborating with corrections officers while also taking orders from gang leaders out on the street. White allegedly impregnated three other officers implicated in the indictment.
In an intercepted phone call, according to the indictment, White boasted about running the operation: "Anything that get done must go through me."
White was returned to state custody, where he is awaiting an attempted murder trial in a 2009 shooting.
The back-to-back pleas were the first arraignments in the sprawling federal case. Other defendants are expected in court this week and next. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ayn Ducao predicted an eight-week trial, which Linder's lawyer, Peter Goldman, said would likely start next year because of the complexity of the case.
In all, 25 defendants face racketeering and drug charges. Twenty of the accused, including White and Linder, also face money-laundering charges. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Sullivan told White and Linder that each charge against them carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
When Sullivan asked if White had reviewed the indictment laying out the charges against him, he said, "I've looked at it." He answered other questions from the judge with a "No, sir" or "Yes, sir."
White, 36, had been held for the past week at the Roxbury Correctional Institution, a state prison in Hagerstown, in what his lawyer, Gary Proctor, termed solitary confinement. Proctor asked that he be moved to better conditions, saying White had been left in a cell with a camera trained on him and "without so much as a Bible to read."
After his arraignment at the federal courthouse in Baltimore, White was taken to a different state facility in Cumberland, his lawyer said. State officials have declined to comment on White's confinement, citing security concerns.
Corrections officials said White had been transferred from the Baltimore detention center to Roxbury after the indictment, along with other alleged members of the Black Guerrilla Family, or BGF. White had been held at the detention center for an unusually long time.
Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said White has not been held in solitary confinement, which he said is not used at Maryland prisons.
"He's on administrative segregation at RCI — akin to protective custody — which is usually the case with high-profile offenders when they get to a new facility," Binetti said in an email.
Binetti said "generally speaking offenders on administrative segregation have access [to] reading materials through the inmate library, much like those in general population."
Proctor and Goldman are both private attorneys appointed by Sullivan from a list of defense lawyers who are eligible to represent indigent defendants in felony cases such as this one. Proctor's office is near the downtown Baltimore courthouse, and Goldman works in Alexandria, Va.
Authorities allege that White took control of the BGF gang at the city jail after his arrival in 2009 on an attempted-murder charge and built the network of corruption inside of the jail. The gang dealt marijuana, cigarettes, painkillers and cellphones that it smuggled in with help from corrections officers, several of whom were having sex with gang members, according to the indictment.
The gang's "minister of finance" also collected dues from members and levies from nonmember inmates, funneling money to gang leaders on the outside, the indictment alleges.
The separate attempted murder case against White went to trial twice but ended in a hung jury both times.
Sullivan said he would like to see White in a place "where you'll be safe" and eventually moved to federal custody. But for now, Sullivan said, White would remain in state prison.
Linder, who was suspended without pay by the jail, was visibly pregnant at her initial appearance and arraignment.
Sullivan agreed to let her walk out of the courthouse but told her she could not leave Maryland or metropolitan Washington. He also warned her not to have contact with potential witnesses, including any of her co-defendants, saying she would be brought back before him for "any, any, any, any" improper contact.
"I take this very seriously," Sullivan said. "That means what it means — no contact."
He asked if she understood.
"I understand, yes," Linder told the judge.