In Baltimore, authorities are finding that if they can't solve a robbery, the next best thing may be to set one up.
Five men - at least three who police say are members of the Black Guerilla Family - were indicted last week in federal court on robbery charges. They didn't commit a robbery, but were caught in recorded conversations with a government source planning and preparing to carry one out, according to court records.
It's a tactic that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has used at least three times here, and which the Federal Bureau of Investigation also used in a case involving a man charged with accepting a murder-for-hire proposal.
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A spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration - which was involved in this month's indictment - said the agency had "done this type of investigation many times before; all have been successful," but said he could not discuss the case in further detail. City police said they were unaware of the case.
Federal authorities allege that Sean Thornton, Rodney Proctor, Antonio Davis, Michael Johnson and Jazmen Trusty agreed to commit a robbery of 10 kilograms of cocaine from a purported drug source at a Baltimore hotel. In court documents, a Baltimore Police detective and DEA task force member wrote that police received information that Davis, Proctor and Thornton "are armed drug traffickers and members of the Black Guerilla Family street gang, who are active in the Penrose neighborhood of Baltimore City."
The BGF has garnered headlines in recent months, with Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts attributing a fall crime spike to tensions between the BGF and other gangs. There is no indication in documents that police believe any of the men charged in the robbery sting were involved in such violence.
On Dec. 12, agents recorded a conversation between a source working with law enforcement and Davis, Proctor, Thornton and Johnson, where the source described how they could steal 10 kilograms of cocaine from a drug dealer coming to town.
In the documents, police write that the cost of cocaine is currently "high," at $40,000 per kilogram wholesale. Johnson was allegedly recorded saying, "This s--t right here [a robbery of a drug trafficker] make[s] my day ... this my line of work [robbing drug dealers] ... that's why I'm pretty sure he pulled in the n-----s he pulled in."
Eight days later, the men, along with Trusty, got into a car and headed to the hotel where the robbery was to occur. Lying in wait were federal agents. According to court documents, Johnson was carrying latex gloves and a ski mask, and Davis had two gloves and a black mask. Proctor had a black stocking cap with a loaded .22 caliber pistol.
Police say Trusty, Davis and Johnson each independently planned to participate in the robbery and "understood that firearms would be used to facilitate the robbery."