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In guilty plea, BGF leader Tavon White says “many other” correctional officers involved

August 6, 2013
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Tavon WhiteAs telegraphed last month, when Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison-gang leader Tavon White signed an agreement to plead guilty to racketeering charges arising from his gang’s operational takeover of the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC), today he did just that. According a press release from the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office (MD-USAO), White’s sentencing by U.S. District judge Ellen Hollander is scheduled for next Feb. 20, when he faces a maximum 20-year prison sentence.

Thirteen correctional officers (COs) were charged for participating in the White-led racketeering scheme, so arguably the most intriguing aspect of White’s 8-page plea is this sentence: “White knew many other Correctional Officers involved in contraband trafficking and sexual relations with inmates.” If so, depending on the quality of evidence investigators can develop, it’s reasonable to expect more COs to face charges.

White is the first of the case’s 25 defendants to enter a guilty plea, and the fact that he is the lead defendant – he had been the BGF’s commander at BCDC since 2011 – bodes well for the government’s prosecution of the remaining defendants. The MD-USAO’s press release, meanwhile, points out that “the investigation is continuing.”

The publicly available evidence in the case, which includes items seized during early-morning raids of properties associated with numerous defendants on April 23, paints a remarkable picture of a correctional facility made porous for the profitable trade in contraband, including drugs, tobacco, and cellphones, thanks to the BGF’s conniving ability to co-opt their jailers and the allegedly explicit acceptance of the situation among correctional supervisors, who apparently believed that allowing the BGF to control the prison economy would result in less violence in the jail.

The BGF’s emergence as a dominant force in Maryland prisons has been extensively covered since 2009, when the first of a prior round of federal indictments including COs was filed.

Not widely covered, however, is the currently ongoing federal prosecution of another 15 Maryland COs who, taking their cue from an alleged culture of correctional corruption, are accused of engaging in retaliatory beatings of inmates who assaulted COs, and then covering up the crimes during the ensuing investigations.

While White is the first to plead guilty in his conspiracy, six defendant COs in the ongoing justice-obstructing beatings probe have already admitted their guilt – and, given the recent wave of inmate assaults on COs at Western Maryland’s North Branch Correctional Institution, reported yesterday by the Washington Post, the probe’s impact on correctional conduct in Maryland is now being put to a very real test.