Guilty plea underscores “family” in BGF racketeering case
The three defendants who’ve pleaded guilty so far in this year’s Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison-gang racketeering case involving Maryland correctional officers (COs) share a jail-spawned family tree. The lead defendant, BGF leader Tavon White, who pleaded guilty on Aug. 6, had children with CO Jennifer Owens, who pleaded guilty on Aug. 13, and CO Katera Stevenson, who pleaded guilty yesterday. Two other CO defendants who so far have maintained their innocence – Tiffany Linder and Chania Brooks – also had children with White.
What the future holds for the children White had by his co-defendants remains to be seen. The fate of their parents, though, is in the hands of the justice system. The charges – that White essentially ran the BCDC with his BGF underlings and a harem of COs – have embarrassed an already beleaguered Maryland correctional administration under Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), a possible 2016 presidential candidate who touts his management prowess. But while the system shakes and frets over the case, its details provide glimpses of White’s family matters.
White thinks “I’m one of the most crazy baby mothers he has,” Stevenson said, according to court records, adding that “he said he gonna pay my rent. … 284 every month.” Owens’ thoughts about her growing family included her confiding to a friend that “I’m fucking pregnant again. Like really, who the fuck does that? Only my dumb ass do shit like that, for real. I can accept that I fucked up. I know I did, but I did that shit cuz I wanted to. I don’t regret it.” She also said she’d returned $5,000 White had given her, recalling that she’d told White: “You supposed to be a big nigger and everything, you got a petty ass $5,000. If you was a nigger getting money, this $5,000 wouldn’t mean shit to you.”
White, meanwhile, in January told his grandmother, Bessie Timmons, that Owens “is going to have the baby next month” and Stevenson is “due February 22nd,” so “she might drop on my birthday [Feb. 19] ‘cause she big too. That’s the one with the black Lexus.” He called Linder “the other girl, the DC girl, with the other car with the big wheels on it,” telling his grandmother that “she due in March too.” Brooks he also described as “the other girl,” explaining that “she was 6 months by me, Bess, … And guess what? Turned right back around and pregnant again already.”
The wiretaps picked up bickering among the growing family tree. Linder was overheard telling White, “I just want to know what it is between us, and what are you going to do about the baby ‘cause I’m definitely keeping him. I don’t have time for games.” When Brooks blew up at Linder about their pregnancies by White, she said, “I don’t give a fuck about that baby. That’s y’all baby, not mine. We having one too. So what?”
But tender moments were also captured, like when Owens told White: “You know what makes me stay with [you]? SEX! It’s not that I have two babies by [you]. Leave [you] for what? No one’s going to give me sex like that … Hopefully you’re gonna come home soon, but if not, I will take some sex in the meantime.”
The corruption exposed by the case appears to greater than what’s been charged so far. According to Stevenson’s guilty plea, she “smuggled large quantities of marijuana, tobacco and prescription pills” into the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC) for White and other BGF members, and she was “well aware” that they were BGF. Stevenson’s plea also includes the admission that she “knew many other CO’s who smuggled contraband” – echoing what White and Owens said in their pleas, too. The suggestion of broader prison corruption also appeared in the FBI’s search warrant in the case, which described a lieutenant who understood that so long as prison violence is kept low, the BGF would be allowed to move contraband.
While the outcome of the case against White, Owens, Linder and the rest – 25 in all, including 13 COs – is yet to come, the investigation may end up having as big an impact as Maryland correctional chief Gary Maynard initially predicted. In April, when the scandal first erupted, he told the Daily Beast that, while “ugly,” the probe is “not the end” but “the beginning,” saying he’d “start to take action” that “will not be easy. It will be painful for many.”
The indictment was unsealed shortly after the Maryland legislature ended its annual session, but a Special Joint Commission on Public Safety and Security in State and Local Correctional Facilities , was convened, co-chaired by Sen. James DeGrange of Anne Arundel County and Del. Guy Guzzone of Howard County, both Democrats. It is due to submit its reform recommendations before the January start of the 2014 legislative session.
The legislature’s recent history in grappling with integrity issues among prison staff includes its 2010 passage of a “correctional officers bill of rights,” which in court documents the FBI called “ineffective as a deterrent” against the BGF’s CO-facilitated smuggling operation. Turns out, the bill won lawmakers’ support as a result of a 2008 inmate-beating probe in which accused prison staffers said they were railroaded by investigators, though the FBI this year filed civil-rights conspiracy and obstruction-of-justice charges against many of them.
This year’s BGF racketeering case already has had repercussions for prison management, such as internal reviews and staff changes, but concrete reform must await General Assembly action. White’s children of CO mothers, meanwhile, can grow up assured that their parents’ crimes made at least a splash – and possibly a wave of reform, depending on what the legislature does.