Gang leader Tavon White pleads guilty in jail scheme
Tavon White acknowledged in federal court that he climbed the ranks of the gang and ran a sophisticated scheme to move drugs and cellphones into the city jail
By Ian Duncan
BALTIMORE — The Black Guerrilla Family gang leader at the center of a corruption scandal in the Baltimore City Detention Center pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal racketeering conspiracy charges, then admitted to the state's allegations of attempted murder that originally landed him in jail.
Tavon White, a previously convicted murderer with only an eighth-grade education, acknowledged in federal court that he climbed the ranks of the gang and ran a sophisticated scheme to move drugs and cellphones into the city jail. He also admitted to using corrections officers to get contraband past security and to impregnating four of the officers accused of working for him.
In all, 25 people were indicted in connection with the plot, including 13 female corrections officers.
White, 36, is the first person in the case to plead guilty. All other defendants have denied the charges against them, though a lawyer for one of the indicted officers said Tuesday that she plans to plead guilty to some of the allegations next week.
White appeared in federal court wearing a dark blue jumpsuit, with his facial hair trimmed to a goatee. He did not comment at the hearing except to answer, "Yes, ma'am," and, "No, ma'am," to questions from the judge, who accepted his plea.
A woman who said she knew White but declined to give her name sat with her head in her hands, sniffling, as the hearing proceeded. White is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 20.
In the state case, White was convicted of attempted second-degree murder and a handgun offense Tuesday afternoon. Judge Timothy J. Doory sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
The government and White's attorney, Gary Proctor, have not agreed on his sentence in the racketeering case, and Proctor asked for extra time to conduct an investigation into his client's background.
White faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, which a judge could order him to serve concurrently with the state sentence or after it.
Proctor said White wanted to accept responsibility for his crimes as early as possible. "Ever since I first met him, he acknowledged his wrongdoing," Proctor said.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Owens, a corrections officer who prosecutors say was twice impregnated by White and had the word "Tavon" tattooed on her neck, plans to plead guilty next week, her attorney, C. Justin Brown, said Tuesday. He would not go into detail about the charges to which she would plead.
Owens is accused of helping smuggle drugs into the jail and buying two used cars using money White earned from the smuggling ring, according to filings in the case. Owens also took money to White's lawyer and members of his family, federal agents wrote in the documents.
The U.S. attorney's office announced White's plea in a news release but declined to comment any further.
According to his plea, White joined the BGF in 2000, at a time when he was serving a sentence for a 1996 second-degree murder conviction. White spent much of the past decade in and out of prison, and when police charged him with attempted murder in 2009, he was sent to the Baltimore jail and held without bail.
Back inside, White assumed the gang's rank of lieutenant commander before becoming its chief at the jail in 2011, according to the plea document.
White used both sex and money to cement his position in the jail, prosecutors said, letting some corrections officers drive luxury cars bought with drug proceeds.
The sex could lead to a longer sentence because pregnant women were allegedly involved with the crimes. Cars tied to White — including a Chevrolet, a BMW, an Acura and two Mercedes Benzes — will be seized by the government, according to White's plea agreement.
In the attempted murder, White shot Devon Butler numerous times in what the victim told prosecutors was a dispute over a drug transaction. White had been tried twice before, but the juries deadlocked, with majorities favoring conviction, according to the Baltimore state's attorney's office.
State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein described his office's efforts to convict White as "relentless and unwavering."
"He is a very dangerous man, which is why we went to trial against him not once but twice," Bernstein added.
At the jail, the allegations against White and the others touched off a clamor for reform, with some lawmakers calling for the ouster of corrections secretary Gary D. Maynard. He vowed to clean up the facility, and a legislative commission has started working on ways to prevent corruption and smuggling in the future.
White knew of other corrections officers beyond the 13 indicted who were involved in smuggling contraband and having sex with inmates, according to his plea agreement. No other officers are named.
Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said internal reviews of staff were ongoing.
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