When police pulled over Ronald Alexander earlier this month, he told officers that the 100 grams of heroin they found had been taken from a community member as part of his work with the Safe Streets anti-violence group.
Except the traffic stop was no chance encounter — agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration say they had been listening over a wiretap on Alexander’s phone for months and had been watching him right before initiating the stop.
Alexander, 50, and two others were charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs last week through a criminal complaint following the three-month investigation, which also recorded Alexander saying he would help a man who said he urgently needed a firearm.
“Hey, yo, I need a joint,” the man told Alexander in late June, reportedly referring to a firearm. “ASAP. I’ll pay for it. I need it right now.”
The charges were unsealed Monday, and Safe Streets officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Safe Streets is a program run through the city’s Office on Criminal Justice — formerly through the Health Department — that employs ex-offenders to use their street credibility and experiences to mediate conflicts and reduce violence.
They explicitly do not work with police or share information, as part of offering a safe space for people who may be engaged in crime. The goal is to reduce violence, though outreach workers are instructed to steer clear of crime themselves.
Over the years, the program has been associated with crime declines in their territories, as well as run afoul of police.
A former worker named Ricky Evans pleaded guilty in 2018 and admitted to operating a murder-for-hire scheme and holding meetings of the Black Guerrilla Family at the East Baltimore Safe Streets offices.
“For years, law enforcement believed that BGF used the Safe Streets’ offices as a ‘safe house’ to conduct meetings regarding gang activity,” federal prosecutors wrote in late 2018 in a motion related to Evans’ case. “At least one witness will testify that he/she attended gang meetings at Safe Streets, and that Safe Streets is primarily staffed by BGF members.”
Encouraged by the program’s broader conflict mediation results, officials have added additional sites in recent years. In 2019, officials said Safe Streets workers mediated 1,800 conflicts.
“We can’t indict a whole program based off of the actions of one person. If that was the case, we wouldn’t have a Baltimore City Hall, we definitely wouldn’t have a police department in Baltimore City,” City Council President Brandon Scott recently told The Intercept.
Alexander is accused of running a drug “shop” in the area of Spaulding and Palmer avenues in Northwest Baltimore.
It’s not clear from the complaint how authorities began investigating Alexander. He was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison in 2002 and was released in 2017, court records show.
In one recorded conversation, Alexander discussed guns with another person.
“I got one for the house, and one I keep outside,” Alexander said. “I ain’t in no [expletive] military.”
“I’m trying to get all [the guns] I can get,” the man said. “What if we have to go to war?”
“Most [expletives] who think that always get caught with them,” Alexander replied.
The same man called Alexander another time, saying he urgently needed a firearm. Alexander responded that he didn’t have one to provide but gave the man a phone number of someone he said could loan him one. Agents included in court records a photo of Alexander exiting his house on another date, wearing a “Safe Streets” shirt and holding a bag of white powder that they say was suspected drugs.
Also charged with Alexander was Thomas Corey Crosby, 51, alleged to be a drug supplier in the Baltimore metropolitan area and who the DEA says Alexander acquired drugs from. Crosby previously did seven years in the federal prison system on drug charges. Mark Brinkley, 51, was also charged.
Alexander made his first appearance in U.S. District Court on Monday, and did not enter a plea. None of the men had attorneys listed in court records.
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