When a relative of accused druglord Robert G. Moore was stabbed and killed during a robbery, authorities say, Moore vowed to avenge the death.
Over the next eight months, Moore and members of his East Baltimore drug syndicate picked off the man they suspected of killing the relative, former standout high school wrestler Darian Kess, and shot five more people, police and prosecutors say.
On Friday, Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein announced drug and murder conspiracy charges against Moore and more than a dozen others — the result of a six-month investigation by his office's Major Investigations Unit along with city police and agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration. Bernstein said he was making good on a vow to take on tough cases that would help break Baltimore's drug-fueled cycle of violence.
"This case should serve noticed to those who endanger the public through violent criminal activity that there is a new paradigm in law enforcement," Bernstein said at a news conference.
Major cases built with the help of federal law enforcement agencies have generally been handed off to prosecutors in federal court, where sentences tend to be stiffer. But this week's case will be mostly tried by city prosecutors.
That's in part because the underlying factors don't appear to meet federal standards, but also because Bernstein, who was elected after campaigning on a vow to take on tough cases, has sought to reassert the credibility of his office and bolster its relationship with police and federal agencies.
The case highlights how the city's seemingly disparate incidents of violence are often connected, fueled less by gangs than by drug crews made up of relatives and neighborhood associates.
"When you read the criminal complaint, you learn a bit about how crime operates in Baltimore City," said U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, using an analogy of a spider's web. "If you touch the web in one place, it reverberates throughout the web."
Moore, 43, and his wife, Sarah Hooker, 29, are alleged to be at the top of the drug organization. Also charged in the murder conspiracy are Moore's 35-year-old brother, Anthony Roach; Hooker's brother Donnie Adams, 34; Quincy Chisholm, 21;
In federal court, Gregory Fitzgerald, 46, who prosecutors say is connected to Moore's drug organization, and two others were also charged with hiring drug couriers from Los Angeles to bring kilogram quantities of cocaine to Baltimore, concealed in hidden compartments of a Honda Civic.
The violence stems from the killing of Kess, a 27-year-old who was a champion wrestler at powerhouse Archbishop Curley and
But a felony assault case and subsequent conviction derailed those plans, and he struggled to find work after his release from jail. Arrests followed, for marijuana and cocaine possession.
On April 27, 2011, masked men ordered Kess and two female friends to the ground of a home in the 1200 block of Linworth Ave. in New
Kess, who was stabbed in the neck during the robbery, died May 2. Prosecutors said it was unclear whether Kess was targeted in the robbery.
But even as Kess was being treated for the stabbing, Moore was angling to punish the people he deemed responsible for the attack, authorities say.
Moore, Hooker, and Adams tracked down Alex Venable in the 1900 block of N. Collington Ave. and accused him of being involved in the stabbing, prosecutors said. Within hours, Venable was gunned down and killed. Two others, Thomas McNeil and Derrick Vaughn, were wounded.
Six weeks after Venable's killing, on June 7, 2011, a relative of Venable's named Tavin Baker was shot in the 2000 block of E. Lafayette St., allegedly by Moore. Next, Venable's brother, Allen Venable, was shot on Sept. 16, 2011, in the 1900 block of N. Collington St. Three days after that, Edwin Willis, who was walking with Allen Venable when he was shot, was himself shot in the 2000 block of E. Lafayette St.
On Jan. 7, 2012, Vaughn, who was shot and wounded during the killing of Alex Venable, was shot for a second time in the 1900 block of N. Collington Ave.
Moore is currently appealing an eight-year sentence for drug distribution after being convicted by a city jury in March. His attorney in that case, Lawrence Rosenberg, could not be reached for comment.
The federal drug case charges Fitzgerald and Tommy Heard, 34, both of Baltimore, and Curtis Byrd Jr., 37, of