Police: DVD aimed at jailed drug kingpin
But law enforcement officials told The (Baltimore) Sun the profanity-laced production was aimed at Tyree Stewart, a man who once ran a $50 million drug ring in West Baltimore, now in prison and cooperating with investigators.
Stewart is the target of many of the anti-witness rants on the recently released DVD -- the seventh "Skinny Suge" production to hit the market, according to lawyers and law enforcement officials.
They say Stewart is believed to have helped federal authorities indict Solothal Thomas, or "Itchy Man," alleged by police to have been one of the most violent "enforcers" in the city.
Thomas has been acquitted of two murder and 12 attempted murder charges in state court. But several months ago, he was indicted on federal conspiracy charges that could carry the death penalty. "They're saying that Solothal Thomas and his brother did a murder-for-hire for Tyree Stewart's drug organization," Thomas' defense attorney Arcangelo M. Tuminelli told The Sun.
To understand the intrigue, one has to go back to the late 1990s, when Tyree Stewart -- also known as "Black" and "Blickie" -- ran one of the city's largest, and most profitable, marijuana rings.
He sold "Arizona" marijuana that he obtained from suppliers in New York, prosecutors said -- a high-quality form of the drug that sold in Baltimore for about $2,000 a pound.
At "shops" throughout the west side, workers packaged the drugs for retail sale managed by Stewart's "lieutenants." Stewart also sold wholesale, prosecutors said.
According to authorities, Stewart protected his territory. His enforcers intimidated potential rivals and protected his turf with violence -- including murder, prosecutors said.
In court papers, prosecutors say Stewart paid $10,000 for the 2002 killing of 21-year-old Terry Cheeks -- retaliation for a killing of one of Stewart's associates. Stewart also used Thomas as an "enforcer," they said.
But, by the early part of this decade, authorities were onto Stewart and his operation. Confidential informants had tipped off detectives. They watched drug transactions during surveillance operations at some of Stewart's shops, according to court papers.
In March 2003, investigators installed a closed-circuit television camera and an audio interception device in the kitchen and living room of the shop at 1809 W. Lanvale St. They also started monitoring Stewart's cell phones.
Over the ensuing months, investigators gathered evidence against the organization -- including Stewart's conversations about countersurveillance techniques. Authorities called it "Operation Arizona."
In August 2003, a federal grand jury indicted Stewart and 31 co-defendants for their alleged involvement in the drug trafficking enterprise. Agents also seized more than $90,000, handguns and four luxury vehicles -- including Stewart's $100,000 Mercedes-Benz CL.
"It was a huge case," said Anthony Barksdale, acting chief of the city's organized crime division, who spearheaded Operation Arizona.
Almost right away, according to court papers, Stewart began cooperating.
In one court motion, a federal agent details how, the day he was arrested, Stewart made a call to an associate, trying to get him to drop off money and a gun to an undercover officer.
Court documents suggest this wasn't a new gig for Stewart.
For instance, one defense lawyer noted in a motion that the Police Department had previously "handled Tyree Stewart as a confidential informant" -- the type of "snitching" the men on the DVD call unacceptable.
Law enforcement officials say they are frustrated by the pervasive street attitude that "witnessing" is poor behavior -- a sentiment clearly demonstrated in Stop Snitching.
In one scene, men sitting on the steps of a rowhouse express dismay after being asked about "Tyree" by someone off camera.
"Word is, they rats," one man exclaimed. "They got our hood so [expletive] up, where [people] think ratting is cool."
"Black changed the norm," the first man said, referring to Stewart by his street name. "Black made the [people] think it was cool to rat and get some money. That's why we got federal penitentiaries all across the country, where people say them Baltimore [people] rat."
In the scene involving Carmelo Anthony, the basketball player refers to Black and laughingly says that he might put some "money on his [expletive] brains."
It is unclear whether Anthony is talking about Tyree Stewart or a freestyle rapper in the DVD, who, in the preceding scene, seems to makes fun of the professional ballplayer. But many others in the DVD are clearly talking about Stewart.
"We see this group still concerned about a case that we took down a year and a half ago," Barksdale said. "They still feel this case. It still has a huge impact."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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