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Mobtown Beat


Feds dismiss drug indictment of waterfront union worker

Baltimore dockworker Michael Thames has dodged drug-related criminal charges before, but none as severe as the federal cocaine indictment brought against him last fall by a grand jury. On Feb. 24, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz granted Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Block’s dismissal of the indictment in an order that provided no explanation as to why. Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson Marcia Murphy, in a Feb. 25 e-mail, said her office “can’t comment” on the development.

Thames, a member of Local 333 of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), is more fortunate than four of his waterfront colleagues who recently have landed in hot water with federal prosecutors. Thames’ Local 333 colleague, politically connected Baltimore bailbondsman and real estate investor Milton Tillman Jr., pleaded guilty in December to white-collar charges that included fraudulent payments for shifts that Tillman did not actually work. Three ILA timekeepers who were caught up in the Tillman investigation, meanwhile, were convicted of fraud for similar conduct during a federal jury trial in September (“Collateral Catch,” Mobtown Beat, March 31, 2010; “Clocked,” Mobtown Beat, Oct. 6, 2010).

The rash of law-enforcement action on the waterfront prompted City Paper to scrutinize Local 333’s roster, which resulted in indications that many members are actively engaged in criminal conduct (“Union Busted,” Feature, Nov. 24, 2010).

Thames’ criminal-defense attorney, Benjamin Sutley, said his client still faces state-level criminal charges in a case that involves separate drug-dealing allegations. That case, which court records show is scheduled for trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court later this month, was indicted by a state grand jury last spring, prior to the federal indictment.

“We’ve been trying to keep it there” in state court “rather than federal,” Sutley said of his client’s criminal troubles.

Thames’ now-dismissed federal charges were based on a Sept. 1, 2010, raid on his Essex home, which turned up about five ounces of cocaine, about $5,000, and other drug-dealing contraband. In a Jan. 14 letter updating Motz about the federal case, Block wrote that “the parties continue to negotiate to resolve the case via plea agreement,” adding that “both parties agree that additional time to negotiate, investigate and prepare will assist them in reaching a resolution prior to trial.” Rather than a plea agreement, though, the case ended up resolved by dismissal.

Court records indicate that Thames has drawn a number of criminal charges that prosecutors later decline to press. In addition to three criminal convictions—in 1992 for false statement, in 1994 for battery and harassment, and in 2000 for drug dealing—he was not convicted in two drug-possession cases in 2004, a 2002 drug-dealing case, and several 1990s drug-related cases.

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