Leader of Violent Baltimore Drug Organization Exiled to Life in Federal Prison

Federal Prosecution Followed Lengthy State Wiretap Investigation

April 28, 2010

Baltimore, Maryland - U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg sentenced Johnnie Butler, a/k/a “Jr.,” age 34, of Nottingham, Maryland today to life in prison, followed by five years of supervised release for conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and possession of a gun by a convicted felon. Judge Legg enhanced Butler’s sentence upon finding by clear and convincing evidence that Butler was responsible for the murder of Fernando Rodriguez and was a leader of the conspiracy.

Yesterday, Judge Legg sentenced co-defendant Calvin Wright, a/k/a “Turkey,” age 38, of Baltimore, to 35 years in prison on drug and firearm charges. Butler and Wright were convicted in this case by a federal jury on January 29, 2010 and still face separate state charges for the 2007 torture and murder of Sintia Mesa.

The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Baltimore City State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy; Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III of the Baltimore City Police Department; and Special Agent in Charge Ava Cooper-Davis of the Drug Enforcement Administration - Washington Field Division.

“Baltimore City police and prosecutors conducted a lengthy wiretap investigation and worked with DEA agents and federal prosecutors to gather the evidence needed to exile Johnnie Butler for life in federal prison,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “It is no coincidence that shootings and murders decline when armed criminals are exiled from Baltimore through the coordinated efforts of local, state and federal authorities.”

“The sentence Mr. Butler received today sends a very strong message to all dealers, gangs and drug organizations out there that DEA means business,” said Ava Cooper-Davis, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “We will identify you and you will go to jail for a long time. Many citizens came forward and assisted DEA and Baltimore Police to help send Mr. Butler to jail. When citizens work together with law enforcement, bad guys go to jail. This case was a product of an extensive investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Baltimore Police Department,” added Cooper-Davis.

Rafael Rodriguez testified at trial that during the course of his drug dealing relationship with Butler, there came a time when Butler owed Rodriguez nearly $100,000. Rodriguez became desperate to collect his money because he owed money to his suppliers and they were pressuring him to make payments. In order to trick Butler into bringing him some money, Rodriguez told Butler that if he gave him $55,000, he would provide five additional kilograms of cocaine. Instead of cocaine, Rodriguez provided soap. Butler was enraged and left Rodriguez a phone message in which he said “he knew where my brother lived . . . He started threatening me. He said ... he was going to kill what I loved most. . . .anything that breathes, anything that has to do with you, your dog, your cat, your brother, whatever.” Months later, Rafael Rodriguez’s brother, Fernando Rodriguez, was found dead. A witness testified that he was present when Butler shot and killed Fernando Rodriguez.

Additionally, from January 2001 until they were arrested on September 11, 2008, Butler and Wright organized and led a large, violent drug organization that used locations in Baltimore, such as the 5000 block of Belair Road, Greenmount Avenue and 29th Street, and Collington Avenue and Eager Street, to package, store and distribute drugs and collect money from drug customers. Witnesses testified that members of the conspiracy supplied the street inventory as needed and used guns to protect the drugs and drug proceeds and to further the drug organization.

According to the evidence and witness testimony, over the course of the conspiracy Butler was responsible for the distribution of at least 20 kilograms of cocaine and 10 to 30 kilograms of heroin. Additionally, the day before they were arrested, Butler was heard on a recorded call telling Wright that he and others were “rolling strapped” in a Dodge green Caravan. Multiple witnesses testified that the word “strapped” refers to carrying a firearm. Two firearms, including an SKS assault-style rifle, were found in the Dodge Caravan by authorities the next day.

The federal indictment and prosecution was the result of a long term state wiretap investigation. United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein and Baltimore City State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy commended Assistant United States Attorney George J. Hazel and Special Assistant United States Attorney Christine M. Celeste, a cross-designated Baltimore City Assistant State’s Attorney, who prosecuted this Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force case and Assistant State’s Attorneys Melissa Copeland, Jerry Jones and Michael Studdard, who assisted in the prosecution.


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