BALTIMORE – The same prosecutors who painted a gang member as the architect of a widespread drug and cellphone smuggling conspiracy said Monday during his sentencing that he actually made the prison safer despite impregnating four guards and directing crime on the streets while behind bars.
Tavon White was sentenced to 12 years in prison -- significantly less than the maximum 20 years he faced -- after prosecutors told the judge he quelled violence by instituting a no-stabbing policy among gang members and then took a substantial risk by testifying against others in the ring.
White, a commander of the Black Guerilla Family, oversaw a contraband smuggling operation inside the Baltimore City Detention Center that grabbed headlines and resulted in a sweeping indictment of 44 people, including 27 corrections officers. Thirty-five of those charged pleaded guilty, including White; eight maintained their innocence and went to trial. A federal jury last week convicted five people, including two corrections officers, two inmates and a kitchen worker of racketeering.
Once the federal government's primary target, and the poster child for the deep-seated and rampant corruption within Baltimore's jails, White's testimony became prosecutors' most valuable asset. He spent five days on the stand.
During opening statements in the two-month trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Harding told jurors, "we're about to go into a strange place. An upside-down world where inmates ran the prison and correctional officers took directions from the gang leader, all of them participating in an ongoing contraband and narcotics trafficking organization inside the prison."
Prosecutors relied on White, who once declared in a jailhouse phone call, "This is my jail," and "I am the law," to prove it.
At the sentencing Monday, Harding told U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander that White deserved a sizeable reduction from the maximum sentence because of his cooperation. Harding said that although White played a significant role in the conspiracy, he helped make the jail safer, and noted that White took a substantial risk testifying against other members of the notoriously violent gang.
"He has assumed a risk he will have to live with for the rest of his life," Harding said. "It took great courage to do what he did. This is a man in danger.
"He became a favorite of prison officials because he quelled violence," Harding continued. "He generally made conditions less violent than it would have been otherwise. The government thinks that in a way, he was a positive influence at BCDC."
During the trial, White testified that prison guards often engaged in sexual relationships with inmates, and were willing participants in the contraband smuggling conspiracy that involved sneaking drugs, tobacco and cellphones into the prison.
White, who impregnated four of the guards while in the jail while awaiting trial on an attempted murder charge, said he never forced a guard to participate.
"I didn't have to," White testified. "I had my children's mothers, and plenty of other guards willing to do it for money."
White's attorney, Gary Proctor, told Hollander on Monday that White is making an effort to turn his life around and has earned his high school equivalency while behind bars. Proctor added that even if White wanted to return to gang activity, his reputation as a cooperating witness in such a high-profile case would make that impossible.
"The agents, the marshals--they all like Mr. White," Proctor said. "And who would take him back? No one will sell drugs with him. It's not like the BGF would throw open their doors and say, `Welcome back."'
Before handing up White's sentence, Hollander told White that his role in the systematic corruption at the jail "eroded public confidence in the system," but added that he "made attempts to make amends" by coming forward and cooperating with prosecutors just days after he was charged.
"It took a lot of courage with a gang as violent as BGF to come forward and testify," Hollander said. "You deserve credit."
White is already serving a 20-year state sentence on an attempted murder charge. The federal sentence will be served concurrently. Proctor said Monday that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has not yet determined where White will serve his sentence.
As White, handcuffed and clad in a tan jumpsuit, was escorted across the courtroom floor, Harding stood and patted the man on the back. In return, White turned to the prosecutor and smiled.