- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

A federal grand jury yesterday indicted a Takoma Park woman and 30 others on charges of operating a drug-trafficking and money-laundering ring in the Baltimore-Washington area, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials said.

Paulette Martin, 57, is suspected of leading the ring, which had been under investigation by ICE agents and other federal authorities for more than three years, said Assistant Homeland Security Secretary Michael J. Garcia, who heads ICE.

The ring distributed huge quantities of cocaine, crack cocaine and heroin throughout the Baltimore-Washington area beginning in January 2001 and continuing through last month, and acted as the distributors for suppliers in New York, Los Angeles and the Caribbean, Mr. Garcia said.

Some ring members used their drug money to fraudulently buy life insurance policies on persons without their knowledge, and collected on those policies when the persons died, Mr. Garcia said. The indictment does not say if any of the fraudulently insured persons were killed for their life-insurance benefits.

From about June 13, 1995, until March, Mrs. Martin worked with Richard Gunn, 52, an insurance agent doing business in Burtonsville, to acquire more than 17 life insurance policies on several persons, many of whom had criminal backgrounds, Mr. Garcia said.

As recently as March, Mrs. Martin and her co-conspirators collected the insurance proceeds as a result of the fraudulent scheme, he said.

U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio in Baltimore said the “indictment is another example of our continued commitment to dismantle entire drug organizations and their financial components.”

ICE initiated its investigation in October 2002 with help from a multiagency, drug money-laundering task force that included police departments in Prince George’s, Howard and Baltimore counties. The Insurance Fraud Division of the Maryland Office of the Attorney General assisted with the insurance fraud investigation, and the Drug Enforcement Administration assisted with the arrests and search warrants.

Beginning June 1, the task force executed federal search warrants in Maryland, the District and New York, resulting in the arrest of 29 persons on drug conspiracy and mail and wire fraud charges, Mr. Garcia said. Agents seized eight handguns, large quantities of cocaine and heroin, and more than $1 million in cash, believed to be money from drug sales.

Several weeks earlier, the task force arrested Gwendolyn Levi, 60, of Elkridge, Md.; Donna Johnson, 46, of Landover; and Juan Manuel Rojas-Castro, 29, of Bronx, N.Y., on separate warrants. They were found in possession of more than three kilograms of heroin and $250,000 in cash, Mr. Garcia said, adding that they were responsible for importing large amounts of heroin into Maryland from New York.

Mr. Garcia said the accused face life in prison on drug-conspiracy charges and 20 years for separate counts of mail and wire fraud.

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