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Justice

Barron outlines plan to use ‘Al Capone model,’ little-known statute to prosecute violent criminals

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) shakes hands with U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek Barron (center), as Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) looks on at a press event in Baltimore on Wednesday. Barron announced his office’s new approaches to combatting violent crime in the state. Photo from the governor’s official Twitter account.

Maryland’s U.S. Attorney Erek Barron announced Wednesday what he called a series of “exceptional actions” that his office will undertake to quell violence in the city of Baltimore, including vetting those suspected of violent crime for white-collar offenses and using a little-utilized federal statute to prosecute gun crimes near schools.

“Violence has been at extraordinary rates for way too long. And exceptional times call for exceptional actions,” said Barron, a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates who is nearing completion of his first year in office as the state’s top federal prosecutor.

Barron said his office’s new strategy relies on three main prongs:

  • Expanding a new violent and organized crime section with 30 new state-funded positions including prosecutors, investigators and analysts.
  • Actively reviewing firearms cases — alongside the Baltimore Police Department and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — for violations of the federal school zone statute.
  • Directing his staff to investigate and prosecute repeat violent offenders “for any and all wrongdoing that meets our priorities, especially fraud.”

“This Al Capone model of prosecution is designed to take violent people off the streets by any appropriate legal means necessary,” Barron said.

Capone, the infamous Prohibition Era violent crime boss, was ultimately sentenced to prison after being convicted of tax evasion.

Barron said his office believes there is significant overlap in people suspected of violent crimes and fraud schemes.

“All too often, we look at our violent crime targets in a vacuum. We’re not going to do that anymore. If we suspect you for committing violent crime in our communities, you will be vetted for any and all wrongdoing that meets our office’s priorities,” Barron said.

That includes unemployment insurance fraud and misuse of pandemic-related federal funding programs including the CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program.

“You might not believe it, but what we have found is that more than half of our targets are involved in such fraud,” Barron said. “…We’re no longer looking at violent crime within a vacuum; You will be vetted for any and all wrongdoing and prosecuted if we suspect you of violent crime, particularly if you are a repeat violent offender.”

Wednesday’s press conference was held across the street from Tench Tilghman Elementary and Middle School in East Baltimore.

“Just like my family and I are expecting my daughter’s safe return to school, so too are the families of students in this community and every community throughout Maryland,” Barron said. “…School grounds should be safe, sacred and free of fear.”

The federal statute that his office will prosecute with voracity includes a penalty of up to five years in prison for knowingly possessing or using a gun in a school zone.

In March, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced he would direct $3.5 million in additional funding to the U.S. Attorney’s office to provide for 10 additional prosecutors in the Baltimore office, four additional prosecutors in Greenbelt, 10 new investigators, five data analysts and four support personnel.

On Wednesday, Barron said “by multiple multiples, the state funding for our office is far and away more than there ever has been.”

Hogan thanked Barron for being a partner and commended him for the “incredible new initiative.”

“For eight years, our administration has been fighting to give law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges, the tools that they need to fight violent crime and to hold violent criminals accountable. And a critical piece of that has been active collaboration and coordination with all levels of government,” Hogan said.

A crowd of local, state and federal leaders including Attorney General Brian Frosh (D), Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D) and Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison used the event to highlight other crime-fighting partnerships in the city.

(Notably missing was Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who lost the Democratic primary for the office last month and is facing a federal trial next month.)

Despite the coordinated efforts touted Wednesday, there have been 233 homicides in the city so far this year — and police were responding to a “multi-victim shooting scene” in Northwest Baltimore as the officials held their press conference.

Asked about the continued violence in light of prior partnership efforts, Scott said people will start to see a difference.

“When you have the weight of our federal partners, our state partners and our local partners working together in ways that they hadn’t before … you will start to see that people see things in a different way,” Scott said. “…If you know anything about the street, people fear the weight of federal government and federal law enforcement.”