We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
No one knows how long Lorton inmate Gregory Smith had planned his courtroom surprise. The prosecutor in last year’s trial of Cpl. Robert T. Green, the most corrupt Lorton correctional officer in memory, had just finished his questioning of Smith and was starting to sit down.
“And I just had one thing to present to the court,” Smith started blubbering, all on his own now. “I had been holding this for three years. And like I explained to you earlier about the CB3, of the sex thingI ran the sex ring. I had a handcuff key, because whenever you go to the visiting hall, you will be handcuffed”
CB3 was Lorton Maximum Security Facility’s Cellblock 3, but beyond that, the gesticulating man on the stand in the bright orange coveralls was talking nonsense. Green’s lawyers weren’t sure what was coming, but they clearly didn’t like the trend.
“Objection, your honor,” snapped Bernard S. Grimm, Green’s defense attorney and one of D.C.’s most highly regarded criminal lawyers, as he jumped from his seat. “Not in the indictment! Nonresponsive! Irrelevant!” he sputtered.
The judge sustained the objection, shutting Smith up temporarily. Still, Special Assistant United States Attorney Irvin McCreary “Mac” Allen of the D.C. Corporation Counsel’s office was interested in what might be on his witness’s mind.
“Was the defendant involved in that sex”
“Yes, he was involved!” Smith interrupted. “I have something to prove,” he added. “I have something to prove to the jurywhat [Green] gave me that I had for three years!”
With that, Smith started to clear his throatfast, hard, head-shaking coughs. He brought his hand to his mouth, picked something out of it with his thumb and forefinger, and lifted the object above his head as he sat in the elevated witness box in front of Judge Claude M. Hilton in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
All eyes were now on the item Smith had coughed up. “Handcuff key,” he declared, laying it down on the flat wooden rail in front of him. It was tightly wrapped in a putty-colored condom. “I had it for several years,” Smith said and sat back.
Green’s attorney Grimm immediately asked the judge for a private conversation at the bench. Once he and Allen had walked up and leaned over Hilton’s bench, Grimm continued his objection.
“I move to strike this entire line of testimony. This can’t come in,” Grimm said. He wanted the key thrown out and the jury instructed to ignore what had just happened. “[T]his is a complete outrage for this man to have vomited up a handcuff key while he is on the witness stand!”
Hilton overruled him, and Grimm tried to look cool under the jury’s eyes as he walked back to the defense table, calmly put his hands on the table, and listened as Smith told the jury how Grimm’s client, a guard with many commendations, had run a flophouse inside a maximum-security cellblock.
“Well, like I was trying to explain to you,” Smith said, “I was in charge of the ‘hit spot,’ what they call the sex spot. When you come down to Lorton, when the visitors come down, they charge them $1 a minute. Twenty dollarsif you give $20, you get 20 minutes in a little mop closet, [with] sheets, towels, and mattress and stuff.”
Maximum-security inmates wear handcuffs when they meet their visitors. Removing the cuffs was part of the service. “[M]y job was to take the inmates’ handcuffs off…so they could be able to go in there [and] have hand movement,” said Smith.
It is, of course, against D.C. Department of Corrections regulations for inmates to have sex, money, or handcuff keys, but the man who was charged with ensuring that those strictures were enforced had a different agenda. Instead of working for the corrections department, Green, an officer for eight years, worked for inmate Keith Gaffney. Gaffney, 44, was the kingpin and mastermind behind Lorton’s largest known drug conspiracy.
Gaffney cut an amazing figure inside Lorton. Under his prison blues he wore a diamond-studded gold medallion of the Muslim star-and-crescent around his neck. His lieutenants held thousands of dollars of his money, and he was fond of drawing comparisons between himself and Mafioso John Gotti. When he wanted another inmate’s gold chain, according to indictments, he ordered that inmate beaten. When he wanted another inmate’s job in the cellblock, prosecutors contended, he ordered that inmate killed. When correctional officers wanted some additional cash, they got it from Gaffney. When he wanted something from them, he got it. Guards and inmates, they all worked for Gaffney.
It made for some remarkable permissions inside Max.
“Gaffney was allowed to have sex with correctional officers,” charged Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas M. Hollenhorst at Gaffney’s trial. “He, in fact, had sex with correctional officers and inmates and visitors. This was all part of the power that he was given and that he took.”
The sex was actually just a small part of a very large caper. Everybody knows that drugs leak into prison, but there is little precedent, at least in America, for the kind of massive criminal enterprise Gaffney managed to run. According to testimony in three trials, Gaffney reigned over a heroin empire from 1989 through 1994 that flourished particularly in 1990, ’91, and ’92. Today, the investigation of his reach into the Department of Corrections is still in progress, with indictments of more correctional officers expected in the next few months. When the assistant U.S. Attorneys and their investigators talk about the case among themselves, they call it “the case that never ends.”
Lorton Maximum Security’s Cellblock 3 is generally called “CB3,” but the block has a special moniker among the inmates. “They used to call that the ‘House of Pain,’” Smith testified, “because if you fuck[ed] up, we [would] deal with you on our own basis.”
Cellblock 3 houses “administrative segregation inmates and mentally challenged” inmates, according to a former officer. CB3 is a violent block. It has the inmates who are serving the longest sentences, who committed the most severe crimes, and who have the biggest problems getting along with other inmates.
Smith, 44, who doesn’t know how to read or write but has Hollywood-perfect timing for coughing up handcuff keys, is doing time for murder and attempted robbery while armed. He knew Gaffney from juvenile detention facilities when he was 13 years old. In CB3, he became Gaffney’s right-hand man. He and Gaffney were “like brothers.”
Until, that is, Gaffney put out a $10,000 contract on his life, and fellow House of Pain resident Henry “Little Man” James put an ice pick into Smith’s neck, back, and chest. Smith was flown to D.C. General Hospital by helicopter and narrowly escaped dying. Another inmate testified that James had either used Gaffney’s handcuff key or gotten one of his own to shed his cuffs for the attack. After that, Smith went state’s evidence.
“[Packages of heroin] were sold through the windows,” Smith testified. “We were in CB3. So you got CB1 on this side and CB5 on this side. And you got CB2, 4, and 6 across the walk. And you’ve got [Cellblock] 7 on the left side….You see, we kept drugs seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
On a good daysay the day after visiting day, when inmates are more likely to have money”we [made] between $800 and $900 in one day,” he estimated.
All that dealing is in $5 and $10 (“nickel” and “dime”) bags, sometimes $20 bags, sometimes more. “[W]e cut drugs basically every day, as soon as we [ran] out,” Smith told the court. “You have so much raw dope….You cut what you’re going to cut, bag it up, and I [passed] it all out, [passed it] through the door,” to “officers, and [whoever] might come in and need some.”
One inmate testified that on his tier of 17 or 18 inmates, “probably about seven or eight” bought heroin from Gaffney. If the buyer needed syringes, the inmate said, Gaffney provided those, too.
Dealing within the prison was as simple as working the corners on the outsideeasier maybebecause law enforcement was an integral part of the enterprise. Gaffney & Co. lost nothing to being in prison; they sold quality smack, worlds better than the drywall dust that is standard jail fare.
When their powder arrived it was “too strong. It would actually kill a person if they took it like that,” said Tony Patterson, another of Gaffney’s top soldiers. Patterson testified for prosecutors in exchange for not being indicted as a co-conspirator, which could have been his third felony conviction and his third strike. (Testifying paid off for him: Today, he’s on the street.)
New shipments went to a tester: either Smith or Walter Harris, another user Gaffney knew from juvenile detention days. They would shoot up a sample and judge what “cut” it should havethe proportion of raw heroin to mixing agents. The usual cut was one to five: one part heroin, five parts mixing agents, the same mix as most street smack.
“You keep the raw dope alone,” Smith explained. Once raw heroin is mixed with other substances, it starts to lose its potency after a few days. Even in Maximum Security, no shortcuts were made or compromises necessary due to the circumstances. Quality control necessitated daily cutting and bagging sessions, called “going to the table.” At the table, according to Patterson, they bagged at a rate of about 150 to 200 $5 bags an hour in Gaffney’s cell, with a curtain rigged over the bars.
Behind the curtain they tore, folded, and taped small pieces of glossy magazine paper into little packets containing one to three match head-size doses of heroin. Nickel bags were grouped into piles of 54, and each pile went into a green “medicine bag” that the D.C. Department of Corrections uses to pass medication to inmates. Gaffney and Patterson handed those bags off to “runners,” who sold the dope.
“Forty [of the nickels] were ours,” Patterson testified. Fourteen were the dealer’s, to do with whatever he wantedshoot, sell, or exchange for favorsjust as long as he brought back $200 for the 40 bags.
Gaffney, Smith, Patterson, eventually Harris, and sometimes others cut drugs daily. Green smuggled in small balloons of raw heroin every other dayusually inside takeout bags from fast-food joints. At least five officers eventually became part of the smuggling operation. Gaffney had visitors almost every visiting day, of which there are four each week, and got his suppliers from the outside put on his cohorts’ guest lists. Back in the block, they passed the powder back to Gaffney.
Gaffney mostly used visiting women for smuggling. “Women were good at bringing in heroin,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Hollenhorst told Gaffney’s jury, because officers did not search them as thoroughly. “The women he used often would conceal the heroin in their vagina or in their underwear.”
Gaffney also went to church to smuggle, according to Dan Sparks, the FBI special agent in charge of the case. “He had a vast array of female visitors and family members who would traffic drugs from the streets of Washington into medium- and maximum-security facilities. These drugs would be passed during visits that were supposed to be religious-type visits, and they were given lax security.”
From the visiting room the inmates made sure that Green “searched” them. “[T]he police might be looking through the window, this window right here, watching him shake us down,” Smith said at Green’s trial. “But all the time the drugs might be in your pocket. He [would] tell you, ‘Bend over, squat, open your butt,’ and all this stuff, and say, ‘OK, go ahead.’”
The drugs came in tied-up balloons with the ends wrapped tightly back over the contents. Gaffney called the balloons “suitcases.” Suitcases usually contained two to three teaspoons of good heroin. One corrupt correctional officer testified that he had brought in balloons an inch in diameter, tight and hard with packed powder inside. Once inside CB3, the raw heroin was poured into surgical gloves for storage. (Patterson said he got the gloves from the medical department, and added that the cutters wore masks over their mouths so that the drugs wouldn’t affect them.) When the powder harvest was in the glove, he tied it tight, “so that at any emergency, they [could] go up my rectum and the drugs would not be damaged,” Patterson explained.
The gloves helped the gang track the quantity of the new raw dope. “Some days it would be enough to fill one [index finger], or some days it would actually fill two fingers,” Patterson told the jury at Gaffney’s trial.
All the money they were making presented a practical problem as well. Bills had to be stored and smuggled out for more purchases, a far bulkier challenge than the heroin the dollars purchased. Smith testified that he had used an Ace bandage to wrap $10,000 around Green so that he could take it out. (When they learned that Green had kept $1,000 of it for himself, he and Gaffney considered killing him, but decided against it when a correctional officer told them she would hold Gaffney responsible for anything that happened to Green.)
Smith stored money, sometimes as much as $6,000, but most of the money and drug storage fell to Patterson, who told the courtroom, “I’m considered a blatant homosexualflamboyantin jail, out and about.” Patterson was the bank for a very specific reason: hygiene.
“Well, by being a homosexualit might sound funny, but I clean my rectum out like a woman actually cleans her vagina out. I’m not saying I had some disease; I made aalways had homemade devices, which would be a shampoo bottle or something like that. But later on, as I lived at Maximum Security, I had an opportunity to obtain a Massengill from the commissary.”
Patterson often stored more than a half-ounce of heroin in his rectum, as well as sizable amounts of cash, which he first folded in half and wrapped in a piece of plastic he tore from a trash-can liner. He usually held $900 to $1,000 per day in his rear-end safety deposit box, he testified.
“On [visiting days], it would be much more,” he said. If he had more than that, it had to move. “Too much for me to keep up my anus,” Patterson explained matter-of-factly. As a result, he says, sometimes he had three visits a week from Mona Lisa Gaffney, Keith’s sister, who took the cash and gave him balloons to take back to the block.
Mona Lisa was one of Gaffney’s most reliable smugglers, according to several of Gaffney’s soldiers. Now 47 years old, overweight, and matronly, Mona Lisa was raising Gaffney’s twin toddler grandsons as her own. She brought the boys with her on her visits to see Gaffney. According to testimony in various trials, when the dealing got fierce, Gaffney asked her to visit Patterson as well, supposedly because he was from New York and had no one to visit him. Patterson became one of the most damaging witnesses against Mona Lisa and her brother.
Patterson is of medium height, but his body is so muscular it makes him appear squat. His pink button-down shirt and khaki pants stretched uncomfortably around his leg and arm muscles, and he walked unsteadily to and from the witness stand, as if his feet were too small. As he teetered around the courtroom, his face wore a look of constant surprise.
The convicted coke dealer is an alert and sharp witness on the stand. He gives dates, remembers numbers, is clear in recalling and relating the chronological sequence of events. And he has no shame. He is a highly intelligent and convincing witness, who nonetheless gets impatient and snappish at the slow pace of the stepping-stone questions lawyers ask to make things clear for a jury. After testifying for the prosecution in Gaffney’s trial, Green’s trial, and Mona Lisa’s trial, he could probably cross-examine himself.
Patterson testified that he had had at least 30 visits from Mona Lisa, and on each occasion she passed him two balloons containing three teaspoons of uncut heroin. Sometimes she pulled the balloons right out of her bra, he told the jury; other times she went into the bathroom first. “Visiting people stick it in their rectum or put [it] in their mouth and pass it [to the inmate during the visit]. It was quite normal,” Patterson said.
Normal, that is, for the House of Pain.
While Lorton offered a captive market, running a drug empire in a maximum-security institution presented significant logistical challenges. Roughly 100 inmates are housed in single cells in CB3, and all but a select few are “locked down”locked in their cells 23 hours a day. In the remaining hour, they are cuffed and escorted between recreation and showers. The select few who are not locked down number about 10, and form “the detail,” the cellblock’s group of trustees who serve food to locked-down inmates and take care of maintenance inside the block. The detail men have free movement within the block for several hours each day. In the House of Pain, Gaffney was in charge of the detail, and his lieutenants and dealers made up the rest of the crew.
Under this arrangement, the cellblock ran very smoothly. “If there was a disturbance, we would tell [the offender], ‘Chill out, motherfucker, or you know what will happen,’” Patterson told the jury at Green’s trial. Smith, who was also part of the inner circle, told the jury, “Whatever guy that is being the asshole or creating the problem” would find his cell door “popped” open by Green. Then the detail would storm into the cell. “We [would] go in there and beat the shit out of him. No face shots, all body and nut shots,” Smith testified.
“That’s when the officer would never have to do anything, because the detail men took care of everything….That kept the lieutenant, the other administration people from coming in,” Smith said. “So…we had a lot of control of the block. Everybody was doing the right thing.”
Patterson said that Gaffney owned his closest overseers. “Most of the officers knew what was going on; it was their supervisors we were worried about,” Patterson said.
As controllers of the food cart, the detail men had other sources of leverage. If an inmate wasn’t with their program, he got a “Dick Gregory diet”no food. That’s what happened to CB3 resident Norman Ray “Pizzaro” Willis Jr., when he challenged the detail as it was beating a defenseless inmate on his tier.
“Well, Fly [Gaffney’s nickname] came by my cell and said I was on Dick Gregory,” said Willis. “I asked him, ‘For what?’ You know, he didn’t give no reason. When Officer Green came by, I said, ‘Green, you see your boy gave me, you know, a Dick Gregoryhe ain’t feeding me.’ He said, ‘Well, who did it?’ And I thought he [was] going to help me out because [of] the way he said it: ‘Who did it?’ I said, ‘Your boy, you knowyour boy.’ He said, ‘Who?’ I said, ‘Fly.’ He said, ‘Oh, Fly did that?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Well, then you are on Dick Gregory.’”
“So he left, and then he came back and he said, ‘Well, if you want to eat, you got to fight one of my boys,’” referring to the detail thugs. “‘You know, pick which one you want to fight.’ So I picked Danny.”
Willis boxed Danny with the detail watching, in what the prosecutors called “a human cockfight.” “I got my ass kicked,” testified Willis. “I ain’t going to lie about that.”
Things were really cooking during the summer of 1990. Gaffney was on top, the product was moving through the tiers, and nobody was the wiser. Green, who was the ultimate inside man, saw his career take some nice turns
as well. He was named Officer of the Month
Then, in June the next year he received a “personal appreciation” note from Douglas W. Stempson, administrator of maximum security. “Officers of the Emergency Response Team at Maximum Security [the prison’s SWAT team, of which Green was a member] are the best in the D.C. Department of Corrections,” the note said.
And in May 1991 Green received a letter of commendation from Capt. Robert Fulton, the acting major for operations, for “solving” a disturbance in CB2. “Officer Green exemplifies the highest standard of our correctional force,” wrote the captain. “HE IS ABOVE THE REST” (emphasis Fulton’s).
Green sought to show his gratitude to Gaffney. According to Mac Allen, the prosecutor, Green told Gaffney, “Hey man, you are taking care of me real well. I’m going to take care of you,” and escorted a woman into Gaffney’s cell. The prosecutor’s words are hard to verify, but according to the FBI and others, Yolanda Scott, an off-duty correctional officer wearing civilian clothes, visited Gaffney in his cell.
Delivering a female correctional officer to Gaffney’s cell wasn’t by any means the most egregious thing Green did for the kingpin. Testimony indicated that Green had snuck Gaffney his institutional file from the front office, including a document listing his charges and sentences. Once he had the file in his possession, Gaffney began to do some creative editing in order to graduate from Max to Lorton’s Medium Security Facility.
“Well, Gaffney-Bey [Gaffney added “-Bey” to his name when he joined a Muslim temple] has been locked up a long time, and he is a very manipulative, very smart person,” explained Smith. “So one day he came up with a master plan on how to beat the system.”
In his opening statement, Allen told the jury that Green had retrieved the 2-inch-thick file and left it with Gaffney in his cell for four hours. Using the institution’s typewriter, Gaffney allegedly retyped parts of it, leaving off some of his convictions and changing “consecutive” prison sentences into “concurrent” onesthus shortening his sentence from 36 years to life to 24-to-life. Testimony indicated that someone had forged the signature of a judge at the bottom. (Gaffney was found not guilty of tampering with the file.)
Smith says he paced back and forth in front of Gaffney’s cell while Gaffney did the work, “so nobody would walk up on him and catch him messing with the [file].”
On the stand, Gaffney denied that he had had access to the now-incorrect document. “How I’m going to get it?” he said under questioning from his lawyer.
Experts who examined the doctored document, which is known as a judgment and commitment order, noted that while it was a very sloppy makeover, it had been good enough to fool the front office, where legal-document handlers prepared a new log of Gaffney’s sentence based on the incorrect form.
Six months or so after Smith stood guard over Gaffney’s alleged forgery, Smith recalls, Gaffney got his transfer to Lorton’s Medium Security Facility. Gaffney began serving his sentence in 1973. Department records now erroneously said he was eligible for parole in 1993. His alleged doctoring of the judgment and commitment order had shaved 12 years off his sentence. He was on his way to the open gate.
Keith Eugene Gaffney went to Lorton in September 1973 for assault with intent to commit rape while armed, assault with intent to kill while armed, three counts of armed robbery, three counts of rape while armed, kidnapping, and burglaryall stemming from the same offense. He was 20 years old.
“I was a young guy that felt like my life was gone and nothing mattered to me,” he said on the stand in 1995.
In Lorton, he turned to boxing and in 1976 became the middleweight champion of the facility. In the ’70s and ’80s, he was shuffled around among federal prisonsMcNeil Island, Wash., Terre Haute, Ind., Springfield, Mo.between stays at Lorton.
No one but he knows exactly when and how he started to run the cellblock, but Gaffney built an empire quickly after the feds transferred him back to Lorton Max in 1988. Housed in CB3, he met correctional officer Quincy Ford. Ford, then 32, had spent two years in college and six years in the military before joining the D.C. Department of Corrections. Ford saw Gaffney as “one of the type of inmates who run the institution. The big guys.” In 1989, Ford started doing favors for Gaffney: letting him use the telephone, bringing him alcohol. But the little misdemeanor favors took a dark turn when he started bringing in packages of powder he picked up from Gaffney’s daughter, Ford testified. Then he introduced Gaffney to Green, who was 29, had spent seven years in the army, and was new in CB3.
Green discovered that Gaffney knew his uncle and that they had relatives who had grown up together in southeast D.C. Green began running errands and drugs for the prisoner. Since he and Ford both worked the 4-to-midnight shift, they car-pooled and after work went to drink in the parking lot of the Eastover Shopping Center, at South Capitol Street and Southern Avenue, where there was a liquor store that was open until 2 a.m.
Other correctional officers met them there, always near a particular island in the parking lot. Mona Lisa Gaffney was often there as well, according to testimony. She brought them balloons, and they brought her cash. At her trial, Green said she gave them “no less than four balloons every time.” He usually gave her $300 or $400 dollars; the most he passed at one time was $1,200. Gaffney called Mona Lisa in advance, Green testified, to indicate how much cash to expect.
Ford used his lunch box to bring drugs into Max. Green sometimes used seafood submarine sandwiches to smuggle balloons ina twofer that allowed Gaffney to get the dope and avoid Max’s notoriously horrible food. Green marked Gaffney’s sack with an “X” in black magic marker. “He would open the sandwich up to see what was in it,” Green told Mona Lisa’s jury, and there would be “four balloons spread across it.”
Green kindly varied Gaffney’s meals, toobringing him cartons of Chinese food or takeout from McDonald’s or Wendy’s. According to testimony, Green and Ford alternated the smuggling so that they both made money.
In August 1990, Ford wanted to close on a new house but was $3,000 short. He went to Gaffney for a loan. “Me and Officer Green went and talked to him in the rec yard,” Ford testified, and told Gaffney that Ford “needed a little bit of other money.”
Gaffney approved the loan and said, according to Ford, that he would “need for you to do a favor for me.” The more Ford smuggled, the more Gaffney decreased the amount he owed on the loan. The relationship soured, however, and Ford started working with other drug dealers inside the wall.
After he pleaded guilty, Green got 235 months in federal prison, plus five years’ supervised release. On account of his cooperation with the government, he hopes that a judge will decrease his sentence. Ford pleaded guilty in June of this year and is awaiting sentencing. He too hopes that his assistance to prosecutors will shorten his turn on the other side of the bars. Attorneys for Gaffney and Mona Lisa suggested that the former guards had perjured themselves in order to save their own asses.
Both Ford and Green were members of Max’s elite Emergency Response Team, a position Green used to inform Gaffney in advance of any searches. Both are handsome and fit and carry themselves with a proud military bearing. When Mona Lisa’s defense attorney, Suzanne Little, asked Green when he had become a “guard,” he snapped, “You mean, when I became a correctional officer?”
Green is quick, and deferential to the directions of the U.S. Marshals, who are now his jailers. During his testimony Green never smiled, but he came close when he shrugged and estimated that he had made only $10,000 from Gaffney, which went for clothes and “trips to Atlantic City.”
Green is in federal prison, and officially his location is a secret. Ford is free, however, pending his sentencing. Ford walks out of a courtroom elevator tall in a black suit and throws an authoritative and challenging stare at someone standing by the door. He has exactly the right carriage for a correctional officer, although he has signed papers saying he smuggled between one and three kilograms of heroin for the inmates he had pledged to guard. To the prosecution team he is “Quincy.” In the hallway outside Mona Lisa’s trial, he passes by his old boss, Maj. Steve Smith, deputy warden of Max, who greets him with a backward nod of the head and a snide, “Hey, fool.”
At the same time Gaffney was directing Ford and Green to do his bidding, an old buddy showed up in CB5, right across the recreation yard from the House of Pain.
Walter Harris and Gaffney had known each other since their early teens at D.C. juvenile facilities. Harris had been a heroin user since 1969. Now, with Gaffney in charge of the CB3 detail and free to go about as he wished inside the block, Harris could score easily during his recreation hour. “[A]ll I [had] to do [was] holler up in the window to him, and he [would] look out and see me there in the yard and throw it,” Harris said, adding that he first hid the cash in a sock or an old cigarette package and tossed it up.
It was a happy circumstance for a chronic addict like Harris, this second reunion with his old pal Gaffney. The first had been in the federal penitentiary at McNeil Island, Wash., in the late ’70s, where they became close. “He christened me the godfather of one of his daughters,” Harris remembers. At one point at McNeil, the two of them had stood back to back in the prison yard, armed with knives, after Gaffney had raped a homosexual inmate. They “faced death,” according to Harris. “Together we stood ready to die in front of 300 Chicanos. That’s how close we were,” he recalled during Green’s trial.
Forty-six years old and a heroin user for almost 25 years, Harris has been behind bars “practically all my life.” Although he was on the street when he testified against Green in 1996, he was back wearing loose, blue prison coveralls on the stand at Mona Lisa’s trial just over a year later. He had done a full 12-year sentence with no time off for good behavior for a 1984 armed robbery conviction, but early this year he was picked up for grand larcenyshoplifting. “I’m a functioning alcoholic,” Harris explained.
Defense attorneys in Gaffney’s, Mona Lisa’s, and Green’s trials made hay out of Harris’ statement to a grand jury that “no inmate can be trusted around nothingno inmate, not even me.”
That said, Harris is polite, even charming, on the stand, well trained as a witness even given his tenure on the wrong side of the law. In two of the trials, Harris and prosecutor Justin Williams, who are both bald, engaged in identical pleasantries as they showed the jury a photograph taken during the height of the Gaffney empire. It showed Gaffney and one of his alleged smugglers, Willie “Jake” Sheffield, wearing shades and holding a bundle of cashbills enough to cover a dinner plateover the kneeling Harris. They smile. Gaffney shimmers, wearing white.
“This is about $3,000 worth of money being held over my head,” Harris told the jury.
Williams: “You had hair then.”
Harris: “Yes, I had hair.”
Williams: “I should talk.”
Sometime in 1991, Harris testified, he and Gaffney talked on the yard. The kingpin said he was making arrangements to be transferred to medium security. Harris had the impression that it was “something under the table” and didn’t believe Gaffney until it happened. But then, to his surprise, “a few months later I was transferred there myself.”
Harris wasn’t the only one of Gaffney’s old crew to get a transfer to Medium. From his new digs, Gaffney called Tony Patterson back in the House of Pain and said, according to Patterson, “Oh, Tony, this joint is mine. It’s sweet. Try to get over here.”
Gaffney asked Patterson if he would be his roommate, since in Medium inmates are housed two to a cell. Gaffney said he had told the administration that he would bunk with no one but Patterson.
How Patterson got transferred to Medium and into Gaffney’s cell remains a mystery. But under direct questioning by Gaffney’s attorney, Patterson said he’d done a favor for the sergeant of the CB3 day shift. “Yes, I sucked [Sgt. John] Buterbaugh’s dick,” he said on the stand. “Excuse my language.”
Patterson said there was no quid pro quo, but Buterbaugh “immediately walked my paperwork up to administration, and I was put in general population.”
Maximum had been good to Gaffney, but the new freedoms at Medium made life inside all the more lucrative. In Dormitory 4, Gaffney roomed with his bank, Tony Patterson, while his tester, Walter Harris, was two rooms down the corridor. Gaffney
managed to recruit another
corrupt correctional officer, became head of the dorm’s detail team, and led the unit’s “inmate grievance committee.”
Within two weeks of his arrival, he even received a one-of-a-kind pass, signed by the administrator of Medium, to enter Medium’s Control Center, its administrative control hub. (“That’s not an official document that’s used in the institution,” said a security officer at Medium with 19 years in the department. “I had never seen a pass like that before,” he added, and verified that the signature appeared to be the now-retired administrator’s.)
Life for inmate Gaffney was indeed sweet.
With Green and Ford assigned to Maximum, Gaffney hired officer Ronald Eugene Thompson, then 47, who went by the nickname “Horse Thief.” Thompson and Gaffney had grown up together in Southeast (“right down the street”), and their families were close. Besides bringing drugs in, Harris says, Thompson brought liquor in, took money out, and paid other officers off. Only three days after Gaffney turned up in Medium, Thompson was hiding his heroin stash for him.
Three times in the summer of 1992, an FBI informant saw Thompson, assigned to a guard tower, look around the area and then drop a package to Gaffney, who was waiting below. Once the informant saw Thompson sneak a box to Gaffney while punching inmate cards in the chow line.
In Medium, inmates are not locked down, have jobs in prison factories, and can walk around the compound during the day. Gaffney used the liberty to establish a dealing area. He called it “the Strip” or “14th Street.”
The money flowed; the tallest money came in on Father’s Day 1992.
At Lorton, Father’s Day is planned for months. “Everyone is on their best behavior,” Thompson explained. “No one wants to get a disciplinary report and go in the hole and miss Father’s Day or ‘Fair Day,’ as it’s come to be known, because you’re out on the field all day long and you have all you can eat and you have your family and your loved ones all around you. And it’s just a grand ball all day.”
“No one is actually searched,” Patterson told the jury. The night before, they made up about 300 bags, “but not all the same price. We made separate packages for separate people to sell for different prices, because the money would be so plentiful. It was a field day.”
Patterson said he had instructions to pass the money back to Gaffney’s family members because “it would be too much money to hold overnight, and it would be too much to stick up my behind, basically.” At Mona Lisa’s trial, he said that on that day he gave a member of Gaffney’s immediate family $6,800.
In general, at Medium they had a lot of cash to move. Sheila Harris, Walter Harris’ wife, testified that once her husband gave her an envelope he wanted delivered to Gaffney’s mother.
“It was like a white legal-size envelope, and it was pretty full,” she said, indicating that it was about an inch and a half thick. She took the envelope out of Lorton with no trouble and got in touch with Gaffney’s mother, Eva, passing it to her at the Popeye’s at Eastover Shopping Center.
One visiting day, officer James Moore made Gaffney undergo a routine search as he was going to meet his visitor. Gaffney lifted up his shirt. Moore saw that Gaffney had some bills “flapped over” and “hanging out of his belt.” If the cash had been laid out flat, Moore testified, it would have been “close to 3 inches thick.”
Moore let Gaffney pass because he too was on the take. He was one of Gaffney’s smugglers, several times going to meet a woman in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven a half-mile down Lorton Road from Medium. He received tightly wrapped clear packages of white powder 3 to 4 inches long, “like a sandwich wrap packet.” Gaffney paid Moore $100 each time.
Moore and Thompson testified against Gaffney in deals with the government after they were both arrested for smuggling drugs in cases unrelated to Gaffney’s empire. Moore pleaded guilty to smuggling heroin, and Thompson to receiving a bribe and possession with intent to distribute 60 grams of crack cocaine. For Thompson’s cooperation against Gaffney, Judge Leonie M. Brinkema reduced his 10-year sentence, and he served a total of 18 months.
Back when he was guarding Gaffney, there wasn’t much Thompson wouldn’t do to keep him happy. When Gaffney’s birthday came, he asked Thompson to bring him a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne. Gaffney said, “It’s my birthday and it’s kind of special to me,” Thompson testified. “I haven’t had a decent birthday in so many, so many years.”
It had been close to 20 years, in fact, since Gaffney had had a birthday outside. “Now, I wouldn’t know Dom Perignon if it dropped off the field and into my lap,” Thompson told the jury. Gaffney gave him $75 dollars to get the champagne. Thompson got it, but there was no way he was going to try bringing that big hunk of glass through the officers’ control entrance. “I put it in a Big Gulp cup from 7-Eleven and brought it to work and gave it to him.”
At the end of a two-hour visiting period in June 1992, Lt. Joseph Thomas noticed that Gaffney’s female visitor was trying to leave holding in her hand a book that wouldn’t close. It was stuffed with a stack of cash “about 2 inches thick.” Thomas called for her to stop. She quickened her pace and walked quickly onto the visitors’ bus. The bus left but was stopped at the gate, and the book was seized. It was inscribed, “To Fly from Walt.”
Thomas discovered that the woman’s name was Linda Washington, a name Thompson remembered as being that of Gaffney’s Girl Friday. “She was associated with Friday nights,” Thompson said. “[T]here was always some Islamic service or something going on in the school building on Friday nights, and they were allowed to have outside guests. And Ms. Washington was [Gaffney’s] guest on those Friday nights.”
Patterson also remembered her name: “[O]n occasion I have heard tapes, him having sex with Linda Washington when she would come to visit him at the [Moorish Science] Temple.”
The book Washington tried to take out of the facility had $400 dollars in it. At his trial, Gaffney claimed that another inmate had given Washington the book.
In Medium, Gaffney had other women. At his trial, the prosecutors presented a snapshot of Gaffney naked, with a blue dot modestly placed over his penis. There was a second photograph, of Gaffney posing with a woman. The woman was Stacey Green, a correctional officer in Medium. The FBI found the photos in a letter Gaffney had addressed to her.
“I’ve actually had Stacey Green’s panties, that she actually wore to work and gave to Gaffney, and he later gave them to me,” Patterson told the court. “They were red.”
How did he know they were Green’s? Gaffney told him. “[But] I’ve actually seen him make her go into the bathroom and tell her to do something. And prior to her leaving, he would show me…that he had the panties [and smile].”
One June night in 1992, there was too much cash for Patterson to hold. Right before everyone was locked up for the night, Gaffney went to Harris’ cell with a roll of money wrapped in plastic and sealed with a rubber band. Harris testified that he thought it was between $2,500 and $3,000. Gaffney wanted it held overnight. Harris put it into his jock strap.
At that time, Harris was into drugs very heavily, but he had not had a shot that day.
“And through the night my sickness came down on me, and I was tossing and turning, going through hot and cold sweats, chills,” he said.
The roll slipped out. First thing in the morning, Gaffney came for it, but it could not be found.
“And he said, ‘Man, you better find my MF money…or I am going to kill you.’ He said, ‘When I come back, you better have my money or I am going to kill your ass.’”
Gaffney sent Patterson to Harris to deliver the same message. According to prosecutors, this was “the break in the dike” that caused Gaffney’s downfall.
“That hurt me; it really hurt me,” Harris said of the threats from his longtime partner in crime. “We had never been at each other like that, and for him to imagine [that] he is going to take my lifeafter all we’d been through together, that was my wake-up call.”
“So, miraculously, I looked under the bed.” Harris found the cash among his boxing equipment. He went to Gaffney and told him he wanted no more. (Harris says he has not used heroin since.)
Then Harris made a plan.
That night he called his wife and told her to wrap up some flour in clear plastic packages so that they looked like drugs and smuggle them to him during visiting hours the next night. Except for the flour part, she was familiar with the routine. At Gaffney’s trial, she testified that she had previously visited Harris two to three times a week and had brought him heroin 20 to 30 times.
Harris envisioned a scenario in which he would get caught with the “drugs,” be taken to the secure control cells, make contact with the prison officials and the FBI, and not get charged for the flourall without Gaffney getting wise.
She brought him the flour.
“Every time I saw an officer looking in my direction, I would…put it in my mouth,” Harris said.
It didn’t work. “Everybody would turn their heads on me,” he explained.
At the end of visiting period, he went through the usual search. He demonstrated for Mona Lisa’s jury how he had opened his mouth wide and displayed the “drugs” on his tongue to the officer searching him. Still he couldn’t get busted.
Back in the dormitory with his flour, Harris used the phone to tell the captain of Medium he’d better come down and bust him in the morning.
The next day, Capt. William Jernigan took Harris to his office in the control center after the bust. He had a lieutenant join them there. They talked for several hours. Harris told them about Gaffney and who was selling drugs on the compound. The FBI took a keen interest in his story about Gaffney; until Harris came in, the FBI had only been working an investigation into corrupt correctional officers.
Harris told Jernigan he was afraid of officer Joyce Tates, who had been stationed at the control window when he had been escorted into the captain’s office. Harris told the court at Robert Green’s trial, “Officer Tate [sic] is one of Fly’s women that he was having sex with, paying forpaying rent for and everything else.”
“She kept pretending that she wanted to bring some paperwork back there to get the captain’s attention, but what she was doing was listening to what I was telling Capt. Jernigan,” said Harris.
Jernigan does not recall Tates entering the office, but after Harris was escorted to a holding cell, “I got up and walked out of my office,” Jernigan told Gaffney’s jury. “When I walked out of my office, there is a gate that leads to Control right outside my office. I saw Keith Gaffney standing outside, which would be the window where Officer Tates was working.”
Jernigan told Gaffney to clear the area.
Gaffney took his leave, but almost immediately he appeared in the high-security control area where Harris was being held.
“He came outside the door, which is very small, and was just hollering at me where I could hear him clearly, and he was asking me, like, you know, ‘What is this, you know, my people Tate telling me that you are doing me what you are doing. Why are you doing that, Walt?’”
On the stand, Gaffney stated that he had had a “relationship” “in the romantic sense” with Tates, as he had had with Stacey Green. (“A female can’t work around a man seven days a week and don’t be attracted to somebody,” he said.) But Gaffney said he had never had sex with Tates. He claimed that he screamed at Harris in the control cells that night because Harris had revealed his affair with Tates to Jernigan, thus threatening her job and her marriage.
After the control cell incident, Harris was taken back to Maximum, to CB5, the protective-custody block for inmates in danger from other inmates. There, he says, Robert Green came to visit him several times offering large bags of heroin he said were from Gaffney, but Harris refused, believing the bags were filled with poison.
In CB5, Harris received a letter from Gaffney. “I think I know now how my man, John Gotti, felt after his right-hand man, Sammy the Bull, turned on him,” Gaffney wrote Harris, referring to the notorious New York don and his lieutenant who turned state’s evidence.
Keith Gaffney measured himself against the biggest.
Three months after Harris told his tale to Jernigan, corrections authorities took the first step in their campaign to bust and prosecute Gaffney. Emergency Response Team officers raided Dormitory 4 and brought an end to Gaffney’s and Patterson’s flush times in Medium.
Patterson got busted. He was holding some marijuana and 19 small packets of hydromorphone, a synthetic heroin substitute that Patterson testified they sprinkled onto packaged heroin to revive its potency. The raiding officers knew from Harris about Patterson’s role as the banker and safe of the empire, so they had given careful orders to strip-search him. As Patterson tells the story, he laid his shirt on the table before him and on it laid the weed and hydromorphone he took out of his pocket. As the officers seized those, he says, he reached into his underwear and pushed two full heroin suitcases and $510 “up my anus.”
They knew he had done it, and he knew they knew. The order came over the radio to search him and get the evidence. Patterson stopped them by claiming that the law said a body cavity search could not be conducted without a court order. Although he was wrong, and body cavity searches of inmates are common, he got his waythe officers had no court order and stopped searching.
Instead, they locked him in a control cell to wait the drugs out. They put him on suicide watch24-hour observation through a window. He told them he would neither eat nor drink. And he didn’t. Theirs was going to be a waiting game, a stare-down. They would stare at him through the observation window until his bowels could hold out no longer and he passed the suitcases.
Then he stripped and started burning everything in the cell, including his clothes, and flooding the floor by blocking the toilet. It worked. A day later the officers gave up and put Patterson on the path to Max. Once out of the control cell, but still in the control section, Patterson made a phone call, and hours later, he testifiedin what could either be an eye-popping breach of security or a measure of Gaffney’s amazing influencegot a visit from Mona Lisa in an empty office in Control. She brought Gaffney’s twin grandsons, he said. He passed her the money and the smack, and says she took them out of the prison. Evidence gone.
At her own trial, Mona Lisa hardly presented the figure of a smuggler and drug empire conspirator. Every time the clerk called, “All rise,” she turned fixed stares on friends, relatives, and the 7-year-old twins while working her lips out and back in mechanical kisses.
She took the stand and denied all the charges against her, laying emphasis on how she had not lived a soft life, had lost her house to foreclosure, and had raised her brother’s children and grandchildren as her own. The jury returned a guilty verdict anyway.
After the raid at Medium, the conspiracy ran on for roughly another two years, with Gaffney living back in the House of Pain. When Gaffney was finally indicted, in January 1995, he was less concerned about the testimony of fellow inmates and dirty guards than what one of his girlfriends might tell the FBI. Patrice “Peaches” Oden knew it all.
A high-school friend of Gaffney’s daughter Keesha Morris, Oden started visiting Gaffney in 1990 when she was 15 or 16, according to her testimony before the grand jury. Besides smuggling drugs to him “numerous” times, she said she became deeply involved with his ring in 1992 after he urged her to get another phone line and put him in contact with his suppliers. Once she had gotten the three-way line, each week she linked him up with one of former Medium inmates Sheffield or Reginald Ceophas, who prosecutors allege were Gaffney’s suppliers. (Early this year, Ceophas was found shot dead in a car parked in a Southeast alley.)
In those three-way calls, Oden told the grand jury, Gaffney told the supplier, “‘Well, you know, man, I’m doing kind of bad and…I need a half a T-bone steak,’ or ‘I need some scrambled eggs,’ or ‘I need so-and-so.’”
According to Oden, “T-bone steak” was raw heroin, and “scrambled eggs” was heroin already cut. There were times when the talk would also involve “salad,” or marijuana, she testified. (At his trial, Gaffney claimed that these words were their way of having phone sexT-bone steak meant “penis,” salad meant “vagina.”)
Twice, Oden testified, Gaffney tried to arrange to have sex with her and failed. On one of them, Gaffney asked a couple who were part of the Muslim group to claim that Oden was their daughter so that she could come in and see him alone without interference by officers. Oden went with the couple on the appointed day, told an officer she was there to meet with Gaffney, and waited alone in a room. He never showed.
On another day when she was visiting him in Maximum, Oden and Gaffney waited for a sign from a correctional officer, she told the grand jury, and then ran out of the visiting room into a nearby mop closet that presumably went for $1 a minute. “And that’s when he asked me to have sex with him, and I told him that I didn’t think that was a good idea. And then he got upset,” Oden testified.
She was aquainted with his temper. “[H]e would call me at specific times, and [if] I wasn’t there, he would get upset and he would start cursing and hanging up the phone and just cursing me out.”
“[Once] he told me that it wouldn’t be nice for him to get upset with me,” Oden said. “[He said] I would just be standing at the bus stop somewhere or coming out of the house or walking down the street and someone would [walk] up to me and just slash my face from ear to mouth…”
As the FBI closed in, Gaffney called Oden and told her to emphasize that the two of them had a “godfather and goddaughter relationship.”
Prosecutors got to her and granted her immunity from prosecution of her offenses if she would testify against Gaffney. But Gaffney’s hold was stronger. He sent word to Mona Lisa to have “people work on Peaches,” according to Patterson, who relayed the message. Mona Lisa then called her, Oden said, and asked if she planned to testify at Gaffney’s trial. Well, yes, Oden replied.
“Bad choice,” said Mona Lisa, according to Oden. (Mona Lisa denied on the stand saying these words.)
Keesha Morris, Gaffney’s daughter and Oden’s friend from high school, also warned her not to testify, Oden said. In a park near the courthouse, Morris advised her that “if I could help it, don’t go to court because you know what happens to snitches.” Morris also allegedly said, “I know you love your daughter.”
When the trial date came, Oden ignored her subpoena and was nowhere to be found, although the FBI, the Marshals Service, and the Joint Fugitive Task Force in Washington were out looking for her. When they came back empty, prosecutors read her grand jury testimony into the trial record.
Even without Oden, things didn’t look great for Gaffney. “Everything but the kitchen sink has been charged on Mr. Gaffney-Bey,” Gaffney’s lawyer Mark Rochon told the jury.
On the stand in their own defense, both Gaffneys denounced the testimony against them as lies and conspiracies. Both stated their abhorrence of drugs and their intolerance of those who use them. Both presented witnesses to attest to their hatred of drugs.
A pack of felonious inmates and dirty guards suggested that, quite to the contrary, Gaffney reveled in the dark side, running dope in the House of Pain and getting over every way he could. There is no exact accounting of how much dope the conspirators moved and how much money they made, but the estimates are consistent. The FBI says it was 12 to 17 kilos and $250,000 per year, assuming two to three ounces of raw smack and $5,000 per week.
In CB3, Smith estimated that they made $800 to $900 dollars on a good day, and Harris thought they turned over $5,000 a week.
Patterson, who held thousands of dollars on a daily basis, talked money at Gaffney’s trial: “Total? Oh my God, the figure is large.” He said $200,000 for a 10-month period at Medium would be small. Two years later, at Mona Lisa’s trial, he guessed it was around $250,000.
In the end, the defense attorneys labored hard to show that except for the marijuana and hydromorphone found on Patterson during the raid, no heroinfor all the alleged dealingwas found by the FBI or the D.C. Department of Corrections. They also reminded jurors that no money was found, and that Gaffney’s mother and Mona Lisa still lived in the projects.
Hollenhorst, of the prosecution team, suggested that Gaffney, like any good entrepreneur, used
the profits of his empire to extend the franchise: “He spent money for attorneys, he spent money
for women, he spent money for power. And that’s what this was all about. Gaffney spent and used his position for power within the institution. He is a classic kingpin.”
Before verdicts were announced in Gaffney’s trial, one juror came back to the jury room and found that her notebook had been tampered with. “Fuck you” was written on a page of the notebook where she had taken notes on the case.
The jury found Gaffney guilty under the so-called “kingpin” statute of running a continuing criminal enterprise.
“Tony, these people over here are acting like I’m John Gotti,” Gaffney wrote to Patterson. “I’ve been crazy,” Gaffney added, “because the enemy feel like they won, but being the fighter that I am, I’ve only lost a crucial round, but I’m a distance fighter and I’ll win down the stretch.”
Today, Gaffney sits inside the most secure prison in the country, and probably the world: the brand-new Administrative Maximum facility in Florence, Colo., where he is petitioning for a lessening of his sentence, which is life without possibility of parole. He has changed his name to Khalif Abdul Qawi Mujahid, and is said to be working on a book to be called The Uncrowned Champion, right down a few corridors from his man, John Gotti.CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Charles Steck.