Max Penalties Await Top Criminals
04/01/2011
The Daily Times

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SALISBURY -- Since the Top 25 Prosecution List was implemented in January, law enforcement officials have worked to nail the city's most notorious criminals with maximum penalties.

"Criminals do not want to be on this list," said Wicomico State's Attorney Matt Maciarello.

The repeat and violent offenders on the list are closely tracked by local law enforcement and, if they are apprehended, Maciarello's office ensures the criminal is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. So far, 12 known criminals who found themselves in the system while on the list have been met with what is often the maximum bail or sentence for their most recent offense. The program is a branch of the Safe Streets initiative.

When Leon Grant, a validated gang member, was arrested for second-degree assault on Feb. 9, Maciarello was notified immediately through e-mail. During Grant's bond hearing, Maciarello argued for a high bond, which the judge set at $300,000.

"That's extremely high," Maciarello said, adding the amount was raised to $500,000 at Grant's bond review to "protect the public."

Grant's trial is set for April 15.

Safe Streets Prosecutor Richard Brueckner said the State's Attorney's Office has little control over whether offenders make bond.

"If the family goes to a bail bondsman and comes up with the money, we don't have much control over that," he said.

Drafting the list

Candidates for the Top 25 list may not necessarily have extensive rap sheets, Brueckner said. Agencies like the Eastern Shore Intelligence Center, the Narcotics Task Force and the Gang Task Force track known criminals -- mostly gang members -- who have yet to be arrested.

"An officer could search a known drug dealer on the street corner and find nothing," Brueckner said. "But the task forces know who's who ... where the Bloods are and where the Crips are ... and we use that information."

Once a month, representatives from Maciarello's office, local law enforcement agencies, ESIC, the U.S. Attorney's Office and others meet to determine which criminals will make the list. Collaboration between law enforcement entities is the lifeblood of the initiative, according to Brueckner.

For example, Brueckner said, once an offender is released, the jail notifies probation and parole officers, who may recommend the criminal be added to the list. Once they make the list, local law enforcement agencies are notified. If the offender is arrested, the State's Attorney's Office is notified and it pushes for the maximum penalty.

Working together

For more serious charges -- those involving drugs and guns, for example -- the State's Attorney's Office can sometimes refer offenders to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Of the 12 top offenders caught since January, seven have been referred for federal prosecution, during which they could receive longer sentences and be exiled from the community.

"A lot of gang members climb the ranks by doing time, and when they get out, they're heroes in the community," Brueckner said. "But if they're sent to a federal penitentiary in the midwest, they don't have friends to visit them and give them money for (commissary)."

The Maryland State Apprehension Team also benefits from the collaboration, as task forces can provide them with information necessary to catch offenders with warrants.

"(Since we started the list), there's much more synergy between the various (agencies), and it's really helping us fight crime," Maciarello said.

The Safe Streets Initiative is adapted from the Capital City Safe Streets program in Annapolis. Bill Toohey, a spokesman with the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, said Annapolis and Baltimore have implemented the Violent Prevention Initiative, which is very similar to the Top 25 Prosecution List.

"We don't put a number on it, but parole, probation and police officers work together to determine which criminals are repeat offenders, and try to get them off the streets," he said. "It's been very successful."

Toohey said Annapolis and Salisbury are similar in that success of the programs is based on strong collaborative efforts.

Maciarello agreed.

"By collaborating, the left hand always knows what the right hand is doing," he said. "We're using more resources to maximize effectiveness."