As the bookkeeper for a Baltimore-based marijuana trafficking ring, Jerome Castle kept careful notes on his organization’s expenses in a red spiral-bound notebook, using coded language to refer to major players and accounts.
Castle said that he used the code names “Short Man” and “Johnny Vegas” to refer to a lawyer who worked with the drug-trafficking organization – a lawyer he identified in court Monday as Kenneth W. Ravenell.
Castle, the second convicted drug trafficker to testify against Ravenell at his trial in federal court this month, told jurors that he gave Ravenell millions of dollars in drug proceeds over several years.
Prosecutors presented the red notebook in court during Castle’s testimony. The notebook covered only a few weeks of expenses in 2013, Castle said, during which he paid tens of thousands of dollars to Ravenell. Castle did not use Ravenell’s name in the notebook, he said, but labeled the payments with the moniker “Johnny Vegas.”
Castle said the code name had been coined by his cousin, Richard Byrd, who is now serving 26 years in federal prison for his role in the marijuana trafficking organization. Byrd was the first witness to testify against Ravenell.
“Mr. Byrd called him Johnny Vegas because he spent money like he was in Vegas,” Castle said Monday. The “Short Man” code name referred to Ravenell’s stature, Castle said.
Castle said he delivered cash to Ravenell two to three times per week, in varying amounts, for about three years. Castle noted several payments of $5,000 and $9,000 to “Johnny Vegas” during the few weeks of expenditures covered in the red notebook.
But Castle said on other occasions he paid Ravenell $50,000, $60,000, and once as much as $200,000, depending on what Ravenell arranged with Byrd.
Byrd testified previously that Ravenell was paid for providing “intel” that helped the drug-trafficking organization evade law enforcement and for laundering drug money through his law firm at the time, Murphy, Falcon & Murphy.
Ravenell, who is facing charges of racketeering, drug and money laundering conspiracy, is arguing in court that he was being paid for legitimate legal services. His defense team has pointed out that Byrd was also bringing in revenue from a promotional company called Loc Marketing – though Byrd said the company was mostly a front to launder marijuana proceeds.
Castle said Monday that Ravenell was in the room for discussions that laid out where the money came from. Castle was responsible for collecting money from street sales of marijuana and paying the organization’s expenses, he said.
Castle’s cousin, Byrd, would direct him to pay certain amounts to Ravenell, Castle said. Ravenell, who was present for these conversations, would ask, “When can you get me the money?” Castle testified.
Castle said he went to Ravenell’s office at the Murphy firm and to other locations, including a hotel and a restaurant off Reisterstown Road, to drop off payments in cash.
The payments to Ravenell increased in 2011, Castle said, after Byrd was arrested trying to purchase a large quantity of marijuana in Arizona. The arrest revealed to Ravenell that the organization was trafficking in much larger amounts of marijuana than he’d thought, Castle said.
Ravenell “didn’t know that we was doing so good, that we was moving that volume of marijuana,” Castle said. “So he found out and the fee changed astronomically.”
Castle also described an occasion after he’d been arrested in 2013, when Ravenell visited him in jail. Ravenell provided a notebook so that Castle could write down all of the outstanding drug payments that were due to the organization, Castle said.
Ravenell’s lawyer, Lucius Outlaw, worked to raise doubts about Castle’s testimony during cross-examination, noting that Castle is seeking a significant reduction in his prison sentence for cooperating with federal prosecutors.
Castle is serving 14 years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute marijuana and cocaine.
The prosecution’s case relies heavily on Byrd and Castle’s testimony against Ravenell. Outlaw also asked jurors last week to question why federal investigators never found the millions of dollars in cash that Ravenell allegedly received for assisting the marijuana trafficking operation.
Jurors on Monday also heard testimony from Ravenell’s longtime legal assistant, Deborah Ness. Under questioning from prosecutors, she briefly identified some of the documentation she created for Byrd’s criminal case and other related matters.
But she also said under cross examination that she had an open working relationship with Ravenell and that she had never seen him do anything unethical or illegal.
“He is a very honest, hardworking, dedicated-to-all-his-clients, Christian man, and I have utmost respect for him,” Ness said.
Also on trial are Joshua R. Treem, another prominent Baltimore defense attorney who originally represented Ravenell, and Sean F. Gordon, a private investigator who had worked with Ravenell.
Treem and Gordon both face obstruction charges. The government alleges that they interviewed Byrd while he was incarcerated in Arizona in 2017 with the goal of taking Byrd “off the board,” or hurting his credibility as a witness so that he could not testify against Ravenell.