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Crime & Justiceby Baynard Woods and Brandon Soderberg2:22 pmApr 1, 20210

The story of a Baltimore assistant state’s attorney who says she was hung out to dry

Anna Mantegna says she was fired based on an explosive – and unfounded – allegation. Adapted from the book, “I Got a Monster: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Corrupt Police Squad.”

Above: Former Assistant State’s Attorney Anna Mantegna. (Alpine Labs with permission by the authors)

In light of The Brew’s reporting on the firing of Anna Mantegna from the State’s Attorney’s Office (here and here), we thought it would be helpful to run an excerpt from I Got a Monster, which gives a detailed account of Mantegna’s interactions with members of GTTF, her FBI interview and subsequent termination by Marilyn J. Mosby.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and the authors for permission. The text has been condensed and a few adjustments made for context and clarity.

i got a monster by baynard woods and brandon soderberg cover art

On the morning of March 1, 2017, Baltimore Police Sergeant Wayne Jenkins parked his minivan in the lot of Internal Affairs headquarters, a lonesome old building on a bombed-out postindustrial strip in northeast Baltimore.

His whole Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) squad had orders to come in at the same time, even Danny Hersl, who was now in Citywide Shooting.

Jenkins got out of the van, dressed for the streets: boots, cargo pants, a long-sleeved T-shirt. He left his police vest in the back of the van, draped over the top of the two black duffel bags. His brass knuckles rested in the console. If his promotion went through and he was made lieutenant, he’d be wearing starchy white shirts and itchy dress pants from here on out.

He checked in his firearm and stepped into the elevator. When the doors opened on the second floor, he was surrounded by Internal Affairs Department detectives and FBI agents, who handcuffed him.

Jenkins, man of many ruses, had been tricked. One by one, Momodu Gondo, Evodio Hendrix, Jemell Rayam, Marcus Taylor, Maurice Ward and Hersl, were ensnared in the same trap as their sergeant.

A federal indictment, dated February 23 and unsealed that March 1 morning, charged Jenkins and the rest of his squad with a series of crimes ranging from RICO Act conspiracy to Hobbs Act extortion and robbery.

The FBI was using organized crime statutes to take down police.

It sounded to Assistant State’s Attorney Anna Mantegna like a swarm of bees had descended on the courtroom when all of the cellphones started buzzing at the same time.

She was in reception court with other lawyers, waiting for her case, talking with Ivan Bates when the buzzing began. She stood up and talked with Deborah Katz Levi, a singularly-driven public defender. They both looked at their phones: Seven Baltimore cops indicted.

Mantegna’s face went pale. “None of us should be happy,” she said. “You think this is going to make things better? We’re never going to recover from this.”

The Baltimore Police Department, still reeling from the death of Freddie Gray and the uprising of rage that laid bare the segregated nature of policing in the city, was once again thrust into the international spotlight.

Mantegna returned to the State’s Attorney Office and sat with two other prosecutors and behind closed doors, they wept. Their entire careers were precipitated upon the idea that they could trust cops, and the indictment, filled with lurid details of deception – lies on police reports, in sworn affidavits, on time sheets – blew all of that up.

“We were wondering how we could keep doing what we do, how we could keep doing our jobs,” Mantegna later said. “We had been so wrong.”

Mantegna recalled having only one case with members of the GTTF, one where two suspects had crashed their car into the steps of a church a year earlier.

She remembered how hard – eventually impossible – it was to get Jenkins and Taylor to testify about the crash and recovery of a gun. She  messaged and talked to Jenkins to try to get their cooperation, so she could take the case to trial. But it was one excuse after another.

She was most shocked by Danny Hersl’s involvement. He was so sad around Christmas when they’d last met for drinks. And he seemed so out of place in a suit in Citywide Shooting.

For a moment, she felt bad for him. Then she was furious again. “I’m focused on the fact of what this is going to do to the justice system as a whole,” Mantegna later said. “What it’s going to do to the citizens and the people in this city.”

Little did she know what the case was going to do to her.

GTTF leader Wayne Jenkins. (U.S. Attorney's Office)

GTTF leader Wayne Jenkins. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)

Alleged in Hearing

All of the indicted members of GTTF asked to be released from jail until they could stand trial and face their accusers. Jenkins’s lawyer argued that the prison gang, Black Guerrilla Family, had a hit out on Jenkins and it would not be safe for him to be incarcerated anywhere in the state.

Federal Prosecutor Leo Wise contended that the lawmen were experts in evading the law and that the witnesses against them were terrified of retaliation. He mentioned that Rayam had threatened to reveal the identity of a snitch if he informed on Rayam, an act of obstruction amounting to a death sentence in a stop-snitching city like Baltimore.

Wise noted that the crew heard about the investigation by other members of the police department – and by an assistant state’s attorney.

With Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby up for reelection in 2018, that detail was explosive: Someone in Mosby’s office had tipped the GTTF off.

She denied any knowledge of such a leak, but what many defense attorneys claimed about Mosby – that she was a poor manager who didn’t know what was going on in her own office – appeared to be true.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise: “Members of the conspiracy, as we describe in our response, have threatened witnesses, including threatened to have a witness killed if the witness said anything. . . Members of the conspiracy have also received information from other BPD officers and even from an assistant state’s attorney about this investigation. That kind of information and access to those people exists if the defendant or, frankly, any of the defendants are released.”
In jail, Jenkins coached his crew to stay quiet, while also trying to work out a way to cover his own ass. As FBI agents transported him from the Talbot County Detention Center to the federal courthouse in Baltimore on April 10, he began to toy with talking, offering information about the “assistant state’s attorney who leaked the information.”

In July, to push Jenkins, Hersl, and Taylor, the three members of GTTF who weren’t cooperating, the feds returned a superseding indictment against the three, adding 13 new robbery charges, with mandatory time added to each count because the crimes involved the use of a handgun.

Meeting at Starbucks

The prosecutors’ gambit worked. Jenkins began to dance around a proffer agreement with the government. He would have to tell them everything and swear that everything was absolutely truthful.

The government asked Jenkins again if he had been tipped off about the investigation and he named Anna Mantegna, recasting a October 2016 phone call he had with her about the case of the car crashing into the church steps – and a warning to him that Gondo and Rayam were “dirty as shit” – into a full-blown leak.

Mantegna imagined that her meeting with the FBI about the leak allegations would take place in some kind of official setting.

Instead, she met Special Agent Erika Jensen, the primary investigator in the GTTF case, and John Sieracki, an Internal Affairs sergeant working with the FBI as a task force officer, in a crowded Starbucks down the street from the State’s Attorney’s Office.

It was on January 16, 2018, just a couple of weeks before Hersl’s and Taylor’s federal trial.

Jenkins had already plead guilty, and everyone in the State’s Attorney’s Office had been paranoid since Leo Wise had mentioned a leak.

Everybody had a theory about who it was. Prosecutors heard Jan Bledsoe, the deputy state’s attorney who oversaw police misconduct, announce in the lunchroom that people were blaming her. Bledsoe had been one of the main prosecutors in the Freddie Gray case. If people were suspecting Bledsoe, who had a reputation as a cop hater, then Mantegna knew they must also be looking at her, given her ties to Hersl.

There was nowhere to sit in the Starbucks, so Mantegna, Jensen, and Sieracki stood at one of the tall tables by the window to discuss Jenkins’ accusation that she’d told him about the investigation into the GTTF.

Mantegna immediately wished she had not worn her four-inch heels. She also wished she had brought her lawyer, even as Agent Jensen tried to reassure her that they did not think she was the leak.

“Is this about the phone call?” Mantegna said.

“It is,” Jensen said.

FBI Special Agent Erika Jensen. (Alpine Labs with authors' permission)

FBI Special Agent Erika Jensen. (Alpine Labs with permission of the authors)

Never Recorded Call

During the call, she said she first thanked Jenkins for getting in touch, and they chatted a little. Gondo and Rayam came up, and Mantegna warned Jenkins that they were up to no good, plenty of people knew it.

Asked by the feds how Jenkins had responded to that warning, Mantegna realized that the call had not been caught on a wiretap. It quickly dawned on her there was probably no recorded evidence of what they had talked about.

How was this possible? How were they not up on Jenkins’ phone?

“I knew I hadn’t leaked anything. I hadn’t done anything wrong, and I told them what was said.” But like so many criminal defendants in Baltimore had done before, Mantegna began to fear that it might be her word against his.

“If I’d have known I was talking to Satan about two of his minions, I wouldn’t have said anything,” Mantegna told the FBI agent.

Special Agent Jensen, who could come across as both friendly and severe, asked Mantegna why Gondo and Rayam came up when they weren’t part of the case.

Mantegna, under pressure with two feds at her side, trying to keep her voice down, her feet hurting, couldn’t remember. The call had not seemed very important at the time, beyond the fact that they had finally settled on a court date for this cursed case.

She said she had no idea that Jenkins was dirty before the indictments. She was warning him about Gondo and Rayam, not about any federal investigation.

“If I’d have known I was talking to Satan about two of his minions, I wouldn’t have said anything,” Mantegna told Jensen.

“They are looking for leaks”

She took out her phone and offered it to Jensen to scroll through and check her messages with Jenkins. Jensen declined.

Then Jensen said the FBI believed it was possible that what Mantegna had told Jenkins kept changing as the cops passed it around like a game of Telephone.

“Knowing BPD, I’m sure that’s exactly what happened,” Mantegna said.

Mantegna pointed out that the FBI’s Public Corruption Unit, which cops and prosecutors dismissively called “The Super Secret Squirrel Spy Squad,” did not share information and often targeted other cops.

“How would I even know what The Super Secret Squirrel Spy Squad was doing?” Mantegna said.

Jensen asked Mantegna if she could think of anyone in the office who may have known about a federal investigation and leaked information to members of the GTTF.

The question scared Mantegna. Nobody wanted to talk after what had happened to Detective Sean Suiter.

The interview lasted two hours. As Mantegna hobbled back to the office, her feet aching, she kicked herself again for not bringing her lawyer. She was a prosecutor. She should not have been so naïve.

She told her supervisor about the meeting and summarized for her lawyer as best she could in a series of texts.

“It was definitely a sizing up, getting a feel for me and whether I was telling the truth, but mixed with a bizarre coffee klatch,” Mantegna texted. “They are looking for leaks.”

State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby addresses an online meeting of the Baltimore City Delegation.

State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby addresses online meeting of the Baltimore City legislative delegation last month.

A Letter to Mosby

In a letter four weeks later to Mosby, Stephen Schenning, acting U.S. Attorney for Maryland, wrote that the possibility of a leak in the SAO became known to investigators when they intercepted a call between Gondo and Hendrix, repeating what Jenkins had supposedly said about his call with Mantegna.

The February 15, 2018 letter traced the “leak” to the 17-minute conversation between Mantegna and Jenkins in October. Jenkins told the FBI that Mantegna had “advised him to stay away from Rayam because he had just lost a Franks hearing and was being investigated for lying and stealing.”

The letter said that Mantegna had no reason to believe that Jenkins was corrupt, and she had called to inform him that cases with Rayam were not prosecutable.

“It was possible that there was a non-criminal explanation or that the evidence may not reach a stage where criminal charges would be sustainable or appropriate,” Schenning concluded. “It would be presumptuous of me to tell you how to proceed but you may want to consider getting Ms. Mantegna’s version from her.”

Five days later, Mantegna was ordered to report to the tenth-floor conference room in the State’s Attorney’s Office at the end of the day.

She had a sense of what was coming and had already started packing up her desk.

“So 5:00 comes, I got upstairs and honestly, I have put my sneakers on at that point, took my heels off, because I just wasn’t going to bother since I was packing,” Mantegna later said. “And I was met at the door by Camille [Blake Fall], the human resources person, who led me down the hall toward the conference room. And as we’re going down the hall, she’s explaining to me that I serve at the pleasure of the State’s Attorney.”

When they reached the conference room, Mosby was not there. Mantegna’s division chief was not there, either. Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow, who was copied on the Schenning letter, sat in the room looking at the floor.

Blake Fall explained that Mosby thought it would be best if Mantegna was separated from the office. She was not given a reason why, except that all attorneys were at-will employees serving at Mosby’s pleasure.

Leo Wise and Stephen Schenning speak to the media from the U.S. Attorney's Office in downtown Baltimore. (Facebook)

Leo Wise and Stephen Schenning speak to the media outside federal court in downtown Baltimore. (Facebook)

Collateral Damage

Schatzow did not say anything and took occasional notes. They had written a resignation letter for Mantegna to sign.

“I have a hundred dollars in my checking account right now,” Mantegna said. “What am I going to do? How am I going to afford my medication?”

If she resigned, she couldn’t get unemployment. That was when she started crying.

“Even if I want to resign, I don’t have a choice. I’m not financially in a position where I’m able to do so. I’m going to have to file for unemployment,” she said.

HR agreed that they would not fight her claim and agreed to give her copies of her most recent job evaluations.

Mantegna was escorted back to her office by Mosby’s security detail. She looked at over a decade’s worth of books and research materials and started hyperventilating. Security comforted her and said they would help her carry her stuff and arranged for her to pull up to the loading dock.

“There I am sitting next to the dumpster, packing up 14 years of my life into my car,” she said. “I remember sitting there thinking I feel like I’m being thrown in the trash, and here I am next to the dumpster.”

Two months later, on April 20, 2018, Mantegna received a cease and desist letter from a high-powered Washington lawyer representing Mosby, instructing her not to make any “false and defamatory statements regarding Ms. Mosby,” especially that “your termination was related to fear that you were assisting the FBI with an investigation into the Mosby Administration.”

While the reference to an FBI investigation of the Mosby administration still baffles her, the letter’s objective was otherwise crystal clear, Mantegna recently told The Brew – “to silence me, to make sure I didn’t talk” while Mosby ran for reelection. Two months after that, on June 26, 2018, Mosby handily won the Democratic Party primary for a second term.

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