By Shaila K. Dewan, The New York Times
The way law enforcement officials described it, the operation was run
like a small corporation, except that it had no name. The employees
got salaries, per diems and meal allowances. They had manufacturing
set-ups, inventory and profits.
And they ran their business - selling $10 bags of crack, the police
said - as efficiently as bank tellers, out of apartment buildings on
one block of West 146th Street, whose vestibules they commandeered
On Tuesday night, the police shut down the operation, arresting 31
people, confiscating nearly $100,000 in cash, and stationing
uniformed officers where the dealers once stood, Police Commissioner
Raymond W. Kelly said at a news conference yesterday.
The brazen, front-door drug market seemed like a throwback to the
crack epidemic years, when entire blocks were controlled by drug
gangs, the police said. Commissioner Kelly called it an "aberration."
But officials acknowledged that the block, on 146th Street between
Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem, has been home to an
entrenched drug problem for years.
And, the commissioner said, 90 percent of the cocaine in New York
City today still passes through drug organizations in northern
Before Tuesday night, when busloads of officers raided 545, 546, 550
and 552 West 146th Street, crack customers waited on the sidewalk,
where members of the gang would allow a few at a time to cross the
street and make their buys, the police said.
The 38 defendants (seven people were arrested earlier) face a total
of 100 counts of sale and possession of narcotics and conspiracy to
distribute narcotics. Several, including Miguel Hernandez, 41, who
the police said was the leader of the group, would face a maximum
sentence of 25 years to life if convicted.
In a surveillance video shown by the police yesterday, a man who they
said was a 19-year-old dealer stood at the door to one of the
tenement-style walk-ups, shuffling through a thick wad of money after
As open as it was, the gang, as the police called it, went to great
lengths to avoid police detection.
Its members stationed lookouts on corners and rooftops with
walkie-talkies, which are more difficult to intercept than cellular
phones, to warn of approaching patrol cars.
They had planned escape routes and safe haven apartments. When they
suspected the police were closing in, they began to wear black ski
masks and carry less money and crack.
"It's been clever," said Bridget Brennan, the special narcotics
prosecutor for the city, whose office also worked on the yearlong
investigation. "The police have moved, they've counter-moved."
On Tuesday night, the police sent uniformed officers onto the block,
which they knew would cause the dealers to vanish into their
appointed safe rooms. Then, as plainclothes officers grabbed the
lookouts and other officers sealed off the predetermined escape
routes, two city buses pulled up, said Deputy Inspector Steven Betts,
commander of the Narcotics Division's Northern Manhattan Initiative.
The buses served two purposes: camouflage, and transportation for
enough police for the raid. The officers found $90,000 in cash, about
one kilogram of powdered cocaine and about one kilogram that had
already been made into crack to be sold at $10 a quarter-gram,
Commissioner Kelly said.
The group sold an estimated 90 kilograms of crack each year for
profits of about $3 million, he said.
Dealers were given money to make change and were even allowed a
specific margin of error, Ms. Brennan said.
The gang members either grew up together or were linked by marriage,
Commissioner Kelly said. Several of them had apartments in the
buildings. One father and son who were arrested had an apartment near
the front of the building that the police say was used as a safe
"These were buildings which house about 200 law-abiding citizens,"
Ms. Brennan said. "And they were really commandeered by masked men in
the entryways who were dictating who could come in and out of those
buildings from 10 p.m. at night until 10 a.m. in the morning."
Inspector Betts said that the local precinct had received a lot of
complaints, and that it was difficult to reassure residents that
something was being done without disclosing the investigation.