By William K. Rashbaum, The New York Times
Call it a case of crime imitating art imitating crime.
That's what the police say happened with a drug ring in Queens whose members honed their trade and learned to evade arrest by watching the HBO series "The Wire," a gritty, realistic police procedural about a crew of drug dealers in Baltimore and the police and prosecutors who use wiretaps to try and take them off the street.
The accused leaders of the Queens gang, whose arrests were announced Jan. 14, by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and District Attorney Richard A. Brown of Queens, mimicked the practice of characters in "The Wire," using disposable cellphones to make it more difficult for the police to eavesdrop on them.
Each time the suspects switched phones, investigators and prosecutors had to go back to court and seek approval for a new wiretap from a State Supreme Court justice, a labor-intensive and time-consuming process, said Sgt. Felipe Rodriguez, a supervisor on the case.
"Believe it or not, these guys copy 'The Wire,' " said the sergeant, who is assigned to the Organized Crime Investigation Division. "They were constantly dumping their phones. It made our job so much harder."
Sergeant Rodriguez said several members of the gang were big fans of the HBO show and talked about it constantly. He said that the investigators could catch up on the latest developments in the show, if they hadn't seen it, when members of the gang talked about it the next day. "If we missed anything, we got it from them Monday morning," he said.
The investigation, which grew out of another drug case in southeast Queens in 2002, led to the seizure of 43 kilos of cocaine, 18 handguns and nearly a million dollars in cash, officials said.
Mr. Brown said the ring, which included a city correction officer and a sanitation worker, annually distributed cocaine he valued at as much as $15 million. Thirteen people have been arrested in the case and charged with felony drug possession, conspiracy and weapons charges, Mr. Brown said.
One of the defendants started his own clothing line to help launder the proceeds of the drug business, Mr. Kelly said. And when he went to a menswear convention in Las Vegas in August 2003, police detectives followed. One of the detectives, Carlyle Preudhomme, engineered a meeting, saying he had stores in Queens at which he wanted to sell the line.
He was not the only member of the ring who had an eye for fashion, Sergeant Rodriguez said.
One woman, in whose name many of the ring's cars and apartments were leased, had roughly a hundred pairs of shoes in her apartment, when the police executed a search warrant there. "You name it, Prada, Gucci; it was an amazing amount of shoes," Sergeant Rodriguez said.