A special narcotics task force smashed a major Miami-to-Baltimore cocaine distribution ring last night and early today, arresting eight suspects who police say pumped $20 million worth of the drug into the metropolitan area each month.
Two other members of the ring named in warrants were being sought today.
The arrests capped an undercover investigation begun in November 1989 by members of the Baltimore police department's Drug Enforcement Section. It grew to include federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service agents and Maryland State Police.
City police Lt. Thomas Marks said 10 locations were raided and more than 13 pounds of nearly pure cocaine were seized along with more than $87,000, 13 automobiles including two drag racing cars, two boats, two motorcycles and two all-terrain vehicles.
The arrests started about 8:30 p.m. yesterday when Lazaro Ramirez, the purported Florida connection for the cocaine, drove to the Baltimore area in a 1989 Toyota Camry. Originally, Marks said, Ramirez was scheduled to meet his Baltimore connections at a local motel but changed the meeting place to a hangar-like warehouse in Elkridge.
Four of the arrests took place there, he said.
Agents seized the Toyota immediately, Marks said, and searched it for narcotics. "We pretty much pulled it apart," he said. Police found the 13 pounds of cocaine -- nearly six kilograms -- in a false gasoline tank and in the vehicle's firewall between the engine and --board.
"Ramirez was going to switch the drugs for money" with another man, Marks said. "We were waiting for them."
Marks said investigators used aircraft in conducting the probe.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan P. Miller said today the 17-month investigation included narcotics purchases by undercover agents.
Miller said the task force was assigned to the case after the initial investigation revealed that the gang "has used violence to collect on drug debts." He declined to specify the kind of violence or say how widespread it allegedly was.
Besides the raid at the Elkridge location, a second warehouse was raided in the first block of Stahl Point Road in Curtis Bay, where authorities said the ring cut, diluted and packaged cocaine.
Sources close to the investigation, who asked not to be identified, said the major points of distribution were south and southwest Baltimore and some parts of Anne Arundel County.
Agents also confiscated three weapons -- a .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol, a .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol and a .38-caliber revolver and numerous other assets. Miller said agents still were sifting through items at the Stahl Point Road warehouse this morning.
Those arrested were identified as:
Ramirez, 37, of Hialeah, Fla.; George Bonnett, 26, of the 200 block of S. Carey St., who authorities said was ringleader of the local organization; Willie Burke, 39, a Baltimore man who was picked up in Orlando, Fla.; Donald Hinkle, 25, of the 5000 block of Kramme Ave., Brooklyn Park; Carl Wyatt, 24, of the 2000 block of Wilhelm St.; Jerry Kline, 24, of the 7800 block of Americana Circle, Glen Burnie; William Bowers, 26, of the 300 block of S. Payson St., and Joseph Schlick, 27, of the 1800 block of Wilkens Ave. When Bonnett was arrested, police found about $75,000 in cash in a detergent box in his car.
Two other suspects, Michael Frey, 26, and Jimmy Clark, 23, both of Baltimore, were being sought today by authorities.
The suspects arrested here were scheduled for initial appearances late today before a magistrate judge in U.S. District Court.
More arrests are expected as the investigation broadens, Marks said.