An 18-year-old alleged drug lord, who police say recruited children as young as 11 and 12 to sell his cocaine, was arrested on his East Baltimore turf yesterday along with several of his henchmen as officers shut down what they estimated to be a $1 million-a-year drug ring.
Anthony Jones, the alleged head of the organization, was arrested while sitting on the couch of a row house in the 1700 block of East Oliver Street. Last night, he was awaiting a bail hearing at which police were expected to request a $5 million cash bail.
Police also arrested six other adults and 11 juveniles, among them a 14-year-old boy. Three of the juveniles were arrested at the Charles H. Hickey School for young offenders in Cub Hill.
Those arrested were charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, possession of cocaine and conspiracy to violate narcotics laws. Mr. Jones, who turned 18 in March, also was charged with handgun violations and with using a juvenile for drug purchases.
"He's one of the youngest drug organization heads that we've ever encountered," Officer Edward C. Bochniak said of Mr. Jones. "If this is the current trend, then we've got our hands full."
Yesterday's arrests, which also involved 60 officers and agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, culminated nearly a year of investigative work by Eastern District police officers who had been deluged with calls from people living in Mr. Jones' neighborhood.
"This was an organization that was very violent," said Maj. Alvin A. Winkler, Eastern District commander, adding that as many as 15 shootings in the area this year could be linked to the organization.
"People in this community have been begging us for help," he said. "I know these people expected us to move faster, but with the rules of evidence, these things take time."
For two weeks, police have presented evidence to a city grand jury. The result was a 50-count indictment and the search-and-seizure warrants executed yesterday.
It was a swift, surgical operation. The officers, riding in 12 cars, set out from the Eastern District station on Edison Highway, maintaining radio silence to avoid being heard by drug dealers, who are known to have police scanners. The caravan headed west on Madison, north on Broadway, then east into the 1700 block of East Oliver Street.
There they fanned out and stormed several houses on East Oliver Street and nearby Regester Street, using sledgehammers break down doors. As the operation continued in the rain, area residents gathered to watch.
"You want to know if the neighborhood is pleased? Yes! It was a long time coming," said Evelyn Hinton. "Now, if we can keep them from going through the revolving door, we'll be all right."
For police, Mr. Jones symbolizes a new trend in the war against drugs: an apparent teen-age drug kingpin who began his criminal career in his early teens and "graduated" to running his own organization. Police allege that he also successfully recruited many of his peers.
In May, during "Operation Clean Sweep," uniformed and plainclothed officers arrested an 11-year-old boy near the corner of Federal and Regester streets. He had five vials of powdered cocaine and $160 stuffed inside his sweat pants. The next day, two boys -- ages 13 and 14 -- were arrested nearby. Police said they traced those arrests to Mr. Jones' organization.
Some of the youths willingly became street dealers, while others were conscripted by local drug organizations to become "walking stashes" that help older traffickers elude arrest, police said. Police said the youngsters were paid a dollar for each $10 vial they sold. Older street dealers usually earn $3 to $4 per vial.
The teen-age dealers may not make as much money as adult dealers, but their earnings enable them to buy items their parents or grandparents cannot afford. And, unlike some free-lance adult drug dealers, the youngsters rarely, if ever, use the the drugs they peddle.
"It's an accepted occupation," said Officer Bochniak, who has arrested several of the teen-age dealers. "It helps out their mothers. It has become a part of the local economy. They pay lights, rents, groceries and bills."
Brenda Hinton, whose mother lives in the neighborhood, agreed.
"It's just a money thing. Easy money. That's all, a quick way to get what they can't get at home," she said.
Yesterday, as the young suspects were led into a waiting paddy wagon, Brenda and Evelyn Hinton huddled beneath an umbrella and watched.
"This is so sad to see these kids throw their lives away," said Evelyn Hinton.
"But it helps clean the neighborhood," replied Brenda Hinton.
Though police had been investigating the organization for several months, a major break came early this summer when 13-year-old Tezara Horsey was accidentally shot in a house in the 1700 block of East Oliver Street that was used by the organization.
A day after the June 21 shooting, police searched the home and found $1,000 in cash out in the open and about $12,000 hidden in a plastic bag in the ceiling of a second-floor bedroom allegedly used by Mr. Jones.
Police also found three new handguns still in manufacturers' boxes -- a 9mm Beretta semiautomatic with a laser scope, a .40-caliber Glock semiautomatic and a .22-caliber revolver -- and drug packaging material.
Mr. Jones was arrested yesterday in the same house.
For Major Winkler, yesterday's operation had a special significance.
"I grew up at 1730 East Oliver. It means a lot to me to come in and do this," he said. "A lot of the elderly people that I grew up with walked up to me tonight on the street and said: 'Thank you, Alvin. Thank you, Alvin.' And that means more to me than anything."