Last week, a reputed 18-year-old drug kingpin, Anthony Jones, was arrested in East Baltimore. Police said a multi-million-dollar organization was organized when Mr. Jones was a juvenile and used children as young as 11 years old as street dealers.
Over the last 20 years, according to prosecutors and police, local drug dealers have grown progressively younger and more dangerous, as the appetite of city drug addicts continues to switch increasingly from heroin to cocaine.
During the reign of the "old school" traffickers -- mature adults -- heroin was Baltimore's drug of choice. Police and prosecutors said supplies of the drug were closely regulated by powerful New York-based criminal syndicates, who were fearful of law enforcement and would only sell heroin to contacts they knew and trusted. Heroin was a closed shop, with a scarce supply, large demand and few major players.
"Old school" kingpins took a long-term approach to their illegal trade, carefully running their hierarchical organizations with military-like discipline. They processed heroin in safe houses and sold it locally to addicts at bars, pool halls, private homes or apartments. Police said heroin was never sold out of stash houses and rarely sold out in the open on local streets.
"Most major drug violators in those days were mature men, people in their 40s with families, who saw themselves as businessmen -- not that they didn't have a violent trend," said Capt. Kenneth J. Anderson, who used to talk regularly on the street with drug kingpins when he led the drug enforcement unit of the Eastern District.
"The 'old school' stayed away from kids," added Capt. Anderson. "Members of the organization were adults; they didn't cross the line. It was a matter of ethics for them. In conversations with them on the street or in custody, if the subject of kids ever came up, they'd say, 'no.' "
The taboo against involving children was part of an overall
approach of cultivating community support. They were hard-core capitalists, who spread their wealth around the communities to which they belonged, making numerous charitable donations to individuals and families, buying groceries for the elderly and maintaining strong links with legitimate businessmen through investments and loans.
The line against involving juveniles in drugs held until the late 1970s, when it was crossed by drug kingpins like Maurice "Peanut" King, who exercised unrivaled controlled of the heroin traffic large sections of Baltimore.
King, now serving a 50-year sentence after being convicted on federal drug charges in 1983, is regarded is regarded by local law enforcement officials as a pivotal figure in the local drug industry, an innovative and dangerous trendsetter. He helped take drugs out of the bars, pool rooms and private residences into open-air street markets, such as a children's playground at Hoffman and Holbrook streets.
He was among one of the first local kingpins to color-code his glassine bags of heroin, giving them designer names, such as "Poison" and "Death." He also was among the first to use computers and openly settle turf disputes on the street.
Stepped-up law enforcement efforts against King's organizations and others resulted in perhaps his most dangerous innovation -- the involvement of children in drug trafficking.
When police were able to single out and arrest his adult street dealers, King turned to the recruitment of teen-agers, some as young as 15, outfitting his younger charges with beepers and mopeds to conduct business and elude police.
"He found out about the system of juvenile justice," said one city police officer, who helped the undercover investigation that led to King's conviction. " 'Peanut' found out he didn't have to pay lawyers to keep kids on the street, that they would most likely be released to their parents the next morning. The overhead was low. He could pay them less to run drugs on the street."
Police believe King's organization grossed $10 million to $12 million annually before he was sent to prison on federal drug charges at age 30 in 1983.
King's legacy of involving children in the drug trade continued.
"We didn't realize it at the time," said Baltimore City Circuit Judge John N. Prevas, who prosecuted several drug kingpins, ** "but he [King] was a precursor of what would follow."
The police pressure on local drug kingpins in the early 1980s was also accompanied by the growing popularity of cocaine. In fact, before their imprisonment, major local drug dealers such as "Peanut" King and "Little Melvin" Williams had already seen that the future of the local drug market was in cocaine.
"Cocaine is in more unlimited supply," said Judge Prevas. "In the old days, the Mafia only wanted to make so much money, so they limited the amount of heroin they brought in. With cocaine, the Colombians are dumping cocaine like crazy. Cocaine has no restrictions. If you have the money, they'll sell."