Cracking a Prize Drug Ring

December 14, 1991

It is a truism of American law enforcement that drug smugglers, the ones at the top, are untouchable. Street-level dealers get locked up all the time. Look into the cells of the Maryland Penitentiary and you can see plenty of them. Particular standouts, like Billy Guy, who made and spent millions pushing New York drugs through an East Baltimore operation, draw stiff sentences as "kingpins" under state law. In Guy's case, 20 hard years.

Top drug dealers should think again. A series of federal raids iManhattan, Queens and New York's suburbs recently netted 38 high-level operators of a Colombia-based cocaine ring, snagging many just as they prepared to sneak out of the country. The ringleaders, working from their Cali base, had smelled a trap and decided to flee to safe havens, but federal agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered their plans.

The suspects allegedly run one of the five drug gangs that control New York's cocaine trafficking. Authorities recently seized 12 tons of cocaine hidden in cement fence posts in Miami and found another quarter-ton stash in a shipment of aluminum ingots in Stamford, Conn. And Colombian law-enforcement officers have launched 23 raids in Cali, Bogota and Barranquilla, sweeping up the drug cartel's chief financial officer and his records.

These are the people to whom the Billy Guys turn for the drugs they push on the streets, spreading havoc to communities and misery to individuals and families. Couriers from Baltimore and other cities buy their supplies in New York. If enforcement efforts continue to reach mobsters at this level, street dealers soon will find their options sharply curtailed.

One drug suspect, said by authorities to be the New York ring's accountant, was arrested while holding a plastic bag stuffed with clothes and a purse stuffed with computer disks and a ledger; two computers in her apartment allegedly contained inside information on the ring. The DEA believes this ring moved $25 million worth of drugs every two weeks, operating much like a multi-national corporation.

That sophistication also can turn into a liability, as these raids have shown. When probers know who has the meticulously kept records, they can seize them and get an X-ray view of who does what and when within the organization. That sharpens the proof they bring to court about transactions that raids and undercover work have revealed. It translates into long sentences for the real "kingpins" and eventually will mean cleaner, safer streets for Americans sickened by the violence and human waste of the drug trade. It couldn't happen sooner. Lock'em all up!

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