ANNAPOLIS -- Police officers spent their lunch hour hailing taxis here yesterday, but the drivers didn't like the destination -- straight to jail on drug charges.
While startled tourists and passers-by watched, police led a dozen cabbies away in handcuffs and seized 11 taxicabs as they wrapped up a six-month investigation into drug trafficking in Maryland's capital.
In addition to the 12 drivers, two other men were charged with distributing cocaine in the culmination of the probe by police, the Naval Investigative Service and the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office.
While the drug dealing was well-known among the city's cabdrivers, police said the drug dealing did not involve an organized ring.
Annapolis police began the probe after residents complained that cabdrivers were selling drugs. Community leaders from public housing projects also said some cabbies were keeping open-air drug markets in business by bringing customers and arranging deals.
A female officer posed as a prospective customer and questioned cabdrivers for months, asking if they knew "where somebody could get something to party with." From 81 such conversations, she arranged 23 meetings to purchase cocaine, crack and marijuana, police said.
Some cabdrivers arranged to deliver her a bag of cocaine, while others took her straight to a dealer, she said. One driver even called the dispatcher to say that he was "going to do a drug run," the officer said.
All told, the officer spent $1,200 to buy 4.9 grams of cocaine, 7.44 grams of crack cocaine and one gram of marijuana, police said.
An Anne Arundel grand jury sealed indictments against the 12 drivers and three Annapolis residents May 11. Police were still looking for one alleged dealer last night.
Shortly after noon yesterday, five police teams fanned out across the city, knocking at some cabbies' homes and calling for taxis from downtown businesses.
One cabbie walked into the police station to ask what was going on and was promptly placed under arrest.
Police Chief Harold Robbins and James T. Chase, the city's transportation director, emphasized that the majority of Annapolis' cab drivers were not involved. The city has issued 400 cab permits, but there are about 100 active drivers.
"The vast majority of the people out there are hard-working, law-abiding people in a difficult industry," Chief Robbins said.
"Most of our drivers aren't involved in this," agreed Alderman Carl O. Snowden, who is working on legislation to yank permits faster from cabdrivers who are caught dealing drugs. Currently, the city only seizes a cab permit after a driver is convicted.
While stressing that most drivers are hard-working citizens, Mr. Chase said he had heard in recent months that some people were entering thetrade specifically to deal drugs.
"We want to make sure that type of cabdriver is off the street," he said.
The 12 drivers arrested yesterday were associated with the Arundel & Colonial, Yellow Checker, Crown and Diamond and Reliable cab companies.
They were charged with possessing cocaine or crack; distribution and possession with intent to distribute; and related narcotics violations. In addition, one driver was charged with selling marijuana.
Police identified the drivers as Mohammed Salman, 28, of the 200 block of Hilltop Lane; Robert L. Bell, 28, of the first block of Marcs Court; George F. Tolson, 66, of the 900 block of President St.; Dermot Chase Sr., 28, of the 100 block of Holeclow St.; and Gregory A. Rogers, 37, also of the 900 block of President St.
Also, Marcelius K. Whiteside, 47, of College Creek Terrace; Lorenzo L. Turner, 36, of the 1800 block of Lincoln Drive; Renee S. Bassford, 22, of E. Center St.; David S. Mitchell, 35, of the 200 block of Boxwood Road; and Isaac H. Kelly, 41, of the 1400 block of Middletown Road.
Two drivers living outside Annapolis were also arrested: Ryndell B. Thomas, 27, of Frost Valley Lane in Gambrills and Fulton I. Carr, 64, of the 1200 block of Driftwood Court in Arnold.
In addition to the drivers, two Annapolis residents were charged with distribution of cocaine, possession of cocaine, and conspiracy to violate narcotics laws. Police identified them as Sylvester L. Hopkins, 25, of the 1800 block of Bowman Court and Donald E. Arthur, 26, of the 1600 block of Col-Mar Lane. Police were looking for a third man named in the indictment, Joseph T. Churchill, 22, of the 1200 block of Madison St.