The demise of a 'working-class drug ring' Lengthy probe snared 17 suburbanites

September 06, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

Roland Mazzone, the 34-year-old, Jaguar-driving manager of the Valley View Inn in Parkville, called his wife about 5 p.m. on June 24, 1991, after an apparently ordinary day at work -- unaware that police detectives had tapped his phone.

It was just one of 10,000 calls police tape-recorded during a 3 1/2 -year investigation of a cocaine ring that operated in Baltimore and Harford counties. But it was a telling conversation. It helped convince a Baltimore County jury last week that Mazzone conspired to sell large amounts of cocaine brought into Maryland from New York.

It is also a conversation that will figure significantly in Mazzone's appeal. Russell J. White, his attorney, thinks the convictions will be overturned because police shouldn't have tape-recorded conversations between a husband and wife.

On the tape, there is some family small talk, then Betty Ann Mazzone urges her husband to bring home cocaine. Mazzone says he can't, but she persists.

"Don't come home empty-handed," she says. "You find me something. That s you gave me is sugar, sugar."

"I love you, too, baby," he replies.

"Gave me sugar," she says.

"Stop the talk, Betty Ann," he says, serious now.

"Handful of sugar," she continues.

"End up you're going to be eating sugar in the penitentiary," he answers.

"Yeah," she says. "So are you."

One of them was right. Roland Mazzone, a two-time loser, faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Ultimately, Mazzone, his wife and 15 other people, including a county firefighter, were indicted and charged in the cocaine conspiracy. Detectives called it "a working-class drug ring." Its members included a steamfitter, a truck driver, a grocery stock clerk, a waitress and a jeweler.

"When you think of drug dealers," said Cpl. Richard Lisko of the Baltimore County narcotics squad, "this is not the group you picture in your mind."

Police interviews, court records and trial testimony yield the story of a shoe-leather police investigation and of 17 seemingly ordinary suburbanites -- several of them close to 50 years old -- who wound up facing felony drug charges.

You could start, as police did, with Carl Briscoe. He was 47 in the spring of 1989, when an informer in Harford County, hoping to trade information for a reduced sentence, told Deputy Sheriff Douglas Verzi that Briscoe was selling cocaine.

In August 1989, Deputy Verzi, an undercover officer with the Harford County Drug Task Force, found an "unwitting" informant to buy cocaine from Briscoe. Police watched the informant meet Briscoe at the Perry Plaza shopping center and pick up an "eight ball," an eighth of an ounce of cocaine, from Briscoe. He then sold it to Deputy Verzi.

Meanwhile, Baltimore County detectives were investigating Briscoe and Ernie Slowikowski, a 6-foot-5-inch, 250-pound Dundalk truck driver who would die in jail.

Deputy Verzi and Baltimore County police began following Briscoe and Slowikowski and found that Briscoe was supplying Slowikowski with large amounts of cocaine.

But who was supplying Briscoe?

Deputy Verzi and Corporal Lisko spent countless hours following Slowikowski and Briscoe, going through garbage and studying reports of numbers dialed from the two suspects' homes. By March of 1991, they had enough to get wiretap orders for Briscoe's home, work and for his car phone numbers. "Our objective was to find out Carl's supplier," Corporal Lisko said.

Soon, police had a series of calls from Mazzone to Briscoe, with Mazzone saying: "Well, you got to get it for me or something. Man, I gotta get this guy taken care of."

In another call, Mazzone said: "He's coming over there, you know, I got to pay for those Oriole tickets."

The calls meant Mazzone wanted to collect money Briscoe owed him for cocaine, Corporal Lisko said. Mazzone's attorney disagrees.

By Memorial Day weekend of 1991, police had listened to Briscoe make arrangements to deliver cocaine to Slowikowski, then watched as Briscoe got a box from Mazzone on the Valley View parking lot and took it directly to Slowikowski's home. Wanting to find out who supplied Mazzone, police tapped his home phone in Perry Hall and the business line at the Valley View Inn.

During June 1991, there was a series of calls from various people -- many of them later indicted -- asking Mazzone whether he "had any goodies," "bull roast tickets" or "Oriole tickets." To all of them, Mazzone had the same answer.

"If I hear something, I'll let you know," he would say.

To police, the calls meant that Mazzone was out of cocaine and was waiting for a new shipment. By June 30, he was flush with cocaine. The day before, his cousin, David Vita, had driven down from the Queens borough of New York City.

Suspicions that Vita was Roland's supplier were strengthened July 4, when Vita called from New York.

"How many guys you got?" Vita asked.

"Oh, I should have all the 13 there," Mazzone answered. "I mean 14 there. . . . Fourteen guys probably go to the game."

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