For drug dealer, wealth the only moral in his story

MICHAEL OLESKER

September 20, 1992|By MICHAEL OLESKER

In the morning, he puts on a thick gold necklace to match his gold upper plate. The gold teeth are his version of class. He makes $350,000 a year and thinks it's a big night on the town to sleep at the Ramada Inn.

Six years ago, he was making $9.45 an hour clerking at a local Super Pride, but gave it up to contribute to the destruction of human beings. At this, he's succeeding brilliantly. The city decays, predator by predator, junkie by junkie, but he has his hotel nights and his days in 15 different luxury cars in the last two years.

The $350,000 figure is a modest computation: He buys about $900 worth of cocaine a day, which he then dispenses on the streets of Baltimore for about $2,300. That's a $1,400 profit each day, with no interference at all from the people who collect taxes.

He nods his head slowly as the numbers are presented to him. He has an electronic beeper on his belt and a head full of such glittery numbers that they obscure any sense of morality.

"Fourteen hundred a day," he is told now, "times five days a week. That's $7,000 a week, unless you work weekends."

"Sundays?" he says. "No, not on the Lord's Day."

So it's about $7,000 a week profit, which you can multiply by the weeks until it reaches about $350,000 a year over the last six years.

He nods his head again, very slowly, as though the enormity of the numbers had never quite dawned on him before. He is dressed in varying shades of green. He is a graduate of Cardinal Gibbons High School and served as an altar boy for 16 years.

"So you know I grew up with values," he says.

"What values?" he is asked.

"The good person is the one who suffers the worst," he says. He should know. The suffering is widespread now, and the disdain for human life routine. In the last six years, while drugs filled the city's veins, he has cleared about $2 million tax-free dollars. "How much are you worth?" he is asked now.

"Worth?" The question seems to puzzle him.

"How much money?"

Then, showing a little pride: "About $30,000," he says.

"Out of $2 million? Where did the rest of it go?"

"Living," he says. "I can get anything I want. I take care of my girl and her friends. We go to the Ramada Inn and stay over. We drive to New York and Philadelphia. I live. If it ends tomorrow, I've had a good time."

The $30,000 in cash is kept in a safe in his home, which is an apartment in Northwest Baltimore.

"Upper Park Heights," he says.

"Upper?"

"Cold Spring Lane," he says.

The address is another source of pride, another sign to himself that he has made it, though the geography carries certain perils. Twice, he's been shot on the job.

In June of '89, in daylight at Garrison and Dolfield, he was shot in the back by a junkie but survived, as he puts it with no show of irony, "by the grace of God."

Two months later, Park Heights and Belvedere, carrying a portable telephone in his hand one evening, he was shot again.

"I told myself I would mend my ways," he says, "but then reality set back in. I wanted that money. I liked the cars."

He has driven here, to this little room off Eutaw Street, in a luxury car. He says it's the 15th car he has owned in the last two years.

"Fifteen cars?" he is asked now.

"Yeah," he says, "every time I get busted, they take my car away."

He says he's been arrested 12 times in the last two years, all on narcotics charges. The toughest hit he took was an 18-month suspended sentence, for possession with intent to distribute.

"When you have money," he says, "you can get away with amazing things."

"Bribing a judge?" he is asked.

"Naw," he says, "you don't do that. You just get a good lawyer. Nine times out of 10, a good lawyer carries the weight." All of this is spoken in flat tones which carry no hint of moral overtones. It's just a living, he says, and if people are suffering because of it, well . . .

"A person's gonna get high whether I sell or not," he says. "I have no control over that. I have no control over how they get the money, either. If it means they steal, then they steal. I do my job, theydo theirs.

"Don't blame the drug dealer for that. Blame the television networks, with those slick commercials. Blame the people selling those $90 tennis shoes. Who can buy those but a drug dealer or a thief? Parents can't afford them, but I can. I'm feeding the economy."

Also, the homicide rate and the destruction of neighborhoods. The homicide rate now hovers near one per day, and much of it is drug-driven. The one man brave enough to suggest an alternative, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, immediately ran for cover when his thoughts were met with cries of outrage.

Schmoke said we should talk about decriminalization, about focusing on the health aspects of drug abuse while supplying junkies with free drugs and thereby taking the profit out of it.

"What would happen," the dealer is asked now, "if this happened?"

"It would put me out of business," he says.

"When?"

"Tomorrow," he says.

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