Black Mafia: a legacy of violence, terror

November 25, 1993|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Staff Writer

Alexander Morrison Jr. died just after midnight on May 28, 1992, when a young man walked out of 131 Aisquith St., a Housing Authority high-rise in East Baltimore, and fired a volley of shots into the pickup truck where he was sitting.

One bullet pierced his aorta and settled in his spine. A second perforated his liver. The third entered his right arm and a fourth his right leg.

On its face, the death was just another statistic in the city's rising tide of senseless, drug-related violence.

But the murder was anything but senseless to police. It reflected a grim business calculation by the Jamaican Black Mafia, a violent gang that has extracted millions of dollars from Baltimore's deadly fascination with heroin.

The gang stunned police with its penchant for carrying violence directly to law enforcement officers. Gang members killed Mr. Morrison because they believed, wrongly, that he was an undercover officer.

"I've never seen a group that specifically targeted police like they did," said Sgt. David D. Adams of the city Housing Authority police. "These are the only guys who ever made me fear for my life."

Four leaders of the group were convicted Monday in U.S. District court of an array of offenses related to drug dealing and murder.

Extensive trial testimony, court documents, investigative records and interviews with police and prosecutors provide a detailed look at the economics and culture of a murderous drug trade that fed off the estimated 20,000 heroin addicts in the Baltimore area.

The architect of the Jamaican Black Mafia was Adewale Aladekoba. An iron-fisted drug leader with a sharp business mind, Aladekoba used bizarre and ruthless methods to discipline underlings and to terrorize enemies. Some wayward gang members were forced to eat dog food, and others were stripped, beaten and paraded around the housing projects at gunpoint. Murder loomed as the ultimate punishment for anyone who ran afoul of Aladekoba.

Aladekoba's group had no connection to Jamaica beyond its name, which he chose to capitalize on the violent reputation of Jamaican drug dealers. The boldness of the gang's strikes through the spring and summer of 1992 in part reflects the amazing economic opportunities in Baltimore's flourishing drug trade.

The Nigerian-born Aladekoba pioneered significant changes in the way drugs are sold in Baltimore's housing projects. His gang introduced powerful weapons and innovative drug packaging.

Taking over what had been fragmented and unsophisticated neighborhood drug shops, the gang created high-volume, high-profit businesses. Other gangs have since modeled themselves on the Jamaican Black Mafia, increasing the scope and danger of drug trading in the projects.

Aladekoba was convicted in Baltimore in the late 1980s on federal charges of wholesaling heroin and spent three years in prison. He quickly made his presence felt after he returned here as "Jamaican Jay" early in 1991.

The place he chose to start his business was 131 Aisquith St., an 11-story faded red brick building of more than 100 apartments in the Lafayette Courts projects.

Before Aladekoba, a typical drug shop in the high-rises had a staff of four: two lookouts, a guard in the stairwell and the seller on the steps. There were often multiple dealers in a building, and crews carried revolvers or small-caliber pistols.

Jamaican Jay's operation was huge by comparison. Besides positioning lookouts in front and back of the building, he employed guards in the lobby and stairwell, a gun carrier, a drug carrier, a lieutenant to oversee the operation and a lookout on the upper floors. His crews sold heroin for $10 a capsule in a shop open 24 hours a day.

He equipped his crews with an intimidating arsenal: Uzis, AK-47s, Intratec 9-mm semiautomatic pistols fitted with laser sights, sophisticated guns that can hold large amounts of ammunition and be fired rapidly.

With such numbers and firepower, Aladekoba quickly forced out competitors and achieved a monopoly in the building.

His innovative heroin packaging has since been copied by many other dealers. Instead of selling the drug in the customary glassine bags, he offered it in easy to carry jumbo gelatin capsules.

The heroin in the capsules was of such high quality that up to 75 people at a time packed the lobby to buy it. Struggling to control the crowds, his crew members sometimes fired their weapons in the narrow, cinder block hallways. They disappeared into designated safe houses at the first sign of police.

The 'duck walk'

The crew recognized a distinctive boss in Aladekoba, who delivered the salary that had been promised on the day it was owed. The lowliest lookout made up to $500 a week, and his key people earned several times that.

As Aladekoba cultivated his business reputation, he worked just as diligently to instill fear in those inclined to cross him. Often, discipline meant the "duck walk."

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