While serving time at Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover in the late 1980s, he met Woodfolk, who was serving time for drug and attempted murder convictions.
Woodfolk, 25, known as "Big Corey," was the son of a drug dealer father and a drug addict mother and was reared by his grandparents in Northwest Baltimore. Without his studded leather belts and gold jewelry, he has a clean-cut appearance.
Woodfolk attended Catonsville Community College briefly and later took business courses at Baltimore City Community College, according to court documents. He is also an accomplished martial artist who helped teach aikido at the Baltimore Jewish Community Center.
After their release from prison, the two men decided to go into business with Corey S. Johnson, 25, known as "Little Corey," another Northwest Baltimorean. They eventually set up operations on The Strip, a section of Etting Street.
The Strip was ideal for drug dealing. Lined by dilapidated rowhouses, it had several small alleys that runners could use to enter the back of a stash house without being seen from the street. Customers would line up at the end of the block or in front of a business on the corner, where five or six runners would take orders and money and disappear into an alley. Two lookouts would be stationed at each end of the block.
The location of the stash house -- where drugs were kept and receipts were tallied on a small spiral note pad -- would change regularly to elude police and rival drug gangs.
At least two people stayed in the stash house, armed with a shotgun or handgun. The house would hold a four- to six-hour supply of drugs and would have to be "re-upped," or resupplied, several times a day. For the gang, a raid meant inconvenience and bailing a few employees out of jail, but little inventory would be lost.
Etting Street was so small that it was practically impossible for FBI surveillance vans to park long enough to get a good look at the operation. But with major roads nearby, the site was ideal for customers. Hawkers lined nearby routes.
The Strip generated a lot of business. Abdullah would go to New York as often as twice a week to get heroin, which would be cut and resold. Former gang members estimate that daily sales in 1991 ranged from $15,000 to $30,000, with even more money coming in at the beginning of the month, when customers got social services checks.
One gang member recalls taking in $68,000 in a single day. At its height in 1991, the gang had 30 to 40 employees, making it twice as productive as Baltimore securities brokerage Legg Mason Inc. in terms of sales per employee.
Midlevel workers who sat in a stash house or enforced discipline might earn $1,000 to $2,000 a week, and gang leaders sometimes gave out stereos or new cars as bonuses, according to court testimony.
More than half of the workers at The Strip were runners and lookouts who earned about $30 to $50 a day, or the equivalent in heroin, for working a 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. shift, plus $2 for lunch. That put their hourly pay below minimum wage.
Discipline was tight. In spring 1991, for example, gang member Charles Randolph stole $20 and a couple of bags of heroin from a stash house, according to court testimony. An enforcer walked over to him one day, said, "Ain't nothing personal, this is just business," and shot Randolph in the leg.
On Easter that same year, Woodfolk and Johnson sent a pair of enforcers to punish three drug dealers from a rival gang who had been selling on The Strip, according to court testimony and police records. Two men, David Jones and Robert Shaw, were shot twice in the legs and buttocks. Mr. Jones died five days later.
With their turf under control, gang members developed lavish spending habits. Abdullah and his wife, Denise, moved from a condominium in Glen Burnie to a luxury townhouse in Owings Mills and furnished it with leather furniture and abstract metal sculptures. The loft above the master bedroom was filled with fancy suits, furs, $400 jogging outfits and $1,000 leather coats.
Mrs. Abdullah, who investigators believe kept the books for the group, went on shopping sprees, running up monthly bills from Saks Fifth Avenue as high as $16,000. Abdullah would drive to The Strip to give away trash bags full of her once-worn clothes.
But the pressure was on. Police stepped up patrols and raids in the area. In early 1992, when gang leaders learned from their informants inside the Police Department that authorities were about to target them in a series of raids, they closed The Strip in days.
Abdullah and Woodfolk opened a barbershop called The Sharper Edge at Reisterstown Road Plaza, but they returned to the drug trade several months later. They set up new stash houses at scattered corners around the Westside. This time, their business plan didn't work.