General in war on drugs in Md. DEA: Anthony Cammarato has spent a career fighting crime in Florida and elsewhere. Now, he takes aim at traffickers in Maryland.

November 25, 1996|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

For Anthony Cammarato, it was the perfect cover.

With a thick Brooklyn accent and some wise-guy savvy, he posed as a fictitious New York mobster named Tony Campana while working undercover for the Drug Enforcement Administration in South Florida more than a decade ago.

It was a time when "cocaine cowboys" ruled the region with their Cigarette boats, flashy sports cars and MAC-10 machine pistols, and the DEA did everything it could to infiltrate the violent rings of international drug smugglers.

"If we needed a plane, we got a plane," Cammarato said. "If we needed a limo, we got a limo. If we needed a boat, we got a boat."

Nearly 16 years later, Cammarato, 48, is taking his street smarts to Maryland. Last month, he replaced Robert J. Penland as chief of the DEA's Baltimore field office, overseeing nearly 60 agents and police officers around the state. Penland left to become deputy chief of management operations at the agency's headquarters in Arlington, Va.

After tours of duty for the DEA in South Florida, Thailand and Newark, N.J., Cammarato surveyed downtown Baltimore from his spacious 22nd-floor office on St. Paul Place last week and proclaimed: "It's like I died and went to heaven. This is the nicest place I've ever been for the DEA."

But Cammarato has already figured out that the Inner Harbor masks what is really happening on the streets of Baltimore. The native New Yorker with the quick smile has been to the deeply troubled neighborhoods of East and West Baltimore. He's seen the vacant houses and the dangerous drug corners. He knows all about the bustling heroin trade and the violence brought on by brazen crack peddlers.

For now, Cammarato has set several goals: Continue to forge bonds between federal, state and local investigators; and bolster drug initiatives to fight traffickers, street violence and corrupt doctors who write phony drug prescriptions.

"My goal here is to continue the working relationships we already have in Baltimore, and to back up state and local law enforcement agencies and the U.S. attorney's office," he said. "Of all the places I've been, I've never seen a better relationship than the one that exists in Baltimore."

Since he was a boy growing up in Brooklyn and Queens in the 1950s, Cammarato wanted to be a police officer. His father, a construction worker whose parents came from Naples, Italy, used to bring him to firehouses, police stations and parades. He said he fell in love with uniforms and the idea of becoming a military man and then a police officer.

He got his chance in 1965, when he enlisted in the Marines and headed to Vietnam.

"I was a street kid who wanted to do something for my country," he recalled.

In 1970, he joined the New York City Police Department and spent the next six years working in the 32nd Precinct, patrolling central Harlem and working on anti-crime and anti-drug units. During those years, his parents moved to South Florida, and Cammarato said he saw a future in fast-growing Broward County.

"As I kept going down there, I said, 'This is not too bad. I can get in the ground floor here,' " Cammarato recalled.

In 1976, he joined the Coral Springs Police Department near the Everglades. By the time he left to join the DEA four years later, Cammarato had reached the rank of detective sergeant.

His first DEA assignment: South Florida, one of the busiest anti-drug beats in America. It was there that he started to pose as Tony Campana, the "mobster" looking for cocaine to take back to New York.

"We were very, very busy," Cammarato recalled.

While stationed in Fort Lauderdale, Cammarato worked on a series of big drug investigations. One, code-named Operation Southern Comfort, cracked a smuggling ring in 1984 that ran nearly 5 tons of cocaine into the United States. Another, called Operation Man, uncovered a network responsible for shipping $30 million worth of marijuana to South Florida and then to the Isle of Man in England.

Cammarato said he sharpened his craft during those years. "It was the best thing that ever happened to me," he said. "I really learned the job."

In 1987, he headed to the DEA's office in Bangkok, Thailand. He spent 2 1/2 years there before becoming a group supervisor in the Newark field office in 1989. He spent 5 1/2 years in New Jersey before transferring to DEA headquarters in Virginia.

Cammarato was working for the DEA's chief of national and international operations when he was named to take over the agency's operations in Maryland. He said he couldn't be happier to be in Baltimore.

And next summer, he can watch his favorite team play at Camden Yards.

The Orioles? Nope.

"I'm a Yankee fan," Cammarato confessed.

Pub Date: 11/25/96

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