Four charged with running opium ring Narcotic was sold from carpet stores in 2 counties, police say

Drug unusual in area

Police report seizing $24,000 worth during arrests

January 29, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County police and federal agents have arrested four men on charges of running an opium ring out of the backs of carpet stores in Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties, apparently the first opium arrests in the Baltimore-Washington corridor in at least two decades.

Police arrested Hajirahman Alejalil, 47, of the 15000 block of Indianola Drive in Derwood, Prince George's County; Majid Mostafa, 41, of the 10000 block of Prince Place in Largo; and Mehdi Livani, 46, and Touraj Zoulfaghary, 40, both of the first block of Pinkney St. in Annapolis at the stores late Tuesday.

During a nine-month investigation, undercover officers bought raw opium from the men, police said.

All four men were charged with distribution of drugs, possession of drugs and possession with intent to sell drugs. Livani and Zoulfaghary are Iranian citizens.

Police were looking for a fifth suspect yesterday.

During the raids, police confiscated 240 grams of raw opium with an estimated value of $24,000 from four shops and an Annapolis residence. Police consider the quantity large because of its raw form and low street value in the United States.

Heroin, which is made from opium, is far more expensive, but police said they do not think the men had the resources, equipment or inclination to make it.

The drug's appearance in this area surprised police.

"It's a real concern for us that now it's available here," said Sgt. Rex Snider, who headed the investigation.

"The reason it's here is because apparently now there is a source."

Opium, a mushy black substance with potent vapors, had its heyday in the Far East more than 100 years ago but never had a major impact in the United States. It is widely regarded as one of the world's most addictive drugs.

Police said they do not know when or how this batch came into the area, but undercover agents' contacts suggested the opium originated in the Middle East.

Some nightclub organizers on the West Coast have said recently that opium has been gaining popularity in the past year as an after-party fix to come down from "uppers" such as methamphetamines.

Police in Arundel said the alleged ring involved a close-knit group of people and does not appear to be connected to youth or night-life activities.

Not everyday sight

"This is certainly not something we see every day," said Steven Derr, a supervisor with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Baltimore, who said he has seen one other opium case in his 15-year career.

Police began their investigation in May after a tipster told Larry W. Tolliver, the Anne Arundel police chief, that people were using and selling opium in the Annapolis area. A task force of 16 officers, most working undercover, bought drugs from the men 14 times, sometimes at the stores, police said.

The stores allegedly involved were Carpet Outlet Discounters on Fort Meade Road in Laurel, which Mostafa owns; two branches of Annapolis Carpet and Interior, one on West Street in Annapolis and one on Ritchie Highway in Severna Park, both of which Livani owns; and Discount Carpet Warehouse on Silver Hill Road Suitland. Discount Carpet Warehouse's owner was not arrested.

Difficult investigation

Anne Arundel Detective Anthony Grover, who helped organize the investigation, said it was one of the most difficult he has worked on.

For several months, police tried to befriend the men, Grover said. Eventually undercover officers got on a first-name basis with the men, who police said allowed officers to buy drugs from them.

Grover said that in anything but casual conversation, the men spoke in their native language, Farsi, which none of the officers understood. Police had to employ a translator to listen to wiretaps, he said.

"There was a real cultural barrier," Grover said. "It was almost taboo for them to deal with Americans. They dealt primarily with other Iranians. Whenever the conversation turned to drugs, they spoke in Farsi."

Pub Date: 1/29/98

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