Slumlord targeted by prosecutors

Cocaine conviction could mean forfeiture of real estate in city

Tougher sentence sought

Bills would make it easier to seize drug dealers' property

May 02, 1999|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,SUN STAFF

A 29-year-old convicted drug dealer who sprang to public attention two months ago when it was revealed that he owned more than 120 rental houses in East Baltimore now faces a broad legal attack that could dismember his real estate empire.

Most recently, federal prosecutors notified George A. Dangerfield Jr. that they will ask for double the normal sentence if he is convicted of a cocaine conspiracy charge at a June trial in U.S. District Court.

That could add up to at least 10 years in prison and a $4 million fine that would consume his holdings and burden him with a lifetime of debt.

The decision by U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia is the latest blow for a man who has been engulfed in legal battles and public controversy since February, when the story of his quiet rise from drug lord to slumlord in the city's ravaged east side appeared in The Sun.

Since age 19, Dangerfield has acquired scores of rental rowhouses, a Rolls Royce and a Humvee military vehicle -- while racking up eight drug charges on his way to a 1995 conviction for cocaine dealing that put him in detention for six months.

Last year, Baltimore County police and federal agents began taking a closer look at his business dealings and uncovered what they say was a major drug ring.

Over the next few weeks, he is also scheduled to face a $500,000 lawsuit by tenants who claim they were beaten and evicted by armed thugs he employed, as well as new slumlord allegations from the city housing department.

In Annapolis, two bills that swept through the legislature in reaction to revelations about Dangerfield's real estate operation await signing by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored one of the measures, said the "legislative action, frankly, should have been taken a long time ago."

"George Dangerfield became a poster child for how big a challenge our public officials are facing in the state's largest city," Franchot said. "These people are gaming the system. And these bills are aimed at stopping them, or at least challenging them."

The bills would make it easier for the city to seize about 11,000 abandoned houses and 30,000 other vacant dwellings, while quadrupling the state fines that can be levied against convicted drug dealers to $100,000 -- making it easier to confiscate their property.

`We will be ready'

Vowing to use the new laws to their fullest, Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III is doubling the number of prosecutors in his code enforcement division to 10, setting off a scramble for office space, desks and clerical help as the unit gears up to seize and tear down 1,000 blighted buildings next year.

"The commissioner has told us he expects us to be ready by October when the law goes into effect," said Denise Duval, who heads the office. "And we will be. We may all collapse from exhaustion, but we will be ready."

Dangerfield is likely to be an early target of that effort.

One of the most frequently prosecuted owners of vacant substandard housing in the city, he was named in February one of Baltimore's 10 worst scofflaw landlords by Henson.

"I'm really not in a position to say anything about any of it until all this is over," Dangerfield said last week in a brief telephone interview from his offices at Estate Management Inc. on North Avenue.

"There's people who will try to use it to bring me down and say bad things about me. That's just the way it is.

"There will be plenty of time later to sit down and set the record straight."

In court appearances and brief conversations in the halls of justice in recent weeks, his soft-spoken demeanor has borne little resemblance to the purported civic menace described in hundreds of pages of court documents over the past five years.

Outlining case

Federal prosecutors revealed a different side of the young entrepreneur at an April 22 hearing in U.S. District Court, outlining for the first time their case that he was a central figure in a New York-to-Baltimore drug conspiracy that allegedly plowed its profits into slum real estate.

The hearing was called to consider pretrial motions by defense attorney Stephen H. Sachs, who sought to quash wiretap recordings that form the basis of the federal drug charges against his client.

On the tapes, Dangerfield engages in expletive-laden phone conversations with his alleged suppliers, buyers and lieutenants.

Wearing a dark double-breasted suit and red art-print tie, the man known to friends and associates as "G" and "K.O.B." -- for "King of Baltimore" -- sat chewing his fingernails before Judge Andre M. Davis as the tapes rolled.

A trip to the market

On April 23, 1998, on his way home from a trip to New York City, an elated Dangerfield called a friend on his cell phone, unaware that police had him under surveillance.

"I just came from the market," he is heard to say. "It's sweet!"

Based on that statement, police stopped his car on the Baltimore Beltway and confiscated a half-pound of cocaine.

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