On the other side of the courtroom will be Philip S. Jackson, an assistant U.S. attorney whose youthful good looks, wavy haircut and relaxed courtroom pose belie his six years in the trenches of America's most drug-addicted city -- the national leader in cocaine- and heroin-related hospital admissions.
Jackson will be armed with a half-pound of cocaine allegedly seized from Dangerfield's car on the Baltimore Beltway in 1998 and 1,400 pages of wiretap transcripts that purportedly connect him to a larger suburban drug conspiracy that sent pounds of dope deep into the city over two years.
Faced with such daunting evidence, every other defendant in the case who has come to court has pleaded guilty, taking sentences ranging from two to three years and receiving bus tickets to federal prisons in such places as Allenwood, Pa., and Fort Dix, N.J.
When Dangerfield's turn first came in March, the daredevil entrepreneur of Cliftwood Avenue tore up a contract guaranteeing him a five-year sentence and demanded a jury trial.
"Because he's innocent," says his niece, Angie Jackson, whose 25-year-old brother has also been indicted in the case. "He struggled -- we all struggled -- to build this business. Do you have any idea how hard it is for a black man to be successful in East Baltimore?"
She pauses for a moment and peeks out the window a second time at the police stakeout unit across North Avenue.
"You know what this is really about? A bunch of snitches are downing him to save their own butts, and the cops will believe anything they say about a young, successful black man. That's a fact."
The "snitches" -- known in police parlance as "confidential informants" -- are likely to be a big issue in the case. At least four of them have emerged in court records as key witnesses, one of whom has alleged that he bought drugs directly from Dangerfield.
But none of them has ever been named.
For the president of Estate Management, snitches might well be the least of his problems. He was convicted of drug dealing in 1995, so Dangerfield's minimum penalty if found guilty this week will be a decade in prison.
As for the fine, the maximum of $4 million is enough to wipe out his known holdings five times over.
Mom is on his side
Elizabeth Dangerfield sits on a worn chair in the corner of Estate Management. A television drones in front of her, the usual soap operas and daytime talk shows flickering on the screen.
She's a small woman of indeterminate years. Smiling, she says: "Ladies don't give their age." The faintest lilt of a West Virginia accent embroiders her speech like old lace.
George Dangerfield's mother is bowed, but hardly broken, by the burden of her son's travails. Her spine is ramrod straight, her pride in her five children is just this side of fierce.
"We're a family," she says, bearing down on the last word. "We do everything as a family. We work together, we play games together, we eat together. We go to church together. You think I wouldn't know if my son was a drug dealer? You think I'd put up with that nonsense?"
As she tells her son's life story, it becomes apparent that George Albert Dangerfield Jr. enjoyed benefits not commonly experienced by most east side kids: two parents with steady civil service jobs, summer camp every year, good grades.
The youngest of her five children was in the Boy Scouts, the choir at Eastern United Methodist Church, the Police Athletic League. He was cheerful, an avid builder of model cars, and nothing if not enterprising.
From selling frozen cups at 12 years old, he pyramided upward to his own janitorial business at the age of 16, then into real estate by the time he was 20.
Still, the tug of the street culture -- the relentless gravity of East Baltimore -- pulled at him.
Court records show that he dropped out of Lake Clifton-Eastern High School, fathered four children by four different girls and had himself etched with a tattoo his mother doesn't like one bit.
"It's just what the young people out here do these days," she says with a dismissive wave of her hand. "It wasn't like that when I was coming up. All that foolishness, I know nothing about. But he's a good boy and always has been. He loves his children and his nieces and nephews. And he provides for them all -- everybody, all of us.
"If there's one thing that has hurt him in his business, it's that he's too kind. He can't say no to anybody."
She looks through the blinds, out across North Avenue. The police van is gone. The first drops of cool rain hit the grimy pavement.
"I've been praying all my life," sighs Elizabeth Dangerfield, "but never like I've been praying lately. I'm afraid I'm worrying God to death."
Sun staff researcher Eugene Balk contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 6/14/99