Dangerfield is found guilty on drug charge

'King' of E. Baltimore slum empire convicted of cocaine conspiracy

Jury out less than 2 hours

June 17, 1999|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,SUN STAFF

In 97 minutes, a federal jury changed the course of George A. Dangerfield Jr.'s life yesterday -- transforming the self-styled "King of Baltimore" into a two-time convicted drug dealer with at least a decade in prison ahead of him.

"I'm walking out of here today," Dangerfield declared in an interview minutes before the verdict came in.

"One way or another, I'm walking out of here today."

Called back into court at 3 p.m., the 29-year-old president of Estate Management Inc. deflated in his chair as the jury's decision came in after less than two hours of deliberation -- "guilty of drug conspiracy."

He then turned to his niece in the front row of U.S. District Court Room 5-B.

"Take my wallet," he said quietly, as two beefy U.S. marshals closed their hands around the tailored sleeves of his black tuxedo-cut jacket. "Take my briefcase. Don't worry. I'll call you later."

It was the beginning of the end for the former Boy Scout and Methodist choir singer who rose to become a ruthless slumlord with a paid troop of enforcers and more than 125 rental houses that police suspect were financed with dope profits.

Denied bail until a sentencing hearing Sept. 20, Dangerfield sits in the Baltimore City Detention Center facing double the normal penalty because of an earlier conviction for drug dealing outside a Rosedale diner in 1995.

At a minimum, he will likely spend 10 years in federal prison, and he could be given up to life.

After an assessment of his assets by federal prosecutors, he could also receive up to $4 million in fines -- more than enough to wipe out his empire in the wastes of East Baltimore.

"The evidence in this case can only be modestly described as overwhelming," said Judge Andre M. Davis yesterday, moments after a Baltimore County Police detective displayed a half-pound of cocaine to the jury.

Detective Charles Gruss testified that he had taken the drugs from Dangerfield's silver Audi sedan in April 1998 after the landlord turned onto the Baltimore Beltway after a trip to New York City.

It was the payoff to a six-month investigation in which undercover detectives used wiretaps to monitor some 1,200 hours of phone conversations between Dangerfield, his various customers and a shadowy supplier in Manhattan known only as "Bando."

Throughout the trial, defense attorney Stephen H. Sacks returned time and again to the fact that none of the conversations contained any direct references to drugs that would have justified police in tailing and searching his client.

Rather, Sacks told the jury, the few snippets of tape recordings played in court constituted a mole hill of slang phrases and loose-tongued obscenities that police sculpted into a mountain of criminal evidence.

"Society is full of colloquial speech," he argued, "perhaps now more than ever before. You have kids using rap language today that I can't personally understand at all. I use slang from the '60s and '70s that maybe they don't understand but that does not constitute a crime."

In the end, however, the jurors had a difficult time taking their eyes off the bag of powder and rock cocaine that sat on the ledge of the witness stand.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip S. Jackson let the bag do most of the talking, cutting his final argument to less than five minutes.

"In this life, you're known by your actions," he told the jury. "Who had the drugs? Mr. Dangerfield. Who made the calls? Mr. Dangerfield. Who went to New York City? Mr. Dangerfield.

"Mr. Dangerfield is going to be known by this case as a conspirator in the distribution of drugs."

After the verdict, Dangerfield's family convened in a first-floor hallway of the glass, stone and steel federal courthouse, a welter of mixed emotions -- anger, frustration, resignation and despair.

Angie Jackson, 30, his niece and right-hand employee at Estate Management, popped open her uncle's briefcase to reveal a trove of documents and pictures attesting to Dangerfield's alter ego as a loving father of four, civic activist and church-going man.

There were baby pictures.

Thank-you letters from needy families.

And a gold-sealed citation for "outstanding service to the citizens of the state" from Gov. Parris N. Glendening, signed Feb. 23, 1999 -- nine days after a story in The Sun first brought Dangerfield to public attention.

"They don't just give these out to anybody," Jackson said, explaining that the proclamation was initiated by a letter to the governor's office from Dangerfield's minister. "They definitely don't give them to convicted druglord-slumlord-warlords!"

George A. Dangerfield Sr., a retired U.S. postal worker, seethed nearby.

"You watch what happens next," he finally said. "Bad luck and trouble will hit all of them. The prosecutor. The judge. The jury. All you press people. The 35th Psalm, the Bible, read it! The Lord is going to strike all of you down for what was done here today."

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