Illusion and reality collide in drug trial

June 17, 1999|By MICHAEL OLESKER

IN THIS dreary federal courtroom yesterday sat the lady friend of George A. Dangerfield Jr. He is the famously accused narcotics trafficker and slumlord. She is the true believer that he is neither. Somewhere, as a jury gathered to decide Dangerfield's fate, reality beckoned.

"This is my shield," the lady friend said. She held up a worn copy of her Bible. She is 26 years old and a vision of religious innocence. As she endured the jury's deliberations -- which lasted roughly 90 minutes and ended in pronouncement of Dangerfield's guilt -- the young lady could be seen as one of those blinded by wondrous surface illusions in a city that has given ground each day to its scavengers.

Dangerfield was found guilty of hustling cocaine. His young lady said she'd never imagined such a thing. Dangerfield has been called one of the 10 worst slumlords in a city where some neighborhoods' housing tracts look like the last decaying stages of a yawning mouth.

"I don't know that man they described," she said. "I know a kind man."

She met Dangerfield before there was talk of his empire of 125 slum houses, a ruination in East Baltimore amassed with profits from narcotics. She never saw the likes of cocaine such as that displayed in court yesterday for Dangerfield's jury. These things are all at odds with the man she says she knows.

"When all of these stories came out," the lady friend said softly, "I was stunned, and I prayed. I asked George about it, and he said, 'I made a mistake years ago.'" He meant his 1995 narcotics conviction.

"And what did he say about these new charges?" the lady friend was asked.

"I never asked him," she said softly.

Neither did federal prosecutors. They chose, instead, to listen to Dangerfield's telephone conversations. Once, they listened as he drove home from New York with cocaine. "I've just been to the market," he said into his phone. "I've got 10 people waiting in line for you," another voice said back. When the feds had heard enough, they pulled his car over and grabbed everything he had in his possession.

Yesterday, it all came together in Judge Andre Davis' courtroom, where a jury found Dangerfield guilty of behavior that might send him away for the next 10 years.

"Bull," Dangerfield said, out of the range of prosecutors. He stood in a hallway outside court before the jury verdict. He said this wasn't a drug case at all, but a setup perpetrated by heartless conspirators looking at his East Baltimore rental houses.

"Johns Hopkins Hospital," he said. "They want my properties so they can use them for the hospital. That's what's behind all of this, the damned hospital leaning on the damned federal government to take away property from a young man who's an entrepreneur."

"And you haven't done any drug dealing at all?" Dangerfield was asked.

"For legal reasons," he said, "I can't comment on that at this time."

For legal reasons, he no longer will get an opportunity. His conviction could lead to seizure of his properties. In court, as she awaited that conviction, Dangerfield's lady friend thumbed through her Bible once more, beginning to ponder the difference between her perception of her gentleman friend and the government's.

"George is a praying man," she said earnestly. She had her Bible opened to 2 Chronicles 20, the story of the king named Jehoshaphat. She ran her fingers over passages highlighted with yellow marker.

"They tried to take away his property," said the lady friend. She meant Jehoshaphat, but the reference was to Dangerfield. He had no kingdom like the ancient king's, but until yesterday he had put together a nice little fiefdom. He is 29 years old and calls himself a businessman. In a city where thousands deal furtively in drugs, such nomenclature is not rare. It is the sound of those offering illusions.

"We all have times that bring out emotions," Dangerfield's lady friend said, "but George still knows the Lord is where his help comes from. I ask him every day on the telephone, 'Did you pray?' He says, 'I always pray.' And I say, 'Good, you should pray continuously.' He has faith in the Lord."

He will need that faith. He had his family with him yesterday, and his minister, too. They all spoke quite lovingly of Dangerfield. Some of them mentioned his theory about Hopkins Hospital. Nobody mentioned the cocaine discovered in his car.

"I know him as a kind, loving person," his young lady said. "People in the street say, 'I need somewhere to stay.' George will say, 'Come up to the office, we'll see what we can do.' He did what he could. He accomplished what nobody else would."

What he accomplished -- as Jim Haner of The Sun first showed in his series of articles on Dangerfield -- was not only drug trafficking on a grand scale but slumlording and bullying tenants and contributing greatly to the decay of whole stretches of East Baltimore.

And, as the jury returned yesterday with its verdict of guilt, there was Dangerfield's lady friend, still trying to locate the man of her dreams in this new reality.

Pub Date: 06/17/99

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