Charmed life loses its luck in court

Drug conviction undoes Dangerfield's lifestyle

June 20, 1999|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,SUN STAFF

He cast himself as an up-from-the-hood gangster gone legit in real estate. He had style, a sense of elegance, a quick wit and ready smile that won the instant attention of some very pretty women. He drove a royal blue Rolls.

At nightclubs from Columbia to Manhattan, George A. Dangerfield Jr. was a walking blizzard of cash, bestowing trays of drinks and sizzling skillets of filet mignon on his adoring entourage.

Not yet 30, he already had it all.

"I'm the K.O.B., can't nobody mess with me," he decreed to friends. "When things get rough, I can't be touched. I'm the King of Baltimore!"

He had reason to believe his own rap -- until last week.

Stripped of his gold watch and alligator briefcase by a federal court jury, which found him guilty Wednesday of masterminding a conspiracy that dumped pounds of cocaine onto the streets of Baltimore, Dangerfield now sits behind concrete and barbed wire.

Denied bail until his sentencing hearing in September, he will have three months in the Baltimore City Detention Center to polish the story of his life that he will tell to U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis.

The outcome will be a penalty ranging from 10 years to eternity.

Much of the story is already beyond Dangerfield's control, an unchangeable criminal past writ large across hundreds of pages of court records that portray him as a coldly calculating scofflaw slumlord with a prior drug-dealing conviction in 1995.

But the saga of his rise and fall is also a morality tale for the times.

In the wastes of America's most drug addicted city -- the national bellwether for heroin- and cocaine-related emergency room admissions -- Dangerfield drove a desperate road to success that destroyed far more lives than his own.

Over the past five years, he has ambled through the court system in chalk-striped suits and two-tone cranberry-on-white shoes, drawing on a seemingly bottomless supply of ready cash to employ enough lawyers to staff a small downtown firm.

With city police, prosecutors and judges taxed to distraction by abacklog of 80 new drug defendants a week, even so flamboyant a character went largely unnoticed.

Dangerfield fended off child support suits by the mothers of his four children. He beat seven drug charges that might have sent a lesser being to prison for decades. He demanded full-blown trials for such minor infractions as speeding on his motorcycle.

`Not discreet'

When he won -- and he usually did -- the president of Estate Management Inc. sent roses or sympathy cards to prosecutors.

On his way out of the courtroom, he seldom failed to flash them that winning smile -- a gleaming white show of teeth that could shift from impish to insolent in the course of a sentence.

"He is not particularly discreet," said a frustrated Denise M. Duval, the city's chief housing prosecutor, after an unsuccessful court bout with Dangerfield in February. "Most defendants at least make a show of remorse. Mr. Dangerfield laughs at you."

It was a risky attitude for a man in his 20s who owned more than 125 slum rental houses through a web of 22 corporations -- all managed from a pair of restored rowhouses trimmed in gold paint and black awnings on a boarded block of North Avenue.

Parked out front was his fleet of Lincoln Town Cars, a white Humvee and one of the few Rolls-Royce touring sedans in the city.

In the patois of the street, the man known as "G" appeared to be "all that," a "player," a living legend in the making in an East Baltimore community racked by murder, drugs, poverty and 3,000 abandoned houses -- a community starved for heroes.

"We see a young guy like this out here who seems to be a success story, and it's a rare moment of inspiration," said Michael Seipp, who heads a $35 million urban renewal campaign that sought to acquire his houses, after Dangerfield first came to public attention in February.

"Whatever hope there is gets attached to him pretty fast," Seipp added at the time.

But for his dismal surroundings, the athletically built Dangerfield might easily have been mistaken for an Oriole or a Raven, with a premium cigar nested in his mouth and a golf bag on his shoulder. Dressed for a night of "profiling" at the Silver Shadow club in Columbia, he found the backdrop more to his liking.

Mingling with young black suburban professionals from Baltimore and Washington, Dangerfield was in his element, the embodiment of the bootstraps entrepreneur, a lady's man with a string of pretty things on his arm -- including a bank teller, a minister's daughter and, for a time, a promising young Baltimore Police officer.

"Once she found out who he really was, she dumped him," said the officer's mother. "It was awful for her. Like a lot of people, she believed in him. She believed he was who he said he was. And she's been regretting it ever since. Personally, I could wring his neck."

Said the officer: "It was beyond embarrassing. I was sick to my stomach for a week when I found out the truth" two years ago.

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