Four charged in `raw heroin' distribution

95 percent pure narcotic seen as effort to draw in a new class of users

July 14, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Police and federal agents arrested four New York City residents in Baltimore yesterday and seized a significant amount of suspected "raw heroin" -- a snortable form of the potent drug that officials warn is attracting a new class of addicts.

Those arrested were described as major distributors with connections to Colombian drug lords, who smuggled the contraband across the Mexican border, delivered it to New York and then to Baltimore.

Yesterday's 3/4-kilo seizure -- more than 1 1/2 pounds -- is worth up to $500,000 on the streets, said Lt. Anthony G. Cannavale Jr., a city police detective assigned to the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federal narcotics task force.

Police and health officials, locally and nationally, have warned that the influx of pure, raw heroin is part of an attempt by international drug dealers to attract a new class of users. Snortable heroin is seen as a preferable alternative to injecting the narcotic because of the strong possibility of contracting AIDS through use of hypodermic needles.

Authorities fear suppliers will cut the purity of the addictive drug to users once they are hooked and reap windfall profits as users are forced to inject a weaker, inferior heroin to get a comparable high.

"The stigma attached to heroin addicts goes away when you take the needle out of their hands," said Baltimore Police Capt. Michael J. Andrew, who is assigned to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. "At some point, they will cut back on supply and raise the price."

Raw heroin first appeared in Baltimore several years ago. Police say they believe the heroin confiscated yesterday is 95 percent pure. Typical injectable heroin is 5 percent pure.

Authorities warned about the pure heroin at a drug conference four months ago in Baltimore.

"Heroin, once thought to be the drug of choice of a small group of older users confined to the inner cities, has emerged as a growing threat," Deputy U.S. Attorney Eric Holder said at the gathering. He said the drug "is spreading steadily into small towns and rural America."

In March, police said, a 20-year-old Westminster man died of heroin intoxication from snorting heroin, complicated by bronchial pneumonia.

City police have generally targeted Greenspring and Lower Park Heights neighborhoods for snortable heroin. In February, police raided a house in Northwest Baltimore and seized $50,000 worth of the drug, which tested 95 percent pure.

Andrew said recent studies show that most heroin seized in Baltimore is at least 70 percent pure. In the last year, undercover DEA agents bought 331 packets of heroin in Northwest Baltimore. Of that, 115 tested 76 percent pure and 56 tested 73 percent pure.

"Ten to 15 years ago, if you got 70 percent pure heroin, you were dealing with a significant distributor of the drug," Andrew said. "Now it's showing up in vials from street dealers."

Yesterday's bust targeted four suspected high-level distributors. Charged with felony drug distribution are: Michael Carter, 18; Hadith Smith, no age available; Arnold Griggs, 22; and James Kirk, 19.

Police said all are from the Bronx in New York City. Cannavale said the suspects could face federal charges. They were awaiting a bail hearing yesterday at the Central Booking and Intake Center.

Police said the four are suspected of distributing the heroin to street dealers who work the East Monument Street corridor.

They were arrested in a rowhouse in the 4300 block of Shamrock Ave. in Cedonia, a low-crime Northeast Baltimore neighborhood near Herring Run Park. Police said that up to a few months ago, the group had rented all the rooms on three floors of the Abbey Schaefer Hotel on St. Paul Street in Mount Vernon.

"They're smart," Cannavale said. "They go into neighborhoods where they feel they won't get ripped off."

Cannavale said the group had worked out of the hotel until police arrested several low-level workers about six months ago. The group then moved to Northeast Baltimore, he said.

The federal task force investigated about six months and raided the Shamrock Avenue house about 7: 30 a.m. yesterday. Cannavale said the drugs were found in a shopping bag in a bedroom, along with a loaded .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun.

Police said most of the drugs were compressed into plastic-coated egg shapes, about the size of a robin's egg, and smuggled into the country by people who swallow them. There also were several compressed chunks -- each about half the size of a bar of soap -- that were brown in color. That, police said, is a trademark of "brown heroin," which comes from South America.

Pub Date: 7/14/99

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