Former drug gang leader in Baltimore tells jurors how organization worked

March 19, 2003|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

A former ringleader of an East Baltimore narcotics gang laid out the group's inner workings yesterday in federal court, stunning jurors with casual references to killings and daily profits from a single drug corner that topped $25,000.

Keith Mickles, 25, testified in the drug conspiracy trial of Elijah Richardson, 23, a fellow member of the Lafayette Project Boys. Authorities believe the group is responsible for five city killings in recent years, including a Memorial Day shooting two years ago that wounded 11 and killed a rival's girlfriend.

Richardson is charged in a shooting Jan. 9, 2001, in the 700 block of Bartlett Ave. The victim, Perry Bowles, survived. Richardson's trial began Monday.

Richardson's charges are among 23 federal indictments handed down last year against a dozen gang members, some of whom could have received the death penalty if convicted. The three men identified as leaders -- Charles "Bok" Byers, Leon Coleman and Darryl "Tiger" Robertson -- pleaded guilty this month to drug distribution conspiracy charges. All of the others either pleaded guilty in exchange for lesser sentences or saw their charges dropped.

Richardson, the only one to insist on going to trial, refused to consider a plea offer yesterday that could have resulted in less than the 20-year minimum sentence he could receive if convicted.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Purcell questioned Mickles on the stand for several hours yesterday to lay the foundation of the gang's activities and Richardson's role in the organization.

Speaking matter-of-factly about his own role in the gang, some of whose members wore tattoos commemorating New Orleans hip-hop artists, The Hot Boys, Mickles described an organization with clear hierarchies, East and West Baltimore drug sales territories, and bitter neighborhood rivalries.

Mickles held the jury's attention for nearly three hours, beginning with memories of his childhood growing up with Byers and Coleman in the Lafayette Homes Projects in East Baltimore.

Mickles recalled meeting Richardson in 1991, when Mickles was 13, around the time he began selling cocaine as an independent drug dealer.

Two years later, he joined with other childhood friends who pooled their money to purchase ever larger quantities of cocaine and heroin. By the time of his arrest in 1996, Mickles testified, the operation was converting half a kilo of powder cocaine a week to rock cocaine. Priced at $5 per vial, Mickles testified that he personally grossed about $25,000 per week.

"I was a boss. I was a leader," Mickles testified. "I wasn't a hitter."

"Hitters," Mickles explained, are street dealers who receive bags containing individual hits of drugs from "pitchers." Pitchers act as midlevel managers and distribute packets of heroin, crack and powder cocaine purchased in bulk by bosses.

Mickles is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to one count of federal drug conspiracy stemming from an incident two years ago in which he was arrested with 1,521 vials of rock cocaine and two handguns.

He testified yesterday that he sold Richardson between a quarter ounce and an ounce on three occasions for resale in the Douglass Homes housing project.

He also admitted driving two associates, Darrin "D-Nice" Griffin and Randolph "Bert" Homes, to a wooded area in the 4500 block of Clifton Road on Sept. 16, 2000, and executing Griffin for robbing one of his stash houses.

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