Dealer testifies against drug ring suspects

Man's son and fiancee were threatened in Jan. over trial appearance

May 06, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

On a day in January, four men wearing ski masks barged into Anthony Black's home, pointed their guns at his fiancee and 10-year-old son, and threatened to kill them if Black testified about their East Baltimore drug ring.

This week, Black walked into city Circuit Court and calmly testified against two men accused of being part of that ring, which operated in the Monument Street and Milton Avenue corridor from 1996 until police broke it up in 2003.

"Someone's threatening to hurt my family already," testified Black, who was the organization's "street lieutenant," or second in command.

Black, a 34-year-old New York native, was on the stand for more than an hour, describing the group's inner workings and code language. His family is in the city's witness assistance program.

Yesterday, prosecutors Nicole Krivda and James Wallner brought in evidence seized from several of the group's "stash houses": 625 grams of cocaine, 500 vials of cocaine packaged for street sale, six handguns, a bulletproof vest, drug paraphernalia and more than $100,000 in cash.

Police confiscated the drugs, guns and cash during several raids of East Baltimore homes after they monitored five cellular phones with wiretaps over a seven-month period.

On trial this week for drug distribution and possession charges are Barry Martin, 29, of the 2300 block of Callow Ave., who is accused of being one of the ring's suppliers, and Tyrone Jackson, 34, of the 1400 block of Saratoga St., who is accused of buying cocaine in bulk from Martin.

Attorneys for Jackson and Martin say their clients were not involved in the drug ring. The trial, which began last week, continues tomorrow.

In addition to Martin and Jackson, 11 people were indicted last year in connection with the drug gang. They all pleaded guilty to various drug counts.

The ring was run by Howard Peppers, 37, who pleaded guilty last year to being its kingpin. Peppers and Black knew each other from New York, where they grew up as neighbors in Brooklyn.

Black told the jury that his whole family died while he was living in New York and that he looked to Peppers, who had moved to Maryland, as a big brother.

"My family is dead, so I was just, like, clinging to him," Peppers said. "I thought he was like a big-brother type."

But Black said he didn't have complete confidence in Peppers.

"Mr. Peppers trusted me a whole lot more than I trusted him," Black told the jury.

He said that he cooperated with authorities so he could avoid a lengthy jail sentence. When he is sentenced this year, he could receive 10 to 20 years, as opposed to 40 years if he hadn't "flipped."

"I cooperated because I didn't want to go away forever and a day, amen," Black testified.

As he spoke, he dropped slang words such as "Apollo." He didn't mean the famed theater on 125th Street in his hometown; he meant 125 grams of cocaine he was about to sell on an East Baltimore street corner.

"It's a New York term," Black said.

The group would sell one or two Apollos six days a week, bringing in at least $2,500 a day.

He outlined the hierarchy of the group, with Peppers as the boss and Black a middle manager. At least three people served under Black, whom he called "pitchers" or "runners," and they would sell the drugs on the street.

In their telephone conversations, ring members would refer to "eating" or buying "tickets," meaning purchasing cocaine, court records show.

Black has an extensive drug record, with four convictions, and has served more than seven years in prison.

The admitted drug dealer testified that leading to one of those convictions, in 1996, he had been arrested with Peppers. He was upset with Peppers after that, Black said, because the drug kingpin didn't send him money to buy soap, toothpaste, clothes and food while he was in prison.

"Rule of thumb is, when you are arrested with someone, if they don't come to jail right behind you, you're not supposed to need anything in jail," Black said.

Black said that when he got out of jail in 2001, he didn't want to go back to "hustling" but didn't know another way to support himself. Now, he said, he knows his name is "mud on the street."

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