Who's talking now

Editorial Notebook

February 26, 2005|By Ann LoLordo

SINCE THE DAYS of J. Edgar Hoover and before, eavesdropping has aided and abetted crimefighters. Secretly recorded conversations have toppled Mafia dons, outed spys, brought down drug lords, uncovered terrorist plots and exposed corrupt politicians. A well-placed bug, a phone tap, a wired informant offer a clandestine view of crime on the taxpayer's dime. Law enforcement has taken us inside Jimmy Hoffa's union headquarters, John Gotti's Queens social club, Scott Peterson's suburban California home.

It's hard-to-beat evidence. "A confession on tape for the jury," says former prosecutor David Irwin. It's grist for a true-to-life teleplay. It's the ultimate invasion of privacy.

When Baltimore prosecutors began monitoring the cell phone calls of Lawrence Chambers, he was overseeing the sale of heroin and cocaine in Cherry Hill. The wire tracked Mr. Chambers' comings and goings, conveyed the language of his trade, documented the details of his business and noted his associates in the city and their conversations. Those calls led to his guilty plea in state court and recent federal indictments against a Northwest Baltimore drug organization. As found in court records, the wiretapped conversations show us a drug dealer's life from the inside out, in good times and bad. They are a playbook for the street trade, with orders given and received, supplies checked, accounts taken, drugs consigned, drugs bought, drugs sold and the deadly consequences of this life.

You want a dime or 15? Yeah, give me a dime. Are you at the house? Yeah. Bring me a hundred.

When business is good, the 'hood is poppin', boy. But in this business, police are an occupational hazard:

Boys running around here. ... Yeah, they out here, they want guns, I don't think they really want drugs ... cause they didn't even go in my pocket.

And paranoia about the police gives way to suspicions about everyone from telephone repair men to a blue Impala with tinted windows cruising the neighborhood.

Now today the Comcast people coming through the front way. And a lot of time them be polices. ... I ain't no dummy, I looks for that. Lawrence is not a dummy.

Work can be a downer, too, even if it pays.

I'm taking care of some business. ... I gotta do it, ain't nobody else gonna do it for me. ... You wouldn't ever want to do it. This is a s- job .

And dangerous:

Remember my big cousin from up Park Heights ... tried to kill him the other night ... shot him in the head and everything. They tried to kidnap him; they took the Benz, they even took 40,000 out the truck, they took him to his mother's house and took 40,000, the car, the truck and three guns.

Enemies are real and perceived:

The only thing I'm worried about now is going to jail ... that's all. I'm not worried about nobody else. Believe me, ain't nobody going to do nothing to me but I'm ready and I got my gun on me.

And there was reason to worry. Police arrested Mr. Chambers and his girlfriend one night in 2003 after finding $30,000 worth of heroin in his car. The wire stayed on.

Couldn't do nothing, they got me man they got me good. ... Whoever was snitching they was in the back of the police car. He been working for them for three years ... no lie. ... What I'm going to have to do is just get the lawyer and hopefully a lawyer can say who that person was.

When he suspects federal agents have raided his stash house, he realizes he may face stiff time, 25 to 40 years. He vows to protect his girlfriend, but it's too late to shield his son, who tells his grandmother: My daddy was selling drugs and got locked up.

And now he's serving 20 years in prison.

-Ann LoLordo

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