Federal narcotics agents arrested yesterday three me believed to be the leaders of a multimillion-dollar drug ring peddling heroin and cocaine in East Baltimore housing projects.
In an early morning raid, law enforcement officers apprehended Edward Frank Phillips Jr., a 31-year-old Baltimore man accused of running the organization and distributing up to 7 pounds of heroin a month. Known on the street by his nickname "Ace," Mr. Phillips was the target of a 19-month investigation of heroin trafficking.
Keith A. Miller, a 28-year-old city housing employee, and Robert Torain, a 30-year-old Cockeysville resident identified as the main supplier, were arrested on the same charges as Mr. Phillips -- conspiracy, distributing heroin and related violations.
They were named as ringleaders after undercover agents purchased 20 bags of heroin and cocaine supplied by them, said Special Agent Douglas N. Biales, spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Baltimore.
Police still were searching for a fourth suspect, Leroy McKelvin, a 30-year-old Cockeysville man who lives in the same apartment complex as Mr. Torain.
Ten organization members were arrested on minor charges of possessing heroin, cocaine or drug paraphernalia during yesterday's roundup. DEA agents also confiscated 4 ounces of heroin and nine guns, semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles.
Agents also executed a search warrant at Charley Rudo Sports, a sporting-goods shop in the Old Town Mall, and seized documents linked to an alleged money-laundering operation.
"We've succeeded in disrupting a well-established street organization," said John S. Taylor, head of the DEA's Baltimore office. He promised that an additional 20 dealers would be apprehended in the coming week.
Narcotics agents first were tipped off in fall 1989 that one man controlled an extensive heroin ring in East Baltimore, Mr. Biales said. A resident of Perkins Homes, a 500-family project near Fells Point, complained to Housing Authority police that strange men kept cruising through the community in flashy cars. The informant said they were street dealers for Mr. Phillips.
City housing officials later discovered that an employee was a leading suspect in the heroin ring. Mr. Miller, who had worked 12 years as a driver with the paving crew, is accused of using his job to line up customers.
The ringleaders allegedly bought large quantities of pure heroin, some traced back to Nigeria, from suppliers in New York City. Scooped into coin bags and sold in the projects for $25 to $40, the heroin distributed by the Phillips ring was considered "some of the best quality in the city," Mr. Biales said.
"Historically, Baltimore has been a city full of heroin addicts," Mr. Biales said. "It's become an extremely lucrative business now, -- but you need good purity. That's why this group had so many [faithful] customers."
While being led to a waiting van yesterday morning, Mr. Phillips denied any involvement in heroin dealing. He claimed that he works for a trucking company and only visits Perkins to see his young sons.
Mr. Biales said he already heard about "Ace's" heroin dealing while working as a city police officer in 1978.