Risky Business: Major Drug Dealers Are Getting Younger

Last week, a reputed 18-year-old drug kingpin, Anthony Jones, was arrested in East Baltimore. Police said a multi-million-dollar organization was organized when Mr. Jones was a juvenile and used children as young as 11 years old as street dealers.

Over the last 20 years, according to prosecutors and police, local drug dealers have grown progressively younger and more dangerous, as the appetite of city drug addicts continues to switch increasingly from heroin to cocaine.


During the reign of the "old school" traffickers -- mature adults -- heroin was Baltimore's drug of choice. Police and prosecutors said supplies of the drug were closely regulated by powerful New York-based criminal syndicates, who were fearful of law enforcement and would only sell heroin to contacts they knew and trusted. Heroin was a closed shop, with a scarce supply, large demand and few major players.

"Old school" kingpins took a long-term approach to their illegal trade, carefully running their hierarchical organizations with military-like discipline. They processed heroin in safe houses and sold it locally to addicts at bars, pool halls, private homes or apartments. Police said heroin was never sold out of stash houses and rarely sold out in the open on local streets.


"Most major drug violators in those days were mature men, people in their 40s with families, who saw themselves as businessmen -- not that they didn't have a violent trend," said Capt. Kenneth J. Anderson, who used to talk regularly on the street with drug kingpins when he led the drug enforcement unit of the Eastern District.

"The 'old school' stayed away from kids," added Capt. Anderson. "Members of the organization were adults; they didn't cross the line. It was a matter of ethics for them. In conversations with them on the street or in custody, if the subject of kids ever came up, they'd say, 'no.' "

The taboo against involving children was part of an overall

approach of cultivating community support. They were hard-core capitalists, who spread their wealth around the communities to which they belonged, making numerous charitable donations to individuals and families, buying groceries for the elderly and maintaining strong links with legitimate businessmen through investments and loans.

The line against involving juveniles in drugs held until the late 1970s, when it was crossed by drug kingpins like Maurice "Peanut" King, who exercised unrivaled controlled of the heroin traffic large sections of Baltimore.

King, now serving a 50-year sentence after being convicted on federal drug charges in 1983, is regarded is regarded by local law enforcement officials as a pivotal figure in the local drug industry, an innovative and dangerous trendsetter. He helped take drugs out of the bars, pool rooms and private residences into open-air street markets, such as a children's playground at Hoffman and Holbrook streets.

He was among one of the first local kingpins to color-code his glassine bags of heroin, giving them designer names, such as "Poison" and "Death." He also was among the first to use computers and openly settle turf disputes on the street.

Stepped-up law enforcement efforts against King's organizations and others resulted in perhaps his most dangerous innovation -- the involvement of children in drug trafficking.


When police were able to single out and arrest his adult street dealers, King turned to the recruitment of teen-agers, some as young as 15, outfitting his younger charges with beepers and mopeds to conduct business and elude police.

"He found out about the system of juvenile justice," said one city police officer, who helped the undercover investigation that led to King's conviction. " 'Peanut' found out he didn't have to pay lawyers to keep kids on the street, that they would most likely be released to their parents the next morning. The overhead was low. He could pay them less to run drugs on the street."

Police believe King's organization grossed $10 million to $12 million annually before he was sent to prison on federal drug charges at age 30 in 1983.

King's legacy of involving children in the drug trade continued.

"We didn't realize it at the time," said Baltimore City Circuit Judge John N. Prevas, who prosecuted several drug kingpins, ** "but he [King] was a precursor of what would follow."

The police pressure on local drug kingpins in the early 1980s was also accompanied by the growing popularity of cocaine. In fact, before their imprisonment, major local drug dealers such as "Peanut" King and "Little Melvin" Williams had already seen that the future of the local drug market was in cocaine.


"Cocaine is in more unlimited supply," said Judge Prevas. "In the old days, the Mafia only wanted to make so much money, so they limited the amount of heroin they brought in. With cocaine, the Colombians are dumping cocaine like crazy. Cocaine has no restrictions. If you have the money, they'll sell."

With major kingpins and lieutenants gone from the scene, lesser figures invested in cocaine and emerged as independent traffickers. They could run a mom-and-pop operation out of their homes by putting money together and catching a bus or train to Florida or New York, where they could buy unlimited supplies of cocaine.

One of the first of "new breed" of young, major drug dealers to emerge from the local vacuum of the cocaine revolution was Tommy Lee Canty, who police said ran a $4-to-$5-million operation in East Baltimore, importing cocaine from New York and Miami and heroin from Los Angeles.

He started his multi-million-dollar drug ring in January 1986, at age 20, making his fortune selling gold-topped vials of cocaine -- dubbed "New York Bullets." He was convicted four years later on federal drug kingpin charges and sentenced to life without parole. Canty's criminal career was over at an age where he would have probably would not have even been a lieutenant in a local drug organization less than a decade before.

Police and prosecutors said the "new breed" did not benefit from serving criminal apprenticeships from established drug trafficking organizations and was largely bereft of the experience and savvy to be successful in the long term.

"The 'new breed' is making more money in a shorter time," said one former police undercover narcotics officer, "but they're not staying around as long as the 'old school.' It's living the fast life, living for today -- 'living large.' They're not concerned about tomorrow. They might last three to six months, if they're lucky, before the police or other dealers get them."


Unlike their predecessors, the "new breed" of drug traffickers has proven to be reckless and indiscriminately violent in settling turf disputes.

"Tommy Lee Canty used anybody and everybody," said U.S. Attorney Andrea Smith, who prosecuted the local kingpin and 60 co-defendants. "He had 60-year-old women as couriers, pregnant women as couriers. He used an 11-year-old to hold cocaine. He was reckless, he was brazen, he was blinded by the money. It was too easy."

Canty's downfall was brought down by four basic flaws that have become common to new breed organizations: keeping stashes in one central location; letting non-business people (potential informants) in houses where drugs were processed and stashed; leaving a paper trail for police through the purchase of houses, cars and jewelry; and indiscriminate street violence by juveniles wielding semi-automatic weapons.

Police and prosecutors said the younger kingpins don't have maturity, moxie or luck to control entire neighborhoods as their predecessors once did, instead often being forced to compete with rival organizations, out-of-town drug rings and free-lance dealers for the same corners of open-air drug markets.

The result, they said, has been a growing number of random street shootings of bystanders in a semi-automatic cross-fire of both drug-related and non-drug related disputes. Police said the Anthony Jones organization may have been responsible for as many as 15 shootings this year in the Oliver community, most the work of juvenile enforcers.

Showing contempt for community residents instead of discretion, alleged teen-age dealers of the Jones gang were often seen meting out their own peculiar brand of street justice, routinely setting upon rival dealers, beating them up and adding to the humiliation by dousing them with water and throwing flour over their heads -- a new-style tar-and-feathering.


Their behavior, a far cry from that of the old school dealers, has resulted in a growing series of anti-drug marches by community groups and a flood of calls to the city police (at 685-DRUG) about drug activity.

The immediate material incentives, however -- sometimes as little as $1 per $10 vial of cocaine -- continue to lower the ages of children who have turned to drugs in the poorest of vTC neighborhoods.

"The more kids get recruited and taste the easy money, the more it will shut the door on getting further education and have the effect of putting more sophisticated guns on the street with less maturity," said Judge Prevas. "They [juvenile kingpins] have put tremendous firepower in the hands of persons who are too immature and undisciplined to confine disputes to work and reap a harvest of gratuitous violence that we've never seen before. It's a tyranny of the children."

S. M. Khalid is a reporter for The Sun.