In city after city, Kenny Dorsey's name has been tied to major drug operations. Suspected as one of the nation's top cocaine distributors, he nevertheless managed for years to elude dozens of police, prosecutors and federal agents.
Hardly anyone even knew what he looked like.
But because of an old traffic ticket, an arrest in Las Vegas and the work of a Maryland drug agent, Mr. Dorsey is in jail, waiting for federal marshals to escort him to Baltimore later this month for a drug trial, prosecutors announced yesterday.
Informants and drug dealers from Los Angeles to Chicago to New Orleans have identified Mr. Dorsey as their supplier, according to investigators. But only in Maryland did prosecutors acquire enough evidence to indict him. Witnesses often clammed up and backed out.
"Many police and prosecutors have investigated him, and many have been frustrated that they couldn't take it that one step further," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas DiBagio, who is prosecuting the case. "It feels good to get somebody so many people were trying to get."
Prosecutors said Mr. Dorsey was arrested in Las Vegas two weeks ago after he showed up under a phony name for a routine court hearing on an unrelated drug charge. Unaware his real identity had been established through fingerprints taken during a traffic arrest more than 10 years ago, Mr. Dorsey walked out of the courtroom -- to be greeted by five U.S. deputy marshals, who arrested him.
Mr. Dorsey is believed responsible for supplying at least 150 kilograms of cocaine to Maryland dealers over a two-year period. Nationally, he is responsible for supplying a quantity that is anyone's guess, investigators say. Their most conservative estimate is a minimum of 500 kilograms, brought in from Mexico and Colombia.
A federal grand jury in Baltimore indicted Mr. Dorsey two years ago, accusing him of supplying cocaine to Tracy Washington -- a man who police say is among the top five drug dealers to operate in Baltimore. If convicted on distribution charges, Mr. Dorsey could face life in prison. Mr. Washington and other gang members were convicted last year.
Mr. Dorsey, 31, proved particularly elusive to law enforcers. Generally, investigators say, he avoided arrest with an ingenious smuggling operation and a relatively low-profile lifestyle -- for someone reputed to earn $30,000 a week, that is. He never wore flashy clothes or drove fancy cars. He claims to run a business as a "car detailer," said Mr. DiBagio.
Gang members have told how couriers for Mr. Dorsey wore military uniforms as they smuggled cocaine wrapped in sheets of fabric softener and packed in suitcases. The uniforms -- Army and Marine -- were apparently enough to establish the courier's legitimacy and dissuade customs officials from exploring the contents of their bags. The fabric softener threw off dogs used to sniff out drugs.
Baltimore DEA agent Jeffrey Silk came agonizingly close to Mr. Dorsey two summers ago, not realizing it until too late.
Working undercover and monitoring discussions between a member of the Tracy Washington drug gang and an unidentified man described only as a supplier from California, Mr. Silk helped conduct a search of their meeting place, a room at the Tremont Hotel. Only later did a member of the drug gang reveal that the "supplier" was Mr. Dorsey, who had used a false name. Nothing turned up in the search. His alias remained intact and no charges were pressed.
"We were discouraged," Mr. DiBagio said. "We had him, and he slipped away."
Still, Mr. Silk was one of the few investigators in the country to have actually come face to face with Mr. Dorsey.
Then, in April, Mr. Dorsey was arrested in Las Vegas and charged with cocaine possession. He gave a false name to police. When no criminal record showed up, he was released after paying a $5,000 bond.
Two weeks later, in routine fingerprint processing, the FBI matched the prints from Mr. Dorsey's traffic arrest to those of the Las Vegas drug suspect. The information was passed to DEA offices in California and Las Vegas, but for reasons Baltimore investigators don't understand, they weren't told until late August.
At that point, Mr. Silk sent Mr. Dorsey's photo to Las Vegas, where police confirmed that he was the same man.
Even at that, the Baltimore investigators figured they had missed their shot at Mr. Dorsey yet again.
He was to appear in the Las Vegas court on Sept. 20 for a routine hearing to set the date and time of his trial. Mr. DiBagio bet Mr. Silk a beer that Mr. Dorsey would be a no-show.
"Why would the guy show up?" said the prosecutor. "So he loses his $5,000 bond. He's making $50,000 a week."
Mr. Silk went to Las Vegas for the 9 a.m. hearing. An hour passed, then 90 minutes. Then Mr. Dorsey walked in. He sat a few seats ahead of Mr. Silk, and when he turned and saw the agent, he clearly recognized him.
When he walked out of the courtroom, investigators said, the charade had dissolved and he admitted who he was.