Members of suspected drug gang arrested; Officials say group sold heroin worth $2,000 daily in park area


Federal, local, and state law enforcement officers said they dismantled a violent drug gang yesterday, arresting 10 suspects during a series of early-morning raids in Baltimore city and county.

The sweep was part of Operation Safe Neighborhoods, a coalition formed in May 1998 to drastically reduce the city's murder rate, which has exceeded 300 every year this decade.

The first phase of the crackdown occurred in July, when 22 people were arrested in Southeast Baltimore on drug and weapons charges.

Yesterday, a $2,000- to $4,000-a-day heroin operation was targeted as officers stormed homes on suburban cul-del-sacs and city streets.

Police said the gang, called "Starz," has been triggering violence in Patterson Park for six months. The alleged ringleaders, identified as brothers Marvin Davis, 29, and Michael Davis, 28, were arrested yesterday at their home in the 2200 block of E. Fayette St. Warrants were issued based on grand jury felony indictments on charges of distribution of heroin and conspiracy to distribute heroin, said police spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr.

"Fear was their way of doing business," said acting Police Commissioner Col. John E. Gavrilis, who took part in the raids. "Fear through violence."

Police, U.S. marshals and staff from the state's attorney's office and the Department of Parole and Probation arrested people accused of being the Starz hierarchy and several street dealers, officials said.

The 14-member gang is accused of dominating Patterson Park streets during the day, but at night some leaders retreated to newly built suburban homes, officials said.

Anthony Marranto, 21, whom police described as the gang's lieutenant, was arrested at 6: 15 a.m. yesterday at his parents' home in Middle River. Dozens of police stormed the home in the first block of Cider Court while a National Guard helicopter hovered overhead.

Marranto was arrested on heroin distribution charges without incident and was held yesterday on $100,000 bail, authorities reported.

Bail for the Davis brothers was set at $3 million each.

"This organization is driven by violence -- every member has a history of violence and drug distribution," Gavrilis said.

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said at a news conference to announce the arrests that she plans to pursue stiff jail sentences.

"It is important that we come in and act, arrest them, convict them and sentence them for as long as possible," Jessamy said, noting that all 22 people arrested in July remain in jail.

Operation Safe Neighborhoods is based on the findings of Harvard University Professor David Kennedy, a criminologist who spent 18 months investigating Baltimore's homicide statistics, which indicated that a small number of people are responsible for the bulk of the city's violence.

The initiative is being tested in a 120-block area of East Baltimore, and police said that in the first six months of this year, homicides declined by 50 percent in the area.

Operation Safe Neighborhood leaders hope to expand the task force's law enforcement and community efforts to other parts of the city as violence patterns shift.

"Wherever violence goes, we will be there to stop it," said Hathaway Ferebee, executive director of the Safe and Sound Campaign, the agency that organized Operation Safe Neighborhoods. "But our ultimate goal is, people will see it's not worth it and stop the violent behavior."

Officials plan to blanket Patterson Park with drug treatment information and community-building programs to prevent another drug gang from settling in, they said.

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