A 15-month investigation by the NYPD and the Queens DA’s office led to the arrests of more than a dozen people, who authorities alleged were leaders and members of two drug gangs that operated in southeast Queens, police and prosecutors announced Thursday.
In addition, the investigation resulted in the arrests of nearly 30 more people, who were charged with various narcotics-related offenses as well as the arrest of the cousin of a murder victim, who was charged with weapons possession, officials told a news conference at One Police Plaza.
Among those arrested in what was dubbed “Operation South Side” was 51-year-old James “Wall” Corley, who Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said got his start in southeast Queens as a member of the notorious “Supreme Team,” which operated during the crack epidemic of the 1980s.
“Competitors and his staff called him ‘The Ghost,’ because it was very difficult to get information about him,” Kelly said of Corley. “Not even his associates knew where he really lived, but these gentleman did. The detectives do.”
Kelly said that Corley, who lives in Rochdale Village, allegedly led one drug gang that served customers in the South Jamaica Houses, the Baisley Houses, Rochdale Village and other neighborhoods in southeast Queens.
Corley used as many as eight cell phones, never drove a car himself and changed cars and drivers multiple times a day, according to Kelly.
He was charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance, and police allegedly recovered cocaine, ten vials of a common cocaine additive, 45 forged $5 bills and various drug paraphernalia during a search of his residence, authorities said.
Ten people, who authorities contended were members and associates of Corley’s crew, were among those arrested, investigators said.
Detective David Leonardi, from the NYPD’s Queens Gang Squad, described a coded language – “the supreme alphabet” - allegedly used by Corley’s group to quantify drugs and guns.
“Every number has its own word, and every letter also has its own word,” Leonardi said. “So instead of ordering a numbered amount, they would use these words. For example, ‘power understating knowledge’ would be an indication of a three-digit number.”
Police and prosecutors said members of a second drug gang called the South Side Bloods, which sold to customers in Baisley Gardens and other neighborhoods in southeast Queens, were also targeted in the Operation South Side investigation.
Authorities said 33-year-old Allen Mitchell of South Jamaica, who was allegedly the drug supplier for the South Side Bloods, was arrested in January and charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance.
Investigators said that four other men arrested, including one who allegedly was found in possession of two loaded guns, are also believed to be members of the South Side Bloods.
While executing a search warrant of Tamar Loper’s South Jamaica home, police said they recovered a .357 Taurus and a .32 caliber gun as well as hundreds of rounds of ammunition after Loper had tried to discard the firearms by throwing them onto his roof, authorities said.
In total, 45 people were arrested, and Operation South Side netted in total 1.5 kilos of cocaine, more than 50 decks of heroin, marijuana, about $70,000 and four handguns, police and prosecutors said.
The two drug gangs grossed more than $15,000 per week, authorities said.
Several drug presses, which remove water or liquid from cocaine to make the bricks, were also recovered during the investigation, Kelly said. Traditionally, the presses are used in auto body shops to print and bend metal, police said.
In addition, a cousin of murder victim Darryl Adams was arrested during the investigation and charged with an unrelated weapons possession charge after police said he was found with a Tech 9 submachine gun.
Authorities believe Donald Merritt, a cousin of Adams, who was shot and killed in the South Jamaica Houses in March, had planned to use the gun to get revenge for 18-year-old Adams’ death.
NYPD Captain James Ryan said after receiving intelligence about an armed man on March 21, police arrested Merritt, who they said was in possession of the Tech 9 as well as 50 9mm bullets.
“We felt at that time frame, he was protecting himself and possibly going to retaliate for his cousin,” Ryan said during the news conference.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said that in total 14 court-authorized search warrants were conducted during the investigation, which was a collaboration between the Narcotics Investigation Bureau at the DA’s office and the NYPD’s Queens Gang Division.
“Today we are making a very clear, unequivocal warning to those who continue to deal in drugs that we will track them,” Brown said.
During the news conference, Kelly also pointed to the Supreme Team as responsible for the 1988 fatal shooting of NYPD Officer Edward Byrne, who was killed while sitting in his patrol car in South Jamaica.
“While Corley was not charged in the murder of Police Officer Byrne, generations of police officers will take no small satisfaction that an associate of his killer has been brought to justice,” Kelly said.
Police believe that with the arrest of Corley, the Supreme Team gang has been dismantled.
“We think this is the end of them.” Ryan said.
©2012 Community News Group
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