Monday, 1 August 2011

Eleven members of a Harlem gang - most of them from Jamaica - were busted

They sold pot out of a Harlem furniture store, turned the street outside into a de facto social club for customers, barbecued and stashing drugs in on nearby stoops and driveways.

Eleven members of a Harlem gang - most of them from Jamaica - were busted Thursday, including accused ring-leader, Frank McTaggart, 44, for turning the city block into a drug market place, officials said.

"During the evenings they would take the furniture outside, they would entertain customers and they would sell drugs," Assistant District Attorney Jordan Arnold told a Manhattan judge. "Basically they took over the block."

The Rally Furniture store, at West 132nd St., between Lenox and 7th Ave., was their alleged headquarters - but as the well-organized crew that operated for years threw rollicking open-air pot parties late into the night, they sold the drug at a local McDonalds and Associated Supermarket so as not to attract police notice, officials said.

They did attract the attention of neighbors. Fed up with finding stashes of pot in their mailboxes on their car tires, in seemingly discarded paper bags, newspapers and containers strewn on the street and having their kids stumble over the remains of their partying on the way to school, they complained to prosecutors and cops.

"The people on the block suspected stuff," said Mary Abalorio,33, the owner of Seven Grain Health Food around the corner. "Its been closed for six months, but there were always people outside, so you know there was something wrong. I'm still scared."

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance praised the residents who came forward.

"Another city block is being reclaimed from drug dealers, thanks in large part to local residents who came forward to report suspicious activity," Vance said.

Officials said the den operated for years, but that it began to unravel as cops stashed a camera on the block to record their activities and got wiretaps.

Cops, working with the DA's Violent Criminal Enterprise Unit, discovered that the crew was selling not just personal quantities of pot, but also wholesale amounts of marijuana - and began arresting its alleged members.

Among them were McTaggart, who sources said is partially blind and goes by the alias "Ray Charles," Donavan Lewis, 36, and David Dawson, 39, who appeared in court wearing a T-shirt that reads "Weed" Breakfast of Champions."

During his arraignment, McTaggart, a father of eight, pleaded not guilty. The judge ordered him held without bail. He faces up to four years in prison.

McTaggart, who has a federal deportation order, works at a stationary store owned by Rallyford Simpson, another member of the alleged ring, according to his lawyer.


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