What the dealers didn’t know at the time: The house, dressed up as a recording studio, was wired by the FBI, and Sutherland — and all his buyers — were undercover officers. When an officer listening in on a telephone conversation overheard plans to rob them, a year-long sting operation began to wind down.
Those encounters, described in court papers, were among the many that occurred during the sting, which was unveiled Monday. Authorities say officers posing as gangsters, crooked businessmen and bodyguards helped snag $7.2 million in cocaine, PCP and other drugs, buy and capture 161 weapons, and make 70 arrests.
Authorities said it was one of their most important weapons investigations in recent history.
“Had those drugs and guns made it to our streets, the consequences would be devastating,” D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said Monday at a news conference.
The face of the the sting operation was Sutherland, a veteran of undercover work. Posing as Manic Enterprises impresario Richie Valdez, head of an international string of recording studios, Sutherland convinced criminals that he was one of them, and that he wasn’t afraid to rob banks and drug dealers to boost his trade in guns and drugs. But Valdez’s associates were D.C. police narcotics investigators.
Police and agents from the FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement uncovered connections to a Mexican drug cartel and out-of-area gun traders that led to federal investigations in a half-dozen states and a murder case in El Salvador.
The investigation offered a rare opportunity to fight violent crime by attacking the sources of the dangerous weapons that flow into the city, authorities said.
“We concentrated on some higher-value targets,” ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge Richard Marianos said Monday.
“They had real connections to real gun traffickers,” said Sutherland in an interview. “It is unusual to get that many guys that have a ‘connect’ where they can get guns steady. . . . We know criminals have this kind of stuff on the street, but we don’t get to recover it very often.”
The salesman who promised rocket launchers was Chris Washington, according to court papers that say he also sold officers drugs. His case is pending.
Another man, James Deale, admitted to selling undercover officers AR-15 assault rifles, but he also sold made-to-fit handgun silencers, which police said are rarely found on the streets.
“I never thought guys could get guns as fast as those guys can get guns,” Officer Kief Green, who posed as Valdez’s bodyguard, said in an interview. “Amazing.”