Alexandria police call it luck. Four months ago, narcotics investigator Gregory Dutcher was having an after-work drink at a fashionable Old Town bar when he was approached, out of the blue, to buy some cocaine.
It was an effortless start for an undercover investigation -- starring Dutcher as Charlie Shu, traveling salesman and discreet drug buyer -- into what police had long suspected was a thriving market in illicit drugs among some white-collar, upper-middle-income workers who frequent the city's rapidly developing King Street strip.
It ended this week with the arrest of one store owner and several other King Street habitues. Although police said the drug dealing was limited to a clique from Alexandria, one dealer allegedly boasted once to Dutcher that he had access to a kilo of cocaine, valued roughly at $200,000.
"It's definitely an upper-middle-class crowd," said a spokesman for the narcotics division, "Preppy would be the best word."
"We could always go into a poor area and bust the local street dealer," said assistant Alexandria prosecutor Drew Carroll, who is handling the cases, "This is our first successful attempt to infiltrate the upper social levels."
Arrested Tuesday were Daniel Morgan, owner of Susan's Card Shop at 117 King St., Kirk Edward Meyer, once owner of a brassworks store at the same address, James Hutch, who worked in the brassworks store, Scott Lentz, John Cross and Helen Aultice.
Meyer, who was charged with two counts of selling cocaine, was picked up on a warrant in San Francisco and Aultice, who was charged with three counts, was arrested in Fairfax County.
Morgan was charged with four counts of selling cocaine, as was Thomas Polivka. Lentz was charged with three counts.
Charged with marijuana violations were Carolyn Redfern (1 felony count, 2 misdemeanor counts); Cross (5 felony counts) and Lentz (3 felony counts).
Police said yesterday that three or four more arrests will be made in the next few days. In all, eight people have been indicted as a result of some 30 drug purchases made by Dutcher, alias Shu.
To fit Dutcher into the King Street scene, police say they equipped him with a "nice car, nice clothes." Before long, drugs and money were changing hands without a hitch. In one deal, police said, a seller fanned out 8 to 10 one-gram packets, holding them out to Dutcher like a pack of cards.
"It was a little slow at first but then it really snowballed," he said. "We're quite pleased, very pleased with what we got."
Carroll said Dutcher usually bought grams of cocaine for $80 to $125, single ounces of marijuana for $35 to $40, and also quarter-pounds of marijuana for about $125.
The deals were made after Dutcher received phone calls at a special number set up by Alexandria police, Carroll said. When Dutcher was out visiting the bars, another policeman answered the phone and promised to have "Charlie" return the call, Carroll said.
The investigation ended Tuesday after Dutcher allegedly bought three ounces of cocaine from Morgan at his store for $7,500. Another ounce was bought from Aultice for $2,200, police said. Altogether, police estimate the street value of the cocaine bought by Dutcher this week at $50,000. The quality of the drug was "high grade, possibly 75 to 80 percent pure," police said. Most cocaine sold on the street is 30 percent pure, they said.
Selling cocaine is a felony under Virginia law and carries a maximum penalty of five to 40 years in jail and a $25,000 fine. Marijuana possession with intent to distribute carries a one to 10-year prison term, or 12 months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
The lesser penalty is usually applied in cases involving first offenders, Carroll said yesterday.