A Prince George's County video arcade operator was ordered held on $10 million bond here today after federal agents arrested him on an indictment charging him with masterminding a massive heroin distribution operation between New York and Baltimore.
Vernon Cooper, 50, of 517 Shady Glen Dr., Capitol Heights, was arrested at his home Wednesday and brought before U.S. Magistrate Clarence E. Goetz. Goetz imposed the high bond after prosecutors said Cooper owned firearms, was considered dangerous, had a past record of violent crimes and had extensive hidden financial resources that he could use to flee.
Also arrested by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service in the case was Cooper's brother, Wonzell Cooper, 43, of 4401 Torque St., District Heights. He was ordered held on $250,000 bond.
A third man indicted in the case, Charles O'Dell Smith, 43, of 608 Pearce La., Upper Marlboro, was still at large today.
Vernon Cooper was characterized by prosecutors during his court appearance today as living a lavish life style, driving a $50,000 Mercedes, jetting to Acapulco for fishing sprees and buying $500 seats for the 1981 Leonard-Hearns boxing match in Las Vegas.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David B. Irwin told Goetz that Vernon Cooper took in $300,000 a month in his heroin trade, laundering the money through two video arcades he owns in Silver Spring and Upper Marlboro.
Irwin said the $300,000 figure was based on estimates, provided by informers, that Cooper made $1,000 profit per ounce on the 300 ounces of heroin he received each month from "organized crime sources" in New York.
The federal prosecutor described Vernon Cooper as operating at a "high wholesale level of distribution," selling the New York-based heroin to key middlemen in Baltimore.
Also, Irwin said, Vernon Cooper recently "put out a $25,000 contract" to kill an IRS agent investigating Cooper. When the IRS learned of the contract, Irwin said, agents confronted Cooper with the information in an effort to squelch the contract.
Vernon and Wonzell Cooper were arrested at their homes without incident and brought into court here today handcuffed together.
In addition to being charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin, Vernon Cooper was charged under the so-called "kingpin" statute, a relatively new federal provision being pushed by U.S. Attorney J. Frederick Motz here against alleged organizers of any "continuing criminal enterprise." The statute carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without parole.
In arguing for a high bond today, Irwin said the potential life-without-parole sentence was "as good as getting a death sentence" for the 50-year old Vernon Cooper and created further reason for him to flee.
Vernon Cooper also was indicted on two counts of understating his income in 1979 and 1980.
Wonzell Cooper and Charles Smith were charged only with various counts of conspiracy to distribute heroin.