The alleged leader of an estimated $4 million- to $9 million-a-year heroin ring and four others have been arrested for their part in what D.C. police said yesterday was the most "businesslike" heroin sales operation they had ever encountered, one that held regular meetings, fined drug sellers for coming to work late and paid benefits to their families if they were arrested.
The drug ring, according to police, called itself the "Billie Jean Heroin Organization" -- named after a particular type of heroin sold -- and divided up drug distribution and sales chores among its members, who held the rank of "captain," "lieutenant" or "worker," depending on assigned responsibilities.
D.C. Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. and U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova announced the arrests at a police headquarters news conference. They said authorities had obtained indictments against four others already incarcerated and expected to arrest four additional suspects in the case.
Those arrested or already incarcerated have been charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin, police said. They included the alleged captain, Willie Lee Clark, 28, of 1907 Good Hope Rd. SE; Frank H. Lewis Jr., 22, of 715 Farragut St. NW; Robert A. Price, 27, of 1904 Third St. NE; Tyrone Hill, 42, of 743 Irving St. NW; Wanda G. Sellers, 24, of 734 Columbia Rd. NW, and D.C. Department of Corrections inmates Lloyd W. Smith, 32; Thurman J. Christian, 37; Cecillia B. Smith, 24, and Edward Hamilton, 37.
Turner and diGenova said the arrests concluded a six-month investigation that was launched after residents in the area around 14th and W streets NW complained about drug activities in their neighborhood.
The "Billie Jean" ring, according to police, had operated at least since October 1982. They said search warrants served this past March at two apartments in a Northwest building had turned up 233 street bags of heroin valued at more than $9,000, plus three handguns, more than $2,000 in cash and drug-related records.
The records and surveillance by the D.C. Narcotics Branch, according to the federal indictment, indicated that the drug organization operated under the leadership of a "captain" who had the responsibility for obtaining the heroin, arranging and supervising its distribution and making periodic accountings of sales and receipts.
"Lieutenants" were responsible for assembling members of the organization, overseeing street sales and enforcing the ring's rules concerning sales areas, price and use of the name "Billie Jean," the indictment said.
It was left to the "workers," the indictment said, to sell the heroin. They were responsible for appearing at designated distribution points, receiving bundles of 10 heroin or "Billie bag" packets each and selling the contents on the streets for $40 a bag, of which $35 was returned to the lieutenants, according to the indictment.
DiGenova said the workers sold enough heroin, for which they also received commissions, to pull down "$1,000 to $1,500 a week in their pay envelopes."
He said that while the organization paid benefits to the dependents of any seller who was arrested, it fined and disciplined those who missed meetings, disappeared with money or drugs, or failed to show up or arrived at work late.
Among the punishments, he said, were fines, suspension from work for a day, the loss of a free "hit" from a Billie bag and, for serious infractions, "blows with an aluminum baseball bat."
The arrests yesterday were the latest in a recent series of crackdowns on alleged drug dealers and were cited by Turner and diGenova as proof that law enforcement officials "are serious" about trying to get drugs off the streets. On Thursday, police said they had arrested 17 persons and broken up a "dial-a-dope" drug ring in which customers ordered heroin by phone and then met delivery people.
DiGenova said several drug organizations exist in the nation's capital because the city has a constant flow of people "coming in and going out," making the importation of drugs here a fact of life. But he said he and Turner have made inroads into curbing the city's drug trafficking in the past two years.
As a result of stepped-up police enforcement, diGenova said, "The system is so overloaded . . . that 45 percent of the criminal calendar in Superior Court is drug cases."