If federal investigators have their way, the hip dressers in Washington who shop at the Madness Connection on Georgia Avenue NW won't be buying the T-shirts with cool logos from owner Eddie Van much longer. They'll be buying them from the government.
A federal grand jury indicted Van, 38, and his partner, boxing promoter Tyrone J. Johnson, 43, late last month on charges of selling more than $15,000 worth of crack to a Drug Enforcement Administration informer at the store between 1989 and December 1994. Because the deals allegedly occurred in the store, prosecutor Richard L. Edwards will use the federal forfeiture law to try to convince a jury next month that the government should be allowed to seize the business.
Since the early 1980s, Madness, as it is known, has been the place to buy whatever is in style, from colorful headbands to the popular T-shirts with the Madness logo. The store, on the first floor of a building near a vacant lot at Georgia Avenue and Kenyon Street NW, sells everything from legal energy-boosting herbs and sweat suits to leather jackets and Timberland boots.
Like their store, Van and Johnson are well known in the community. Through Madness, they have sponsored teams in Say-No-to-Drugs basketball leagues and donated clothing to the poor and the incarcerated, sending boxes of sweat shirts and pants to local prisons.
"Eddie Van has been a very generous man," said his attorney, Bernard Grimm. "He's taken a lot of fatherless kids under his wing. He donates to charities. That's a side of him that can be easily proven. But the government has another opinion: that he's a feared, habitual drug dealer. That we dispute."
Johnson has promoted professional fights in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. He was arrested after he left an event at the D.C. Convention Center; agents confiscated $70,000 in fight receipts, according to his attorney, Kenneth Robinson.
Practically since it opened, the store has drawn the attention of federal and local law enforcement officials, who could not help but notice the popularity of Madness clothing with some of the city's most notorious drug dealers -- from the Newton Street Crew to Rayful Edmond III, who led Washington's biggest and most violent cocaine ring in the late 1980s -- sources familiar with the case said.
Over the years, the store has been the subject of at least 10 police search warrants, Grimm said. "They never found so much as a seed of marijuana," he said. "One time they came in with a dog sniffing . . . for fireworks. To say that Mr. Van is surprised, well, he's not."
Grimm said the store has gotten a bad rap because of its popularity with some drug dealers. "That doesn't mean that the proprietor of the store was involved," he said.
Judie Martin, a co-owner of the store, said yesterday that she thinks the arrests are part of a vendetta against the business. She said the store should not have to check its customers' backgrounds any more than Macy's or Bloomingdale's should. "But we are a business in an inner-city neighborhood," she said. "It's not just an attack on us professionally. It's a personal attack."
Martin was released from a halfway house in October after serving 14 months for first-degree theft. She pleaded guilty in 1994 to embezzling nearly $200,000 while she was chief financial officer at the D.C. Public Defender Service.
According to court papers, she created false vouchers seeking payment from the administrative office of the courts for firms connected to the Madness Connection, saying they were owed for providing "consulting" services and for performing "psychological evaluations."
Van and Johnson were arrested Nov. 22 by members of a DEA-D.C. police Task Force and held on $250,000 bond each.
Johnson recently made bond and was released. Van is being held at the D.C. jail. CAPTION: The Madness Connection clothing store, on Georgia Avenue NW, is known for its popular T-shirt logos. The owner was indicted on federal drug charges for allegedly selling crack cocaine from the shop.