Three D.C. street vendors and three other persons were arrested yesterday on charges that they were part of a ring that sold an estimated$1 million worth of cocaine a year to lunch-hour and evening crowds in Georgetown and downtown Washington.
The vendors, whom police promptly dubbed the Georgetown Vendor Connection, ran streetside businesses selling drug-related items at five prime locations on Connecticut Avenue, M Street NW, and Wisconsin Avenue.
Also arrested was the owner of the Puff and Snuff store at 1226 Wisconsin Ave. NW, a waitress for an M Street NW restaurant, and the manager of a warehouse that supplied merchandise to street vendors, police said.
All six were charged with being part of a ring that sold about $15,000 worth of cocaine to undercover policemen who made their purchases over the last three months.
The vendors, whose businesses bore such names and "head shop" and "Toke is Cheap," kept the cocaine in beer and soda cans on their tables or in their pockets for ready access, police said. Prices ranged from $85 to $100 a gram.
Second District gambling and vice squad detectives began investigating the ring as a result of allegations by some vendors that other vendors were selling cocaine.
Sgt. Patrick Lanigan, who headed the investigation, said the vending locations, most in the wealthy Georgetown area, were "perfect" for the drug business. "Cocaine is the drug of kings -- and you pay for it," he said.
Lanigan said the vendors also sold items like lipstick cases made to hold a gram of cocaine and a Frisbee that contained a pocket to put marijuana in.
Lanigan said that customers would approach the stand and glance at the vendors' wares. Then, at some point, the customers would say the "need to get high -- what can you do me for?"
He said the cocaine buys were made both during the day and night at the locations. One detective, he said, was even offered a chance to buy a half pound of cocaine for $16,000.
Customers include men in business suits, smartly dressed women as well as jeans-clad individuals.
All the vendors got their cocaine from the same supplier, Lanigan said.
Regular customers were given a phone number that they could call to place their orders for cocaine. One phone number began with the word, "SCUM" and three digits.
"They were pretty open about it," Lanigan said. "It's big business."
Lanigan said he received complaints from other vendors about the cocaine dealers. "If a (legitimate) vendor in another group would come over and try to take one of the cocaine dealers' spots (on the street), the cocaine vendors would topple over their stands. There was a lot of roughhousing."
For more than a year, the "head shop" stand had been a fixture among the array of sidewalk tables at Connecticut-Avenue and K Street, where passersby can purchase everything from fruit to earrings and dashikis to diet books.
Some vendors frequently chanted from behind their array of water pipes and roach clips, "We've got everything you need except the weed," or "Our prices are lower so you can get higher," as shoppers or office workers rushed through the busy intersection.
Lanigan said that often the vendors would harass passing police officers by yelling at them and asking, "Hey, you want to get high?"
During most of the last year, there had been continual bickering between police and the head shop vendors, according to a flower vendor who worked nearby.
"Police would come by and tell them that they hated what the boys were selling and they hated the fact they were influencing kids," said the vendor, who asked not to be identified. "The boys would answer back and say they could do what they liked."
According to store owners at the Georgetown Mall, Alpha Boulos, owner of Puff and Snuff, had operated a street stand on K Street for several months before opening his small store in the mall several months ago.
From the store, Boulos sold elaborate water pipes, or bongs, and other items like cigarette paper used to roll marijuana cigarettes.
The new store was not popular with the other merchants in the mall, according to some of them who were interviewed yesterday. They said they worried about the image the shop would give the area, and about some of the customers who hung around.
Those arrested, in addition to Alpha Boulos, 25, of 3207 Cunningham Dr., Alexandria, were identified as vendors James L. Epstein, 28, of 1878 Ontario Pl. NW; Robert R. Sizer, 21, of Takoma Park, and Wayne Dresing, 28, of 4303 Queensbury Rd., Hyattsville.
Sheila Hooper, 24, of Takoma Park, was arrested at Mister Day's restaurant at 1144 18th St. NW, where she is employed as a waitress.
Charles E. Druitt, 23, of 4501 Weatherhill Rd. NW, was arrested at a warehouse at 1878 Ontario Place NW, where he works as warehouse manager. Police said street vendors purchase their regular products from the warehouse.
Arrest warrants for other persons in the cocaine ring have been issued, police said.
Police identified the vending locations where the cocaine sales took place as 18th and M streets NW, Connecticut Avenue and K Street NW, Wisconsin Avenue and Dumbarton Street NW, and Wisconsim Avenue and Prospect Street NW.
Also contributing to this story were Washington Post staff writers Felicity Barringer, Vernon C. Thompson, Laura Kiernan and Mike Sager.