Fourteen people, including a Washington lawyer and his brother, a Richmond accountant, have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Baltimore on charges of operating a multimillion-dollar-a-year heroin ring in the Washington area.
Authorities said that the participants had attempted to disguise their drug profits as income from about 100 video arcade games.
Investigators said yesterday that the ring was a complex illicit business that invested heavily in real estate and other business ventures, relied on telephone paging beepers to pass messages and avoid detection by police, and purchased heroin directly from Mafia suppliers in New York City and other parts of the country.
Calling the probe the "biggest success by law enforcement agencies in this area within the last decade," D.C. Police Chief Maurice Turner said that he expects the indictments will substantially reduce the flow of heroin into the metropolitan area, particularly in Washington.
"There will not be as much drugs on the streets," Turner said at a news conference. "I expect to see methadone clinics get an influx of individuals."
Beginning Thursday evening, more than 150 investigators from state, local and federal agencies fanned out across Maryland, Virginia and the District, arresting eight of the 14 suspects (one other was already in custody), searching nine residences and businesses, seizing reams of financial records and confiscating at least seven vehicles, including a $42,000 Porsche, and dozens of video arcade games.
Investigators said that the indicted lawyer, Herbert P. Suskind, 49, whom a prosecutor called the "consigliere," or counselor, of the operation, allegedly advised ring members, especially the alleged leader, Isaac J. Tindle, 41, of Clinton, on ways to launder drug profits to avoid payment of taxes on the funds and shield the operation from detection by authorities.
Sources close to the probe said that the ring also distributed drugs to the D.C. prison facility at Lorton in suburban Virginia.
One defendant, Carl Sylvester Kelly, 38, who is serving a sentence at Lorton for murder, is alleged to have written a letter to the ring from Lorton "for the purpose of ordering heroin," the indictment said.
At a bond hearing in Baltimore yesterday, assistant U.S. Attorney Ty Cobb said that Suskind also was the subject of an unrelated probe into falsified insurance claims and that during that investigation Suskind allegedly had offered a $10,000 contract on the life of one of the witnesses cooperating with the government.
"That's a lie," shouted Suskind, slamming his fist on the courtroom table in front of him.
In addition, Cobb said, Suskind "laundered millions of dollars" in illicitly obtained heroin profits by investing the money in video games and real estate holdings in the Washington area.
Suskind, who has practiced law since 1957, also helped other drug organizations launder funds, including one allegedly led by Vernon Cooper, who recently was indicted in Baltimore on separate drug trafficking charges, according to Cobb.
During the investigation, Cobb said, federal agents secretly videotaped Suskind allegedly describing the laundering of illicit drug profits. An undercover agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, posing as a fictitious figure in organized crime named "Michael Rocco," laundered $40,000 "in official U.S. cash" through Suskind's law office, Cobb said.
Suskind, who was charged with conspiracy and with facilitating heroin distribution, was ordered held under $500,000 bond. His Washington law office, at 1029 Vermont Ave. NW, Suite 701, and his Bethesda home were searched by authorities. His brother, David Norman Suskind, 55, was arrested in Richmond. David Suskind, an accountant, was charged with conspiracy and allegedly had prepared Tindle's 1981 tax return, according to the indictment. Tindle and four others named in the indictment were still at large last night.
Prosecutor Cobb said that the alleged ring "is a violent organization. They do have the capacity to kill."
Tindle lived in a posh Prince George's County residence at 10512 Mullikin Dr., in Clinton, that was equipped with sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment, including television cameras, as well as a tennis court and an indoor swimming pool, investigators said.
Tindle was charged with conspiracy, four counts of distributing heroin, and use of a telephone to dispense heroin. The conspiracy and distribution charges each carry maximun penalties of 15 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
In addition to the criminal charges, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service seized Tindle's home and another residence to satisfy $3.6 million in liens filed against Tindle for four years of unpaid taxes.
The investigation was launched about two years ago by D.C. police, who later were joined by the FBI and the DEA. The probe included more than $100,000 in undercover drug purchases, and a court-authorized wiretap, according to David L. Westrate, the DEA chief in Washington.
Westrate said that Tindle allegedly attempted to hide his drug profits by saying that the sources of his income were revenues from video arcade games.
"It's very difficult to tell how many quarters go into a machine," Westrate said.
In court, Cobb said that the Landover home of another defendant, Nancy Little Harris, 32, an educational therapist for the D.C. public schools, was a "money drop" and $25,000 was seized from a safe there.
Cobb said that a Washington-based decorating business, called D&S Decorators, operated by a defendant named Edwin Leroy Scott, 35, served as as front for heroin sales and that Scott allegedly was a "principal retailer for the Tindel organization."
Others named in the 15-count indictment are: Charles E. Greer, 38, of Glenarden; Clifford E. Bailey Jr., 41, of Camp Springs; Karen B. Garrison, 29, of Washington; Sequnoa Houston, 37, of Washington; William O. Brooking, 48, of Washington; Richard Dews, 43, Oxon Hill; James E. Williams, 31, of Washington, and Charles E. Gladden, 35, of Washington.