As a basketball player last winter at Georgetown University, John Turner was warned repeatedly about his association with Rayful Edmond III, who was widely known to be the target of a major cocaine trafficking investigation. Turner was lectured by his coach, John Thompson. Then he was admonished by a Drug Enforcement Administration agent. "He said, 'You shouldn't hang around him because we're going to get him,' " Turner recalled. "I said, 'All right.' " But Turner said he had no intention of dumping his long-time friend. "That was my buddy," Turner said of Edmond. "I'm not going to turn my back on a friend -- even if he's in trouble." When Turner later sat with Edmond at a Washington Bullets game at Capital Centre, "Coach Thompson heard about it and he was angry," Turner said. After Turner spoke with Edmond outside a playground in Northwest Washington, "Coach Thompson called me about an hour later," Turner recalled. "{He} said, 'I want you to get your stuff off campus by tomorrow.' " Turner, who now attends Phillips University in Enid, Okla., said he was forced to withdraw from Georgetown because he disobeyed Thompson's orders. "Coach Thompson said I can't leave the people on the street alone," he said. But a Georgetown spokesman said Turner withdrew for academic reasons. "It cost me a lot," Turner said of his friendship with Edmond. "But I don't think I made a mistake . . . Rayful is a good gentleman and a good young man. Rayful is a loyal buddy and a friend to everybody." This impression of Rayful Edmond III was widespread on Washington playgrounds, where he has been portrayed by friends as a quiet, intelligent, even-tempered young man who had a passion for basketball. Edmond competed in police boys and girls club tournaments and hung around with college athletes such as Turner, Georgetown center Alonzo Mourning and former George Mason star Earl Moore. But at the U.S. District Court House, where his cocaine conspiracy trial has entered its third month, Edmond, 24, is being depicted by the prosecution as a cold-blooded drug lord whose multi-million dollar organization is said to be responsible for 30 murders and the distribution in Washington of tons of crack cocaine. For almost five years Edmond has lived with these two identities: drug suspect under regular police surveillance and basketball fanatic who played and coached in tournaments benefiting Washington's No. 9 Metroplitan Police Boys and Girls Club. "When Rayful played the gym was always packed with little kids who followed his team," said Joe Styles, the club's program director. "Rayful was a big name -- a big name. His teams were always good, and the kids looked up to him." Edmond is not the first suspected drug dealer to be closely identified with inner-city basketball competition. Over the past two summers, leagues in Detroit and New York have been marred by drug-related violence. In Washington some youth-league coaches now say it's virtually impossible to keep suspected drug dealers out of their tournaments. "A lot of times they'll drive up in the new Cherokee Jeeps or the BMWs," Styles said. "We allow them to play to keep them off the streets. The more time they spend with us the less time they're out there." "For the drug dealers playing basketball is like a doctor playing golf," said Steve Eskridge, the club's athletic director. "They do their business, then they go play basketball. That's their recreation." The Can't-Miss Kid When he first appeared on playground courts, Edmond was considered a can't-miss high school basketball prospect. But when he arrived at Dunbar High -- a school with a strong basketball tradition -- he never tried out for the team. "I was angry with Rayful," said James Speaks, director of the Wilson Recreation Center, where Edmond learned to play basketball, "because that boy could shoot. He could score 40 or 50 points a game." In the summer of 1981 Edmond met another boy who could shoot: John Turner. Their meeting seemed inevitable. Edmond's father worked with Turner's mother in the same federal government office. And although John Turner lived in Glenarden, he often spent weekends with an uncle who lived less than a block from Edmond. Turner was 13, three years younger than Edmond. But he became a frequent visitor to the Edmond house, where he met Bernice Perry, Rayful's grandmother, and Armaretta Perry, his aunt. "His grandmother used to bake us cookies and cakes all the time," Turner said. "Rayful's grandmother and his aunt -- they're both lovely ladies." While the 6-foot-7 Turner went on to become a basketball star at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Edmond sharpened his skills on the D.C. playgrounds. Speaks said he repeatedly urged Edmond to apply for a college basketball scholarship. "I told him, 'You'll miss out on something if you don't go to college,' " Speaks said. "Rayful told me, 'I'm thinking about it.' " Edmond never attended college. But in the summer of '84 he decided to try his hand at coaching. After a recruiting swing through his neighborhood, he formed "Men At Work" and entered the team in a tournament for 6-foot-and-under players at the No. 9 Police Boys and Girls Club. Washington's 11 boys and girls clubs operate independently of the D.C. Police Dept. but are staffed by uniformed officers. "Rayful coached the team but he also played," said Styles, who organized the tournament. "He had some good players on the team but he was going to shoot the ball most of the time anyway. It was his team. Nobody was going to say anything." "Rayful was a confident player," said James "Boo" Coleman, who coached in the tournament. "When he talked about another player he'd say, 'I'll go get him. I'll shoot him out.' And he could shoot from anywhere, man." By 1985 Edmond also was being closely watched by DEA and FBI agents, who said they had learned that he headed a neighborhood gang that was selling kilogram quantities of cocaine, primarily in the Orleans and Morton place "Strip," several blocks from the boys and girls club in Northeast Washington, according to law enforcement sources and records. The alleged Edmond operation -- based in his grandmother's house -- eventually would employ about 150 people to "obtain, package and distribute narcotics, launder profits and violently enforce the code of conduct within the organization," according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court. Edmond's employees allegedly included his aunt, Armaretta Perry, and two of his basketball teammates: Emanuel "Mangie" Sutton Jr. his half-brother, and Columbus "Little Nut" Daniels. Perry, Daniels and Sutton were later charged along with Edmond and have pleaded not guilty to drug-related charges. Edmond's grandmother was not charged with any offense. Edmond's Men At Work won the No. 9 Police Boys and Girls Club tournament championship in 1985. Over the next three years, coaches at the boys and girls club said, Edmond's teams included both college-experienced players such as George Mason's Earl Moore and tough neighborhood players such as Sutton. NCAA rules prohibit college athletes from competing in unsanctioned tournaments such as the boys and girls club's. Moore, a guard at George Mason in 1985-89, declined to be interviewed for this story. "My attorney told me not to comment on anything about Rayful Edmond," he said. One summer, after disagreeing with a referee's call, Sutton "walked off the court and destroyed a 12-foot ladder that was in the gym," one coach said. "He took that sucker and tore it apart with his hands, man." Sutton later bought two high-quality basketball goals for the Wilson Recreation Center, according to Speaks. Edmond, with his arching jump shots and engaging smile, seemed to be the main attraction at the tournaments: Whenever his team played the gym was packed with adults, pre-teenage boys and jewelry-bedecked girls, coaches said. "And when Rayful's game was over the gym would clear out -- even if another game was coming up," Styles said. "These little kids would follow Rayful in, then follow him out." Styles said that by the summer of '86 he had received reports that Edmond was paying his top players $1,000 a game. "That's what I heard from some of the guys who played for him," Styles said. Edmond told The Washington Post, through his co-counsel James Robertson, that he never paid any players. The tournament has no rules prohibiting payments. Styles said he also heard talk that Edmond was selling drugs -- and that the children who followed him in and out of the club were employees of a suspected drug operation. But Styles said there was no hint of drug activity at games. "At the club Rayful dressed normal like we dress," he said. "No gold chains. He didn't ever get fancy." Styles said he feared trouble only when Edmond competed against players who allegedly worked for rival drug gangs. "You've got people that are coming in that don't like him," he said. "He had a territory and another group had a territory. You wonder if there's going to be a gunfight or something." The club's supervisor, D.C. police officer Keith McGregor, said he had no knowledge that Edmond was involved in any illegal activity. "If I'd had knowledge of what he was allegedly doing, he would not have been allowed to compete," McGregor said. At the time, the streets around the club were being targeted by Operation Clean Sweep, a police anti-drug program. "Edmond was well known," a D.C. narcotics officer said. "My partner introduced me to him on a street corner one day. Right in front of Edmond, my partner said to me, 'I want you to meet Rayful Edmond, one of Washington's biggest drug dealers.' Edmond just stood there and smiled." "When he came by to see us, Rayful would be driving Porsches, maybe some BMWs," Speaks said. "You could watch the eyes of the little kids who saw him. It was like, 'Wow, I hope I can get me one of those cars.' They were mesmerized." One evening Edmond arrived at the boys and girls club in a chauffeur-driven Cadillac limo. "He had the cars," Eskridge, the club's athletic director, said. "I mean, all I saw was cars." Robertson, Edmond's lawyer, declined to answer questions about Edmond's cars. However, when asked about the Cadillac limo, Robertson said: "Rayful told me it was driven by a friend who used to take him and others gambling -- you know, to private after-hours gambling places. Rayful said the TV in the limo didn't work and it didn't even have a phone." After competing in the 6-foot-and-under tournament for four straight years, Edmond failed to enter a team in 1988. "That summer I called his house to ask, 'Are you going to have a team?' " Styles recalled. "But I was unable to get in contact with him. He was out of town." Later, Styles attempted to contact Edmond through his former teammates. "They didn't tell Rayful I called," Styles said. "They knew that {alleged rivals of Edmond} were also going to be playing . . . The players realized there might be some trouble if his team came into the tournament." Law enforcement officials said Edmond was engaged in a turf battle at that time with an alleged rival, Brandon Terrell. On the evening of June 23, 1988, after an argument with Terrell in the Chapter III nightclub in Southeast Washington, Edmond instructed "Little Nut" Daniels, by then one of his key lieutenants, to shoot Terrell, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court. Terrell died at the scene. Daniels, 19, was rewarded with a $51,000 Mercedes-Benz, according to a law enforcement source. In July 1988 Daniels was shot three times in the chest, spine and abdomen, apparently in retaliation for Terrell's shooting, police sources said. Edmond and Daniels, who is permanently disabled, have pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder. Edmond didn't stay away from basketball for long. Later that summer he played in the Sugar Ray Leonard Basketball League at the Palmer Park Recreation Center in Landover. "Rayful was a scoring machine," said Dennis Barksdale, who organized the NCAA-sanctioned league. "The guy was very unassuming. He just played the game and left. He was a perfect gentleman." Edmond played on a team called "Clean Sweep," and at various times his teammates included Moore, newly recruited Georgetown center Mourning, former Cheyney (Pa.) State guard Clarence Green and Turner, who was entering his second year at Georgetown. "Rayful shot the ball extremely well," Turner said. "He's got a good jump shot. Loves to shoot the jump shot. His weakness was rebounding. He wouldn't go down there and rebound with the big fellows. He'd say, 'I'll let the big fellows rebound. I'll stay back on defense.' " Turner at Georgetown Turner -- known to Edmond as J.T. -- was first recruited by Georgetown in 1985 as a high school senior. He said he was not offered a Georgetown scholarship that year because in two attempts at the Scholastic Aptitude Test he scored no more than 650 out of a possible 1,600. (The average SAT score for incoming Georgetown students is now 1,263.) Turner attended Allegany (Md.) Community College for a year, then enrolled at Georgetown in 1987. From 1987 until last winter Turner socialized with Edmond at basketball games, restaurants such as Houston's in Georgetown and nightclubs such as Classics, East Side and Chapter III. Turner said that Mourning joined him on some of these outings when they became Georgetown roommates last fall. Mourning declined to be interviewed for this story. As a Georgetown student Turner said he heard rumors that Edmond was selling drugs. "D.C. is so small, everybody knows basically about everybody," he said. ". . . I was hearing accusations . . . people talking on the street, talking about Rayful's this, Rayful's -- basically he-say, she-say." Turner said he did not ask Edmond about these rumors or whether he held a job. "I figured that ain't even my business," he said. "Whatever he's supposedly doing . . . that's his business and if he wants to tell me, he'll tell me . . . Maybe he was just unemployed." Edmond worked at various times as a chef and salesman, according to Robertson. By last winter a joint FBI, DEA and D.C. police investigation of Edmond was in high gear. And Turner was attracting some of their attention. Not only had federal agents seen him with Edmond, they had heard his name mentioned on court-ordered wiretaps of Edmond's phone conversations, according to law enforcement sources. One afternoon in February, Turner was visited on the Georgetown campus by two federal agents. "We'd just finished basketball practice," Turner said. "Coach Thompson gathered us around and said, 'All right, that was a good practice you all had. John, do you know what D-E-A means?' "I said, 'No, sir, I don't.' He said, 'Anybody know what D-E-A means?' Somebody answered his question. Coach Thompson said, 'Yeah, Drug Enforcement {Administration} . . . And, John, they want to talk to you up in the office when you finish taking a shower.' "I said, 'Drug enforcement? Talking to me?' " Turner was interviewed about Edmond by the agents in Thompson's office. "I told them what I tell everybody: me and him came up together. We're just good friends. We play basketball together and things like that," Turner said. Turner informed Edmond of the meeting. "I asked Rayful, 'Why did they ask me questions about you?' " he recalled. "He told me, 'I don't know. They're on my back about something.' " Thompson ordered his players to stay away from Edmond and from nightclubs known to be drug hangouts. Thompson, who declined to be interviewed for this story, told ABC-TV's Ted Koppel that he had earlier invited Edmond to his office for a chat. "Do me a favor," Thompson said he told Edmond. ". . . If you see anything going on out there, use whatever resources you have to stop it from happening." Edmond told The Washington Post, through attorney Robertson, that the meeting with Thompson was arranged by Green, the former Cheyney State player. "Thompson wanted to speak with me since he had heard his players were very fond of me," Robertson quoted Edmond as saying. "Thompson asked me if I would speak to his players about spending so much time at clubs. I agreed to do it and, in fact, I did it. There was never any discussion at all about drugs." Late last winter, Turner and Mourning were interviewed at the DEA's Washington District Office by representatives of the DEA, FBI and U.S. Attorney's office. At the time, federal officials were investigating Turner's use of the Mercedes that Edmond allegedly had purchased for Daniels, a law enforcement source said. "They had me in an office, questioning me and questioning me," Turner said. "It seemed like a movie. You know, you go see a movie and they're trying to question {someone} and make them say something even if they don't know something. "They asked me a lot of questions like: 'Has {Edmond} ever given you money, a large sum of money?' I told them, 'No, he hasn't ever given me a large sum of money.' They asked me if I drove any cars that I saw Rayful drive. I said, 'No.' They asked me again and I said, 'No.' " Turner told the law enforcement officials that he drove Daniels's Mercedes and that Edmond bought him some clothes and dinners, according to a source familiar with the meeting. Turner told The Washington Post that he drove for several days a Mercedes that was parked at the house of Daniels's mother. He said the car belonged to a friend named "Miss Johnson." Turner's grandmother and legal guardian, Mary Robinson, said her grandson drove one of Edmond's cars. "{John} told me, 'Yeah, I've driven Rayful's car when he's going out of town. He didn't want to leave it on the street,' " she said. "He said, 'I'd just ride it, then, you know, leave it where he tells me to leave it.' " Early last spring Thompson learned that Turner was again being seen with Edmond. Turner, in the recent interview, said he simply could not ignore Edmond when he saw him at a game or nightclub. "That was my buddy," he said, "and if I see him at a club I'm going to sit there and just talk to him." Turner said he was dismissed from the Georgetown basketball program because of his continued association with Edmond. "Coach Thompson said I was hardheaded, that I don't listen," Turner recalled. "He said, 'There's nothing that can scare John Turner -- not even the DEA.' " A Georgetown spokesman, Bill Shapland, said Turner withdrew voluntarily because he had not made satisfactory progress toward earning a degree. At the time of his withdrawl, Turner was academically eligible to play ball. In early April, Robinson said she warned Turner and Mourning that Edmond was "about two minutes away" from being arrested. She said the tip came from a member of her family who "was in the penitentiary with these guys that supposedly were Rayful's friends." About two weeks later Edmond was arrested with 16 members of his alleged gang, including Sutton. One charge against Edmond -- that he operated a continuing criminal enterprise -- carries a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole. 'I Wanted to Cry' On the morning of Aug. 31 John Turner visited his basketball buddy, Rayful Edmond III, in the D.C. Jail. It was a melancholy visit, Turner said, because in several days he would be leaving Washington to enroll at Phillips University -- where he will be eligible to play basketball in January -- and Edmond would be standing trial as the city's alleged drug kingpin. "Just seeing him in that {orange prison} suit hurt me inside," Turner said. "I thought about us coming up together and playing ball together. I wanted to cry, seeing my man like that." Turner said he choked back tears as he spoke to Edmond by phone, through a plate-glass window. "Rayful told me, 'Man, God is the only one who knows the kind of person I am,' " Turner said. Turner said he left the jail several minutes before his visiting time was up. "I just couldn't take it anymore," he said. "Before leaving, I wished Rayful good luck with his trial and he wished me the best with my school. Then Rayful told me, 'Man, just stay out of trouble. You've got to be careful with the people you'll be around. It's getting real bad out there.' "