NEW YORK, MARCH 1 -- More than 250 federal marshals and city police today seized two adjacent Bronx apartment buildings that detectives described as a "drug supermarket" where more than half of the 106 apartments were used to dispense various "brands" of crack.
"It was just like downtown Bogota," police Detective Michael Verdi said. "There were literally hundreds of people on the street, day and night."
Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson said dealers in the buildings on Phelan Place, just north of the George Washington Bridge, habitually harassed residents of the Phoenix House drug-rehabilitation center across the street. Some dealers dangled crack vials through the fence as recovering addicts worked in the center's garden, Johnson said.
Authorities arrested 18 men and one woman in seven apartments and were still going door to door late today.
In one of the largest property seizures made here, the federal government is taking control of the buildings under a civil forfeiture statute.
Johnson said his office resorted to the unusual operation after 14 months of drug arrests and confiscations of cars failed to discourage narcotics traders there. He said that, although police had told the buildings' owner, John Dino, about illegal activity in the apartments, he had done nothing but evict nonpaying tenants.
At a news conference, agents displayed bags of red- and green-capped crack vials, six handguns, five rifles, ammunition, two police-band scanners and drug scales confiscated from the building.
Detectives noted two wooden boards crudely spiked with nails that residents allegedly placed on floors as booby traps for the unwary. They said they found trap doors for hiding money and drugs and dumbwaiter shafts used as escape chutes.
Police Sgt. Richard Bushrod described the building as an organized narcotics "department store" in which as many as 1,000 customers lined up daily and were directed by dealers to the apartment selling the crack of the their choice.
As many as seven cartels operated in each building, selling crack in vials with different colored caps, police said.
The buildings were known for selling $5 "jumbo" vials of crack, and police dubbed their effort "Operation Jumbo."
Federal marshals wearing bulletproof vests patrolled Phelan Place today, while women pushing babies in strollers talked quietly on the sidewalk.
"It will be much better because it will stop the drugs," said a woman named Gladys, who said she has lived with her two teenagers in one of the targeted buildings for six years. She spoke in Spanish, said she was afraid to give her last name and said of the drug dealing, "It was always going on since I moved here."
On one of the buildings in blue capital letters was the graffiti "Crack is the most alluring and dangerous . . . . " Whitewash covered the rest of the scrawl.