Cornell M. Jones finds himself in the newspapers again these last few months.
Last week, D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan sued Jones, accusing him of using city money intended for an HIV/AIDS nonprofit instead to finance a luxury strip club. And over the weekend, as Jeffrey Anderson reports today in the Washington Times, Jones responded by slinging anti-gay epithets on his WOL-AM radio show against the two D.C. Council members who asked for an investigation of his use of the AIDS money.
It’s worth remembering what got him in the papers way back when.
His first appearance in the pages of The Washington Post came upon his arrest on Oct. 29, 1985, after attempting to buy a kilo of uncut cocaine, with an option for nine kilos more, from undercover D.C. police officers.
After the arrest, then Assistant Chief Ike Fulwood said investigators considered him a “top dog” — the king of Hanover Place NW, then one of the city’s most active open drug markets. He was 28 at the time.
A month later Jones pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Police seized $1.4 million in cash from his Glenn Dale home and safe deposit boxes, along with two Mercedes-Benzes, five handguns, jewelry and furs. U.S. Attorney Joe diGenova called him a “kingpin.”
In the weeks after Jones was arrested, according to a Post report, Hanover Place exploded in violence, with gunshots nightly as rivals tried to move in on Jones’ turf. Hanover Place, understand, might have been built as the perfect drug marketplace — a one-block, one-way lane right off the intersection of two major commuter corridors, North Capitol Street and New York Avenue. It was easy for customers to get in and out, but difficult for police to penetrate or surveil. It took a full year of round-the-clock police occupation to clear the block.
Jones, who grew up on the block, told police he had the ability to cut and sell as much as 20 kilos of pure cocaine a week. Authorities estimated his operation’s weekly revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Ahead of his sentencing, lawyers touted his legitimate business interests and his good works, such as coaching sports teams and helping send kids to college. But prosecutors, in a court filing, called that “nothing more than a way to pose a legitimate appearance for a man who makes literally millions of dollars in illegal gun trafficking.”
From the Post report of his January 1986 sentencing:
In court yesterday, Jones, dressed in prison khakis and white canvas shoes, told U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green that he was “sorry . . . if I caused anyone in the community any harm.”
His attorney, Daniel Slattery, said most of those who bought drugs on Hanover Place, a short blighted block near North Capitol Street and New York Avenue, “came from the suburbs.” He said Jones had grown up on the block in poverty, but in recent years had “contributed to charities in that community.”
Slattery said that “because of the inequities of modern society” many people in low-income areas “see [narcotics] as the only way to advance economically.”
In his statement to Green later, diGenova said Slattery’s remark was “an insult to the thousands of people from similar backgrounds who do not use or sell drugs” and called it “a corrupt, twisted and sick notion of individual responsibility.”
Jones got a nine- to 27-year sentence from a federal judge, and with that he entered the annals of D.C. drug trafficking history, alongside names like James Smith, aka “Dumptruck Smitty,” and Rayful Edmond, whose name would eventually become the biggest of all.
He was released from federal prison in 1995, according to federal records. He went into the nightclub business, opening D.C. Tunnel in the Queens Chapel Road NE warehouse where his Stadium Club strip club now stands. And Jones made a foray into social services.
For the rest of the Cornell Jones story, read Debbie Cenziper’s Post account of how Jones’ Miracle Hands group spent D.C. AIDS dollars. Or, for a more hagiographic treatment, check out this episode of BET’s “American Gangster.”
UPDATE, 9/15: The embedded video has been removed due to a copyright claim by BET.