HARLEM — An anonymous letter pleading for help spurred a 15 month investigation that brought down the "Kings of Dust" PCP drug ring, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. told community leaders.
The grip the $1 million a year gang had on East Harlem's Milbank Frawley Houses left residents living in terror — and one of them begged authorities for action.
"You've got to help us get our community back," Vance said, paraphrasing the letter at a meeting Monday night.
"We heard the message loud and clear."
Vance, along with NYPD Manhattan North Borough Commander William Morris, told the group that the investigation that led to the indictment of 35 people last week is proof that authorities may be working to solve problems, even if residents may feel like their complaints are not being addressed.
Residents at the Milbank Frawley Houses said they told New York City Housing Authority officials and police for years about the ring — which may have used a child as young as 8-years-old as a lookout.
Upon hearing about a problem like drug dealing, police commanders can send in officers who will scatter the dealers, which will likely return, Morris said.
But in conjunction with that type of policing is the "unseen" investigation that involves undercover drug buys and wiretaps. That can take much longer.
"There were 35 persons named as subjects of this investigation," said Morris.
"There were 22 search warrants and it was a 275 count indictment. We, the police department, didn't just go in and scatter the problem. We went in with a concerted strategy to fix the problem."
And the problem at the complex was severe. The drug ring, which police said is suspected of several murders and shootings, allegedly controlled the courtyard at the complex.
Helpless tenants watched as the gang, which is accused of hiding 2.5 gallons of PCP in Hawaiian Punch bottles, urinated in the elevators and hallways, fought and fired weapons at the complex. Vance said the investigation recovered 7 1/2 gallons of PCP with a street value of $4.5 million.
Residents of the complex, some still afraid to use their names for fear of retribution, said the arrests set off a celebration in the complex.
"It felt like they weren't doing anything for the longest time," said one long-time resident who asked not to be named. "But after the arrests, we started having a dance party we were so happy."
Both Vance and Morris said the efforts to stabilize the area are not over.
An NYPD SkyWatch surveillance tower has been placed in the area. Vance said he is looking to get area kids involved in positive activities, such as weekend basketball taught by professionals, to keep them from becoming involved with the type of drug ring that was just dismantled.
Rev. Vernon Williams, president of the Harlem Clergy Community Leaders Coalition and Perfect Peace Ministries, said the challenge is to keep younger kids from "aging up" and filling the vacuum left by the group's take-down.
"If we don't stop this youth genocide, it's just going to be a process that repeats itself over and over again," said Williams.
Morris said meetings like Monday's are part of the process of thanking community members for their "patience" and to develop long-term solutions. Representatives from Taft, Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln houses all said they are facing issues with drug sales and shootings.
"I feel like they are trying to do something, but the community has to get together," said Annie Davis, president of Taft Houses Tenats Association.
"We need to talk to our kids because they know what's going on,"
For Vance, that anonymous letter is proof that law enforcement and members of the community are going to have to cooperate to solve these difficult problems.
"The lesson to take away from this is that when you reach out, people may be working on the problem," said Vance.