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Nearly 50 Arrested in Massive Drug Ring Takedown

By Jill Colvin | May 17, 2012 6:53pm
Six weapons seized over the course of the investigation.
Six weapons seized over the course of the investigation.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

ONE POLICE PLAZA — Dozens of alleged gang members have been arrested in a massive police takedown, including a drug kingpin nicknamed "the ghost," who was part of a notorious crack gang in the '80s and is one of the biggest drug suppliers in southwest Queens, prosecutors said.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced Thursday the takedown of 45 individuals linked to the South Side Bloods, who allegedly grossed more than $15,000-a-week through a massive drug operation that terrorized the residents of the South Jamaica Houses.

Among the suspects was James “Wall” Corley, 51, who allegedly began his career as an associate of the notorious "Supreme Team," which helped fuel the crack epidemic of the 1980s, and allegedly sanctioned the killing of Police Officer Edward Byrne in 1988.

Police seized approximately $70,000 during the takedown of the alleged drug gang.
Police seized approximately $70,000 during the takedown of the alleged drug gang.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

A number of the alleged dealers were in their 40s and one suspect, Michael Stephens, of Hollis, was 59.

"As one of the principal suppliers of cocaine throughout Southeast Queens, Corley cemented his reputation with fear as an enforcer," Kelly said. "Generations of police officers will take no small satisfaction in the fact that an associate of [Byrne's] killers has been brought to justice."

Corley, of Rochdale Village, previously served six years in prison in the late 1990s for beating a Queens man to death with his hands based on a suspicion the man was an informant.

Corley, paranoid because he was burned by a wire tap at one point, had been one of the most elusive drug figures in the city, Kelly said, ducking cops by switching cars and drivers multiple times a day and using up to eight separate cell phones at a time.

"Competitors and staff called him ‘the ghost,’" Kelly said. "He had an uncanny ability to keep his associates in the dark. No one knew where he lives, what phone number he used, what car he drives."

To foil investigators, he said members would communicate with one another using "the supreme alphabet," which uses innocent words to represent numbers and drug names.

The arrests come after a 15-month investigation by the NYPD’s Queens Gang Squad and the Queens DA’s Office’s Narcotics Investigations Bureau, which relied heavily on search warrants and electronic surveillance.

In addition to the arrests, which include 19 alleged customers, police seized 1½ kilograms of suspected cocaine, over 50 decks of suspected heroin, suspected marijuana, about $70,000 in cash, multiple weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in Jamaica, Rosedale and other neighborhoods.

Kelly and Brown showed off some of the evidence at a press conference Thursday afternoon, including multiple plastic bags filled with powder, pills and scales.

Six firearms, including a sawed-off shotgun and sub-machine gun, and three large, red machines, typically used in auto body shops, that prosecutors and cops believe were used to press cocaine.

The alleged gang members face a slew of charges, including drug, weapons and other charges, punishable by up to 20 years of prison time each, Brown said.

Corley allegedly began his drug career as one of the Corley Brothers, one of four gangs that controlled the '80s crack epidemic in Southeast Queens, officials said.