Crack-dealing ring broken open

Chicago Sun-Times,  Dec 6, 2003  by Shamus Toomey

After half a year of undercover work, authorities broke open a brazen crack-dealing ring along the Chicago and Evanston border Friday, arresting reputed top gang members who oversaw the $3,000-a- day operation, police said.

At the top of the pack was Omari A. Andrews, 23, the ring's stocky, Lexus-driving leader, called "The General" and "O" by his soldiers, authorities said.

Andrews, an alleged top Black P Stone gang member, is accused of leading the ring, which worked the corner of Howard and Hoyne. The tough area sits in a neighborhood that city and community leaders are trying to reclaim through new developments and parks.

The corner was the hottest drug market in Rogers Park, with crack being sold openly and even being traded for guns in what police said they suspect was an effort to stockpile weapons for an ongoing turf war with the Vice Lords.

"They were smoking blunts in front of kids, and blatantly selling drugs in front of everybody," said Sgt. Noel Sanchez of the Chicago Police organized crime unit. "I'm trying to put it mildly when I say it was open and notorious."

Low-level dealers on the street kept two or three crack vials in their mouths and would swallow them if police arrived. Buyers were also told to put the vials in their mouths before leaving, police said.

Andrews never handled the crack but was caught on tape directing the sales, Sanchez said. He was arrested in a bathrobe with "Omari" stitched on the breast Friday morning after answering the door at his Evanston home. He was charged with criminal drug conspiracy and faces 6 to 30 years in prison if convicted, police said.

Neighbors complained about the dealing, and a task force of Evanston, Chicago and federal officers launched Operation Border Patrol. They used wiretaps, video and audio tapes and undercover buys to make their case against 14 people. Five are still being sought.

Other alleged gang members charged in the sting included Demetrius Shaver, 21, and Gary E. Pryor, 23. Police said Lucille M. LeBlanc, 22, tried to trade weapons for Pryor's release and was charged with bribery.

Police said they hope the arrests will lead to the killers of Ian Russell, 23, and Shawn Bland, 22, who were gunned down near Howard Street on Nov. 18. Bland had been caught on tape dealing, but the killings are believed to be linked to a tavern fight on the West Side, not to the drugs, Chicago Detective Lt. Michael Fitzgerald said.