Drug Racket near Suburban Grammar School

by Mike Robinson, Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) - Federal agents and police on Tuesday began rounding up alleged members of a crack cocaine ring that operated round-the-clock within a few hundred feet of a suburban grammar school.

"When you go to kindergarten, watching crack deals take place shouldn't be part of your educational experience," U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald told reporters in announcing the charges.

Twenty defendants were named in a 180-page criminal complaint that said the group set up shop close to Gaven Elementary School in south suburban Chicago Heights and took in between $10,000 and $20,000 selling $10 bags of crack.

Federal prosecutors said the leader of the organization was Troy Lawrence, 26, of Hammond, Ind. They said he was a member of the Gangster Disciples street gang. But there was no allegation that the organization under him was a branch of the gang.

All the defendants were charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute crack cocaine. The complaint said that they had long operated in public housing sites in Chicago Heights.

The charges stemmed from a federal Drug Enforcement Administration investigation dubbed Operation New Jack City that was conducted in tandem with Chicago Heights police, authorities said.

Lawrence was arrested Monday and federal agents began serving search warrants early Tuesday at 10 sites in Chicago and its suburbs, they said. They said the agents confiscated three-quarters of a kilo of crack, more than $200,000 in cash and six guns along with furs and luxury automobiles.

Federal authorities said fewer than half of the defendants were in custody Tuesday afternoon.

A DEA affidavit said the ring began operations in 1994 at one public housing complex in Chicago Heights. When that complex was torn down, the ring moved its operations to a site directly across from the elementary school, the affidavit said.

It said sales went on round-the-clock with supervisors, runners and security people working in eight-hour shifts.

The investigation got under way in July 2000 and included undercover buys of crack and intercepted phone and pager communications, according to the affidavit.

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