Local crack cocaine ring crippled

Sheila Burt

Evanston police and federal authorities dismantled a multi-million dollar crack cocaine-selling operation run on the west side of Evanston, law enforcement officials revealed at a press conference Tuesday.

Operation Top Drawer — a five-year investigation aimed at high-level drug distributor networks in Evanston — began in 1999 and resulted in the arrest of 15 people charged with dealing crack and being affiliated with the Gangster Disciple street gang, said Chief Frank Kaminski of Evanston Police Department.

During the operation, officers seized $81,943 in cash, 1,951 grams of crack cocaine and 370 grams of powder cocaine.

“This is by far one of the more significant operations … in Evanston,” Kaminski said at the press conference, held at EPD, 1454 Elmwood Ave. “We’ve been able to cripple the Gangster Disciple street gang.”

Of the 15 people arrested, five were from Evanston, seven from Chicago, and one each from Skokie, Woodbridge, Ill., and Buford, Ga., according to an EPD statement. Most were charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Kaminski said most of the arrests occurred early this year, and some were toward the end of last year.

“Those people who felt they were untouchable in this community,” Kaminski said, “all I want to say is that they were wrong.”

The ongoing investigation has involved multiple officers at EPD, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Marshal Service, the U.S. Attorney’s office, and the Chicago and Skokie police departments. Since the beginning of the operation, DEA officers have been video- and tape-recording undercover drug purchases, Kaminski added.

About 26 undercover purchases of crack cocaine were made during the investigation, according to the EPD statement. The purchases ranged from 0.3 grams to 427 grams of crack cocaine, a form of the drug cheaper than powder cocaine.

In addition to drugs, a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol and a .25-caliber Raven Arms pistol — both reported stolen — were seized during the sting, according to EPD.

The drug-dealing network operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Kaminski said. An upper-level dealer in the ring would sell about three kilograms of crack cocaine each month, making about $120,000 a month.

The sting mainly focused on the west side of Evanston from Payne Street north to Dempster Street and from Asbury Avenue west to the North Shore Channel. The operation came out of earlier program with the DEA and Chicago Police called “Operation Morris.” That operation focused on crack cocaine deals on the Evanston and Chicago border of Howard Street. Officials received a tip while completing that operation and then expanded the focus, Kaminski said.

Eleven of the 15 arrested were charged with federal crimes of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. According to police, Evanston residents charged federally were: Thomas Joseph Malone, 20, of the 300 block of Custer Avenue; Tarell Johnson, 28, of the 2300 block of Lake Street; Tris Mills, 25, of the 1500 block of Crain Street; and James Pringle, 33, of the 2200 block of Emerson Street.

Kaminski said he announced the operation on Tuesday because he wanted residents to know that drug dealers would be punished. Although drug activity in Evanston will not cease as a result of the operation, Kaminski said he hopes to discourage drug dealers in the area.

Officials from many of the agencies involved lined the press room Tuesday and emphasized that the investigation is not over and officials will continue work in northern Illinois.

“I want to emphasize that gangs and narcotics are not a Chicago problem — it’s a suburban problem as well,” said Mark Prosperi, of the U.S. Attorney’s Narcotics and Gang Section.

Ald. Joseph Kent (5th), whose ward consists of the west side of Evanston, said the success of the sting sends a message to drug dealers.

“For the neighborhood, this is a victory,” Kent said.