- The Washington Times - Friday, November 16, 2001

D.C. police and federal authorities yesterday crushed a violent drug ring that has been operating for at least four years out of the Petworth neighborhood in Northwest.

More than 300 law enforcement agents raided 18 sites early yesterday morning, according to police, arresting 12 members of the Mahdi organization, named for several related members. Police said yesterday they continue to pursue four other members named in the indictment who remained at large.

"Today marks the end of this reign of terror," said U.S. Attorney Roscoe C. Howard, who announced a "very solid" 324-count indictment against the 16 reputed members of the drug ring at a news conference on the corner of 14th and Spring streets NW.

Mr. Howard said the indictments are the result of an 18-month joint investigation by the Metropolitan Police Department, the U.S. Park Police, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Charges include drug-related offenses, as well as murder, attempted murder, kidnapping and assault.

"Any violent crime you can think of, this group was involved in," Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said. Chief Gainer said the arrests marked the "liberation of 14th Street." The group operated out of the 1300 block of Randolph Street NW and the 3900 block of 14th Street NW, according to police.

The 16 members named in the 121-page indictment range from the reputed heads of the organization, Abdur, Malik and Rahammad Mahdi, to street-level sellers and runners.

Mr. Howard said the group sold cocaine, crack cocaine and marijuana in open-air markets, local alleys and out of several homes. He said that since 1997 members have used violence to expand their drug business, retaliate against enemies and intimidate witnesses.

Police believe the group was involved in the killing of Eva Hernandez, who was caught in the cross fire between rival gangs and shot to death in May 2000 as she returned home from a coin-operated laundromat.

D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said he often felt powerless to reassure residents who complained about the drug activity in their neighborhood because police were unable to give him details on the course of the investigation.

"When it gets to the point that residents know the names of the people doing this and still nothing is getting done, then it gets to a high frustration level," he said.

Mr. Fenty credited the ongoing efforts of police and described the neighborhood as "on the rise," with a growing Latino population as well as a growing population of professionals and significant new development.

Tiara Mann, 16, lives in the neighborhood and said violence and rampant drug activity often made her scared to walk to the grocery store at night.

"You could see it," she said. "You could hear gunshots in the middle of the night."

Denean Alexander, 34, was skeptical the arrests will make the streets safer.

"I don't think it's really going to make a difference," she said. "Just because they get these guys off the street. Then, someone else moves in."

But Chief Gainer promised to deploy several specialized police units in the neighborhood along with regular patrols to ensure rival gangs don't fill the "street vacuum."

He said that in the course of the investigation, police purchased or confiscated 40 guns and $40,000 and connected the group to the sale or distribution of more than five kilograms of cocaine over five years.

A "minimal amount" of drugs, two weapons and $8,000 were recovered in yesterday's raids, but police said that wasn't the goal.

"We didn't anticipate today getting a lot of guns and drugs. Today's target was these thugs," Chief Gainer said.

All 16 charged face a maximum penalty of life in prison.

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