"Initially, when I heard it, I was apprehensive," said Byrd. "I thought some of it might just be street talk. But then we started to get the same thing from other informants and from other agencies. And I knew there had been some conflicts between blacks and Jamaicans. I was aware of competition between the two groups. Some of the reports made sense."
An intelligence report prepared by crime commission investigators, based in part on information provided by a confidential informant, links three convicted drug dealers, Robert "Nudie" Mims, Michael Youngblood and James ''Niame" Madison, to the new organization.
Mims, a former member of the old Black Mafia, is serving a life sentence in Graterford Prison for his conviction on a murder charge. Youngblood, who most recently surfaced as a federal informant in a drug case, has had ties to members of the organized-crime family allegedly headed by Nicodemo Scarfo. Madison has been a longtime associate of Youngblood's.
But, said a Police Department official, "no two sources are telling us the same names. It's so new, it's taking us a little while to develop the cast of characters."
In addition, investigators acknowledge that they do not have a clear picture of the group's activities or how extensive it is.
What investigators say they do know is that there is a group of young black men adopting a high profile and high lifestyle, marketing and distributing cocaine and, perhaps, heroin. Some informants say they also have proposed contract killings.
Indeed, some of the most basic details about the group are unknown, say investigators. For example, although the group is said to operate in many of the city's black neighborhoods, some informants put the group's number at only 15. Others say there are 50 members. Investigators say their intelligence is so recent they are unable to determine exactly what they are dealing with.
Initially, for example, Byrd's informant said one criterion for belonging to the new organization was no criminal record. Later, intelligence reports linked known drug dealers with lengthy records to the gang.
Then there was the initiation fee: Members had to put up $1,000 to join the organization, according to some sources. Others said that was not always the case.
First reports said the group was dealing drugs. Then it was more specific, cocaine. Later it was heroin and cocaine and contract killings for fees from $2,500 to $5,000.
And then there were the rings.
"A few weeks after the first call, we started hearing about these diamond- encrusted initial rings," said Byrd.
The rings, one of which was seized by Philadelphia police, consist of 29 small diamonds that form the initials "JBM." Members wear the rings, say informants, as a symbol of their affiliation with the group.
It is, police say, one of the curious affectations of the new organization, whose members also have taken on additional trappings of successful young urban professionals.
They wear expensive clothes.
They frequent fine restaurants and trendy clubs.
And they drive high-priced, but not flashy, automobiles.
BMWs and four-wheel-drive vehicles appear to be their favored modes of transportation. Many of the vehicles have been monogrammed with the initials JBM.
"These are mostly young guys," said Byrd. "And these are signs of their immaturity. Normally, you don't go around flashing things of value without any means of support."
"They're entrepreneurs," added a Police Department investigator. "And they believe in demonstrating the trappings of their succees. That's why we're seeing the jewelry and the cars. It's awareness and status in the neighborhoods. They take the position that it's no use being successful if no one knows about it."
Just how successful is still a matter of conjecture.
Several suspected members have been questioned and a few charged with minor offenses unrelated to the overall operations of the organization. One car, a BMW, and one ring have been seized as part of a drug probe.
"The stereo system alone was worth $10,000," a police investigator said of the BMW.
Crime commission investigators say the group has been operating in black neighborhoods in North, West, South and Southwest Philadelphia and has apparently formed some type of alliance with the Scarfo organization and with remnants of the old Phildelphia Black Mafia, a violent drug-dealing organization that terrorized several sections of the city in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Police Department detectives say the group is active in West Oak Lane, Mount Airy, West and Southwest Philadelphia and is currently the focus of a major investigation involving a cocaine network that begins with Colombian
drug traffickers and includes members of the Scarfo organization.
Police have observed at least one meeting between members of the Scarfo organization and the Junior Black Mafia. That meeting took place recently at a clubhouse in South Philadelphia that is a known hangout for members of the Scarfo mob.
Byrd said the first reports about the initiation fee included information that the money was pooled to buy drugs. The profits were then used to fund a second purchase and to finance the high-profile lifestyles of the members.
"With each deal, another member would get one of these new cars," he said.
Within the last week, with police attention mounting, one report says, some members have melted down their initial rings and removed the JBM monograms they had painted on their cars.
Whatever the trappings of the organization, Byrd said, black organized crime is not new.
For decades most of the drug and illegal gambling trade in the city's black communities has been controlled by organized groups, he said. But, Byrd said, they never have received the same attention as La Cosa Nostra because their impact has been confined to black communities.
As an example, Byrd pointed to the extensive law enforcement and media attention that has been paid to the estimated 20 to 25 organized-crime killings linked to the Scarfo family since the assassination of mob boss Angelo Bruno in 1980. In contrast, he said, there has been little attention paid to drug-related killings in the black community.
Last year alone, Byrd said, citing a statistical report prepared by the Police Department, there were 77 such deaths.
"Black organized crime has been largely ignored," added Fred Martens, executive director of the Pennsylvania Crime Commission. "It's treated the same way people treated the Italians in the 1920s. Nobody cared. It was Italians killing Italians, so it was totally ignored."
To date, police say, the Junior Black Mafia has co-existed with more established drug dealers. But investigators said they feared a potential for violence as the groups begin to compete for the same markets.
The emergence of the new group comes at a time when the Scarfo family's alleged influence over illicit enterprises has begun to wane. Scarfo, currently on trial along with eight associates for the 1984 murder of mobster Salvatore Testa, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison in a federal extortion case.
At the time of his murder, Testa was believed to control a major portion of the methamphetamine drug trade in the city and had begun to forge links with black drug dealers to expand into black communities. One of his associates, according to the crime commission's 1986 report, was Michael Youngblood, whose name is now being linked to the Junior Black Mafia investigation.
"We'd be naive to assume that with the demise of Scarfo, no one else would move in to fill that vacuum," said a member of the Police Department's organized-crime intelligence unit.
What law enforcement officials wonder is whether the Junior Black Mafia is a prototype of the mob of the 1990s.
"We don't want to create a Mafia mystique with this group like we did with the Italians. . . . " said Martens. "But we also don't want to ignore what's going on."