This Drug Operation, Police Say, Was A Family Affair

Posted: July 09, 1989

When police raided three suspected drug houses in a dejected section of South Philadelphia in December, it was as though they had peeled back a surface and found another world.

There were drugs, all right: 432 packets of cocaine, 214 vials of crack,

6,000 pills and several gallon jugs of codeine syrup. Police estimated the value at $101,000.

There were three shotguns and 10 handguns.

And then there was the wealth.

In one of the rowhouses, appointed with newly purchased Italian marble, police said they found $69,000 in bills and $3,000 more in silver currency. Stashed in a floorboard were 16 pieces of jewelry - ornate gold pieces and diamond-studded watches. "One watch alone was worth $9,000," said Lt. Jim Hall, who supervised the search.

In each bedroom, police found large-screen TVs, VCRs and computer equipment, Hall said. One closet was lined floor-to-ceiling with at least 200 boxes of new women's shoes, with handbags to match and price tags up to $200. ''We found a letter from Gucci's, putting them on their preferred customers' list," Hall said.

In that house at 1241 S. 20th St. and in the unfurnished house next door, at 1239 S. 20th, police found at least 30 leather jackets, arranged in ''stacks and stacks," with $800 to $2,000 price tags still attached, Hall said. The police found televisions, VCRs, microwave ovens, stereo equipment and expensive pieces of furniture, all still in their unopened cartons. They hauled away 34 boxes.

"It was a mansion inside a ghetto - it was the only way to describe it," Hall said.

It was in-your-face wealth, the kind that can provoke honest people who live on the street to envy and resentment - and eventually, to retribution.

It was wealth that police say was accumulated by Clarence Carr, 68, a one- time handyman; his wife, Margie, 64; three sons, two daughters and their husbands.

Police say many members of the Carr family are drug dealers who, in the last 20 years, got extraordinarily rich storing and selling drugs in at least six houses in the Point Breeze section of the city.

Five of those houses, police say, are no more than 100 yards from the 17th District police station at 20th and Federal Streets.

Eleven days ago, authorities say, they dealt the organization its first significant setback when they emptied and sealed one of the houses, a two- story rowhouse at 1242 S. 20th St., the southwest corner of 20th and Titan Streets.

It was the first time the District Attorney's Office had seized an occupied house using a year-old state law expanding its power to seize the property of suspected drug dealers. And the move came after a frustrating series of arrests and raids that seemed to glance off the organization to no effect.

In the end, officials say, it was the slow and steady accumulation of information supplied by watchful neighbors that gave police and county detectives the weapons to hit hard at what they estimate was a $1.3 million-a- year drug operation. Police estimated that the drug dealing went on 18 hours a day, at 20 to 50 sales an hour, with each sale bringing in at least $10.

Over the years, the records show that Carr family members have been arrested a total of 48 times. There have been only nine convictions, three on

drug charges.

But law enforcement officials say the biggest cases may be ahead. Six drug- related charges are still outstanding against five of the adult clan members. And officials, who say they only began to understand the scope of the organization last summer, maintain that they have gathered stronger evidence than in the past.

Another relative, a teenage granddaughter, was charged with assault June 28, a few hours after the sealing of the drug-sale house. Police say she attacked a neighbor with a cane handed to her by Clarence Carr because family members thought the woman had spoken out against them.

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Vincent J. Ziccardi, a South Philadelphia lawyer who represents members of the Carr family, said it was "foolish" to think of the Carrs as a drug organization, especially one on the scale described by police.

He said that while it was clear that "someone" was dealing drugs at 20th and Titan, there is no proof of "a family involvement in the drug business."

"There might be one or two in the drug business," Ziccardi said, "but that's it." He would not say who he had in mind.

Ziccardi noted that the family's drug arrests had usually ended in acquittals or dismissals and generally involved small amounts of drugs. He maintained that police planted drugs on his clients in some cases - accusations that the police deny.

He said he would contest the seizure of the family's property.

"They fought a war over this thing, the Revolutionary War, that you can't take property without due process," Ziccardi said. "It's unconstitutional, as far as I'm concerned."

Asked about the family's wealth, Ziccardi said it was derived largely from rent collected from 23 properties they own in South Philadelphia.

Authorities, on the other hand, say the family members involved with the

drug ring are supervisors in an organization of at least 25 people. The leader, said Hall, is John Hadley, 41, the common-law husband of Linda Carr, also 41, a daughter of Clarence and Margie Carr.

Hadley, who is awaiting trial after he was arrested last year when police said they found a one-pound bag of marijuana in his car, lives at 1239 S. 20th, the sumptuously remodeled rowhouse that dazzled the police who busted it in December.

Hadley was shot at home about six weeks ago, apparently over a drug deal, said Hall. Although wounded in the side, Hadley did not press charges.

Hall heard the gunfire at the police station about a block away. When he

went to investigate, he found $2,000 on the table - and took it, under the new state law. Hall said he heard no protest.

"That's trivial to them," he said. "That don't mean nothin'. They don't even get upset with you when you take $1,000 off them. They just look at you and say, 'Lieutenant, you got your job to do, and we got ours.' "

The job has been in the family since the late 1960s, police say.

Inspector William Bergman, executive officer to the police commissioner, worked in Point Breeze in those days. He remembers raiding one of the Carr households in the early 1970s, searching for heroin. The search was coming up empty. Then an officer noted that a woman in the house was holding a baby extra tightly.

"We found 80 bags of heroin in the baby's diaper," Bergman said.

It was not heroin, however, but the little-noticed traffic in pills and codeine that became the mainstay of the Carrs' enterprises, police say.

"They got started before narcotics got really popular," Hall said. And although he said family members sell crack cocaine and marijuana, it was ''before the drug crisis we're seeing today, that they had this entire city tied up for pills."

One specialty was "sets" - combinations of codeine-laced Tylenol and a depressant known as Doriden - which sold for $8 to $12, police said. A poor man's substitute for cocaine, heroin or methadone, the pills produce a highly addictive, heroinlike high, said police Capt. Joe O'Connor.

O'Connor, who worked eight months in the Point Breeze section last year, said the drugs are valued by cocaine and heroin users because they help cushion the fall from a cocaine or heroin high. As cocaine use spread over the last few years, so did the market for the pills.

Hall said that the house Clarence Carr owns at 20th and Titan and one other house near 15th and Federal Streets, run by another organization, had a virtual monopoly on these drugs in the Delaware Valley. "Most of the clientele was white" who would drive into the Carrs' black neighborhood, Hall said. "They came from Roxborough, South Jersey, Kensington, Fishtown. I'd say less than 20 percent of the customers were from South Philly."

Another specialty was a combination of codeine syrup and a pill known as ''pancakes and syrup," according to police and the District Attorney's Office. Officials said the heroinlike high cost $25 to $30, and sales were so constant that a line often formed outside the 20th and Titan house. Customers were let in one and two at a time, and swallowed the drugs on the spot. Richard Goldberg, an assistant district attorney, dubbed the scene "a cocaine speakeasy."

One reason the business grew was because narcotics investigators tended to ignore traffic in pills, thinking it was small potatoes, said O'Connor. "It was ignored," he said. "The big jobs were in heroin and cocaine."

The near-constant drug sales at 20th and Titan were an open secret for years, say police and nearby residents. Citizen anti-drug groups marched on the house 12 times. The people inside the house answered with disdain and once with an obscene insult: A jeering man exposed himself to the marchers.

Police raided. And raided.

But the sellers acted as if they were above the law.

In May 1983, police made an arrest at the house, seizing 400 pills and five containers of codeine. Still, the drug sales went on, law enforcement officials said.

In February 1988, police seized two pills. In April 1988, they grabbed 200 pills and three packets of marijuana. In July they made three separate raids, seizing hundreds of pills and three five-gallon containers of codeine.

Last summer, with the impotence of the police action all too clear, neighbors began to carefully document the comings and goings outside their

windows.

A key tip came to the police in August at the nearby 20th and Federal Street station. It was an index card signed only "Concerned Citizen," and it contained a hand-drawn map of what the tipster called "Carr Family Organization." It described one house on the block as a post for drug selling, another for storing drugs and another for banking profits.

On the other side of the card was taped a dime.

"It came from the community," O'Connor said. "They were dropping a dime on them. We'd been hitting them and hitting them. But this information really cracked the case."

For the first time, O'Connor said, the police understood why they found only small quantities of drugs whenever they searched the house at 20th and Titan: The main stash of drugs was kept elsewhere.

With that knowledge, police and county detectives began surveillance and undercover buys that led to the raids in December. Still, the dealing did not stop.

Armed with warrants secured by the district attorney, law enforcement officials hit the organization hard on June 23, searching six houses, taking the titles of three of them and five automobiles, seizing $14,800 in cash and freezing $160,000 in bank assets.

Law enforcement officials said the search of the six houses yielded more than 1,800 pills, three gallons of codeine and 200 empty glassine packets for processing cocaine. And in a house in the 2000 block of Reed Street where Clarence Carr resides, police recovered a $20 bill left earlier at 20th and Titan by an undercover agent who made a drug buy.

The next day, a Saturday, police said, the drug sellers were back. They were still in operation the following Tuesday, when undercover agents made a buy inside 20th and Titan.

The next day, June 28, the house at 20th and Titan was sealed.

Last week, with the house still sealed and uniformed police keeping a 24- hour watch, neighbors said that peace and quiet had returned to the 1200 block of South 20th Street in the city's Point Breeze section for the first time in years. Gone were the din and the dirt, the obscenities, the threats, the steady automobile traffic, the now-and-then shootings - the menacing earmarks of heavy drug-dealing that had bullied their way onto the street and virtually taken over.

"Everyone is really happy and pleased and proud of the police force right now," said one 20th Street resident, who asked that her name not be published

because of threats that allegedly have been leveled by members of the Carr family.

"I could feel the tide turning," said Lt. Edward McLaughlin, commander of the Police Department's South Division. He said the Carr family operation is by no means smashed. But by confiscating the main sales house, he said, law enforcement officials have shaken their operations severely.

"The tide turned that day on that street," McLaughlin said, "and I think that's important to the whole city. Back in the District Attorney's Office, there were a lot of phone calls from people wanting to know, 'How about my neighborhood?' "

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