This article appeared originally as “Anatomy of the Drug War” By Nicholas Pileggi in the New York Magazine in 1973
“. . .The mob’s decision to re-enter the narcotics business after a ten-year ban is expected to escalate further what is already open warfare among New York City’s independent junk dealers …”
After a series of secret meetings in August, the city’s Mafia leaders decided to end their ten year self imposed prohibition and reenter the narcotics business. It was a decision based on the fact that the profits in drugs today are greater and the risks more remote than ever. Long before the public was aware that the police department property clerk’s office served as a major drug supply center, Mafiosi knew that law enforcement in the area had broken down.
In the last two years. for instance, there have been more than 250 murders of middle-level non-addict pushers. There has been, in fact, even without the Mafia’s heavy hand, an exotic orgy of violence among the city’s free-wheeling dealers. wholesalers, smugglers, importers, corrupt cops, double agents and street-corner pushers.
There are parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant in which black heroin dealers control so many killers that even state legislators and local political leaders admit privately that they are terrified to speak out against specific individuals. There are streets in Harlem, the South Bronx, and around the Sunset Park area of predominantly white working-class South Brooklyn where pushers openly argue over choice side-walk locations, like chestnut vendors outside Radio City. In upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights area where Cuban dealers have established them-selves in some of the bars along Broad-way, from 138th Street north, daily shootouts have paralyzed police action with sheer volume. In the Bronx, wholesale junk markets on Walton Avenue off the Grand Concourse continue to proliferate even though police records show repeated arrests and harassment.
The drug world seems to gain strength from adversity. It is an environment of thoughtless, mechanical, clockwork violence. Since many of the deaths occur in black, Puerto-Rican and Cuban neighborhoods, the media and the public have missed much of the fireworks. Occasionally a murder involving middle-class whites, an undercover cop or Mafia soldier makes the papers and the Six O’Clock News.
On November I, 1972, for instance there was a front-page story in The New York Times about an N.Y.U. senior and his roommate, a suspected drug dealer, being murdered in their apartment across the street from the school’s uptown campus. On the same day, a typical day, the following drug-related homicides and assaults also took place in the city, but without any mention in the press:
- John Spann. 35. shot and killed at 11 1 th Street and Fifth Avenue by an unknown man hiding in doorway;
- Ronald Lucas. 24. stabbed to death In front of 590 East 21st Street. Brooklyn:
- Luis Rivas, 28, shot and killed while standing In front of 54 Jessup Place, the Bronx:
- Bartolo Cowmen shot and critically wounded by two men from • passing car while standing on Columbus Avenue. near West 82nd Street:
- Clark Jackson. shot and seriously injured at Eighth Avenue and 114th Street:
- Robert Smith. shot and seriously injured while standing in front of 19 West 126th Street;
- Hector Santiago and Guillermo Rodriguez shot and critically injured by two men in a passing car at the corner of Graham and Seigel Streets. Brooklyn
- Israel Ortiz and lames Delgado, shot and critically in-jured while standing in front of 1228 Morris Avenue, the Bronx;
- Eliot Roman: shot while standing on the corner of Vyse Avenue and East 179th Street, the Bronx.
The real danger for the city’s drug dealers, quite obviously, does not come from the law. As the center of the nation’s drug traffickers, New York has become Junk City, predatory scene of unrivaled violence, official corruption and Byzantine plots. No army of anthropologists could ever have constructed a laboratory habitat better suited to the enrichment of the Mafia’s style. The very chaos of the city’s drug business has made it temptation to the mob.
When the Mafia abandoned the narcotics business In the early 1960s it was because too many bosses suddenly found themselves going to jail for drug conspiracies hatched by their underlings. Carmine Galente, John Ormento and Vito Genovese were all top men who were jailed during that period. A few Mafiosi had continued dealing in narcotics, even during the boss imposed ban, and today increasing numbers of the mob’s aggressive and avaricious young Turks refuse to accept the timidity of rich godfathers as enough reason to stay out of narcotics. The profits are simply too great.
Dealers In the United States who paid $18,000 for a kilo (2.2 pounds) of 80 to 90 per cent Turkish heroin in 1971 are now offering $40,000 for a kilo of Asian heroin that is only 25 per cent pure. An Iinvestment of $500.000 in Corsica, Sao Paulo, Brazil, or Saigon can return $10 million on the city’s streets. Compared with other illicit Mafia businesses, importing and distributing drugs is administratively painless. Junk deals arc consummated once or twice a year. and exposure to the public, corrupt cops and underworld employees is minimal compared with such vulnerable day-to-day operations as bookmaking, policy and loansharking. Someone has to take those bets, count the money, deal with the telephone installers, to say noth-ing of paying off the winners. cops. land-lords. bail bondsmen (there are loads of bail bondsmen that you could use though to help you out such as Gwinnett County Bail Bonds) and disgruntled Mafia employees.