By: Lou Savelli
You could still smell the odor of the burned towers of the World Trade Center all the way to the East Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn weeks after the attacks. On the corner of Clarendon Road, a few feet from Flatbush Avenue, it was business as usual. Haitian Mafia Crips were spread out across the four corners looking for Five-Oh. People were heading home in the darkness after a long day at work in Manhattan. They seemed almost oblivious, or frightened, to the gang colors and apparent drug dealing as they scurried across the street homeward like mice racing to a hole in a wall when the lights go on.
"There's a hand to hand!" clamored Detective Paul Rossi, lead investigator for the case. His voice resounded with some confusion over the tac radio about a drug deal that just went down on the corner. "Male black, blue Colorado Rockies cap, blue North Carolina jersey, blue jeans and white and blue KSWISS sneakers", he continued.
Before he could make another radio transmission, I cut him off. "Unless he's dealing for our subjects, disregard the Crips on the corner! We're here for the Palestinians in the grocery store. They are our targets! We have a new mission, now!” The radio immediately became silent as we continued our surveillance on an alleged Palestinian funding cell working for an unnamed foreign terrorist group. As tough as it was to stand down on a ground ball drug deal by gang bangers, most likely armed with hand guns, my unit and I were now reassigned to work terrorists in the wake of the 9-11 attacks. After spending several days at the World Trade Center searching through the rubble and learning the names of several fellow officers who were killed, it was an assignment I accepted immediately and with great aggression. Yes, aggression! I was pissed and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on anyone remotely connected to Bin Laden.
Like the line by Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, in The Godfather, “Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in!” You could almost hear the theme from the movie in the background when the radio came alive. “Hey sarge, that Crip dealer is now talking to our subject, Ahmed. The Loc just handed him a wad of cash and it looked like Ahmed gave him some more stash!” Gangbangers and terrorists, WTF, I thought to myself. How can this international terrorist son-of-a-bitch have these street thugs working for him? That’s risky business. “Let’s see what happens for a few minutes” I blurted over the radio. “We don’t want to spook Ahmed to our surveillance. We’re trying to make a case on his cell."
We spent the next several weeks watching Ahmed’s store, following him and his crew day and night. We eventually identified the entire cell, what they were into and how they made their money. We also learned that cells like this were not limited to Brooklyn or just to New York. They were all over the US, mostly in urban areas, but they were everywhere. And gangs were their welcome partners. What a great cover - a fully functional grocery store in the middle of a war zone. What cop is going to bother this guy and his crew? You can’t get a cup of coffee for miles around here. There’s no Dunkin Donuts, no Seven Eleven! And Ahmed is giving his away ‘on the arm’ to the uniform guys. Nobody in this neighborhood is going to complain or call the cops on him.
Later in the case, we put a Middle Eastern undercover into Ahmed. He found out what he used the Crips for and it wasn’t drugs. They were selling loosies (loose cigarettes) on the corner for $2.00 a cigarette. It all made sense. No one goes to jail for selling loosies and cigarettes in New York City were going for $7.50 a pack in 2001. Today, they are selling for about $12 a pack because of the enormous city tax on cigarettes. The Crips sold two to three cartons of loose cigarettes a night, just from what we saw on the corner near Ahmed’s store. The UC heard Ahmed bragging that he had other loosie spots selling across Brooklyn and Queens. The gang bangers gave Ahmed back a dollar on every cigarette but were allowed to keep a dollar per cigarette for themselves. That worked out to over a thousand dollars a week at no risk for them and an extra few thousand dollars of cash for Ahmed. He was smuggling out of state cartons of cigarettes into NYC, costing him $25 a carton. His profits to fund terrorism were HUGE!
Our undercover purchased used small caliber handguns fenced to Ahmed by local gang members and other criminals along with stolen credit cards, stolen checks and all the stolen property we could buy that Ahmed had the gang members steal. Ahmed and the gangsters are a match made in hell. From all the illegal stuff Ahmed was doing with the Crips and other gang members, we estimated he was shipping over a hundred grand a month to Palestine. After we arrested him, we discovered his crew was doing this all over the US and his crew was just one of thousands like it. Gangs and Terrorists: Partners in Crime. It was brilliant!
Since that case, and because I worked as a gang cop most of my career, I have discovered this type of criminal partnerships across the country. Terrorists and Middle Eastern criminals operating gas station minimarts, grocery stores and convenience stores in high crime neighborhoods are fencing property stolen by gang bangers. Baby formula, pharmaceuticals, you name it! The gang bangers shoplift it. They sell it! Everyone’s happy. Everyone’s making money! Early in 2011, I walked into a grocery store in the Midwest. As I passed several ‘Bloods’ hanging out, smoking cigarettes, inside talking to the Middle Eastern clerk, I got a case of Déjà vu. There was so many products on the shelves with labels from other stores, I started to laugh and decided to take my business elsewhere.
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