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11 Charged in Lower Manhattan Drug Ring

ByJAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.

"Along Avenue D in Manhattan, Dwayne Mitchell was known as Dubbs, an affable ladies man who drove an Infiniti and had fathered several children with different girlfriends. He won the affection of many residents by paying for block parties and throwing barbecues. He even took neighborhood children to amusement parks like Six Flags.

But prosecutors say Mr. Mitchell was also the head of a lucrative drug ring. For more than a decade, prosecutors said, he has controlled the crack cocaine trade in the Jacob Riis Houses and along Avenue D from Houston to 13th Street, a violent and drug-plagued neighborhood in Lower Manhattan.

"He's the unofficial mayor of the underworld on Avenue D," said Dan M. Rather, the assistant district attorney handling the case. "Nothing happens on that strip without Dwayne Mitchell's knowledge or approval."

According to an indictment unsealed in Manhattan criminal court on Tuesday, Mr. Mitchell oversaw a team of nine people who sold hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of crack on the street each year.

Mr. Mitchell was arrested along with seven others on Tuesday morning, the Manhattan district attorney's office said. They will be arraigned on Oct. 22. Three other people were still being sought.

The arrests follow a 21-month investigation in which an undercover police officer infiltrated the group, won Mr. Mitchell's confidence and eventually bought several large quantities of crack, between four and six ounces, directly from Mr. Mitchell. The police also wiretapped the group's cellphones to gather evidence, the indictment said.

All 11 were charged with second-degree conspiracy for their role in the organization, and with multiple counts of selling drugs. Mr. Mitchell was also charged with money laundering.

District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. cited "the heroic work of an undercover officer," adding, "The drug dealing stops today."

In the past, Mr. Mitchell, 35, had delegated all street-level sales to others, making it nearly impossible to penetrate his circle, prosecutors said.

According to the indictment, Mr. Mitchell drugs were supplied by another defendant, Sabed Rahman, 29, who drove a Mercedes-Benz, kept his family in an upscale house in Queens and, until recently, rented an expensive apartment in Midtown Manhattan. The two often met at a Starbucks at 32nd Street and Second Avenue, where they exchanged thousands of dollars in cash for packages of crack. A search of Mr. Rahman's house on Tuesday turned up $14,000 in cash, prosecutors said.

The indictment says Mr. Mitchell ran his organization out of a courtyard near Avenue D and Eighth Street, between Buildings 108 and 118 of the Jacob Riis Houses. It is a tranquil spot with trees, benches and a Citi Bike stand, where people stop to chat and old men tell stories.

Prosecutors say Mr. Mitchell held court there, using cellphones to transact business and dispatching members of his group to make sales. He laundered some profits by buying Green Dot prepaid debit cards.

Several residents said Mr. Mitchell, who also went by the monikers P.W. or P-Dubbz, went out of his way to be kind to children and the aged. "He always had little things for kids, he used to be grilling frankfurters for the kids," said Judy Lorenzo, 64.

But the district attorney's office said drug dealing and its attendant violence has been rising on Avenue D in recent years. Since 2009, there have been three unsolved murders and six shootings there."

Fausto Pinto contributed reporting.

Food for thought:

Over the last 12 years or so, some 250 (mostly) men have been released from prisons across the country because DNA has proven beyond doubt that they were innocent.  Now here's a really, really scary part: of that number of innocent people having spent as much as 20 + years behind bars for crimes they did not commit, some 25% of them gave "confessions."

What this proves all too much is that way too many such confessions are coerced, manipulated by clever interrogators, made up our of whole cloth (yes, that really happens - one retired NYPD detective's cases are all being reviewed now because he always "got" a confession, but it was never written and never on tape, but the juries believed him, really only because he was a gifted liar - or the suspect is deceived into admitting everything just to get out of the interrogation room.

One well-known, and sordid, tactic is telling the suspect, "look, just admit it, sign here, and you can get out of here; your Mom is waiting right outside to take you home."

Also think about this: if DNA cleared 250 people absolutely in these last not too many years, how many similarly innocent people are still in prison because there was no physical evidence that could be tested through DNA!  Worse yet, how many factually innocent people were executed before whatever physical evidence there was could be DNA tested?  If there were ever a strong reason against the death penalty, this is it.

Despite these terrifying statistics, police and prosecutors fight like hell to this day to keep "false confession" experts from testifying for the defense.  You have to wonder why that is.  Conviction at all costs.  Too many prosecutors thrive on convictions, regardless of the truth.  That's not the way I was taught as a young prosecutor by the man who ran the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office in Detroit - Bill Cahalan.  You know what he drilled into all of us?  Do justice.  That's what he always said it was all about - not just conviction, but justice.  Way, way too many prosecutors these days are dazzled by their conviction records, their sense that they can run for high office - Judge, Attorney General, etc. - on the basis of the notches in their gun belts.  A true tragedy.

- James W. Burdick

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