Five years of undercover work and investigations that led from Alexandria to Richmond to Miami have ended with the convictions of 36 people involved in the distribution of crack in the city's Hume Springs neighborhood.
The operation began in 1998 and was known as The Dirty Dozen. "That's because we originally had 12 targets of the investigation," said Detective Tom Kennedy, an Alexandria police officer who was assigned to the federal task force investigating the crimes.
In 1998, a routine narcotics bust led police to a gun that led to a confidential informant who provided information about an organized crack cocaine distribution network that was bringing drugs into Alexandria and selling themm in Hume Springs.
"We went to the U. S. Attorney and began an organized crime and drug enforcement investigation," Kennedy said. Investigators from the FBI, the DEA and two Alexandria police officers were assigned to work the case. The other Alexandria officer was Detective David Cutting.
Ultimately, 36 people either entered guilty pleas or were found guilty of multiple drug offenses.
Assistant U. S. Attorney Gene Rossi and Special Assistant U. S. Attorney Sonya Sacks prosecuted the two cases that went to trial. Sacks is on a longterm detail to the U. S. Attorney's office from the Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorneys office. Thirty-four of the defendants pled guilty to various drug charges and two went to trial. One of those who chose to have his day in court received a sentence of life in prison and the other got 30 years.
HUME SPRINGS is one of the smallest neighborhoods in Alexandria. It is located adjacent to Lynhaven, near Cora Kelly School for Science Math and Technology. The most well-known of its streets are Edison and Dale, well known to buyers and sellers of drugs and to the police because in the 1980s it was an open-air drug market.
The neighborhood consists of small brick townhomes that were built in the 1940s. In the 1970s, during Hurricane Agnes, Hume Springs flooded and got the nickname "The Hole." The flood control project at Four Mile Run has eliminated most of the flooding problem and neighbors hope that the U.S. Attorney's success in prosecuting these most recent defendants will help to eliminate the drug problem and restore the neighborhood to what it was when it was built — a place where working families live in harmony.
Brenda Smith is the vice president of the Humes Springs Civic Association and has lived in the neighborhood for many years.
She said, "We have had a lot of problems over the years but we have seen some good things start to happen, too."
The neighbors began "taking back" their neighborhood about 10 years ago, according to Smith. "A group of us got together and started walking every night. The police department sent an escort to walk with us and we did that for several years."
THE NEIGHBORS got the city's office of code enforcement involved as well. "We have managed to get rid of some of the absentee landlords and homes are starting to sell for good prices," Smith said. "People who are buyying homes in Hume Springs are living in them and are maintaining their property they way they should. Of course, we have to stay on top of things and we still stay in close touch with the police and code enforcement."
Neighborhood residents and school personnel from both Cora Kelly School and St. Rita's School, testified at the trial. Much of the drug activity was taking place in sight of Cora Kelly and St. Rita's and occurred while children were at recess. One of the dealers who pled guilty to drug charges said that he began dealing when he was 12 years old and a student at Cora Kelly. He said that he used his lunch money to buy his first drugs.
"We have noticed a real difference in the neighborhood and are very glad that so many of these people are in jail," said Smith. "We don't see as many people on our streets loitering and hope that this stays the same now that it's getting warmer."