It was a 70-degree day in mid-March of 2010 when Edwin Perez rode his cherry red Can-Am Spyder from a self-storage locker in Windsor Terrace up to the tree-lined brownstone streets of Park Slope, the place he conducted business, the place he referred to as “the office.” At 2:35, the well-built 32-year-old turned the Spyder, a cross between a racing motorcycle and a backward tricycle, onto 2nd Street from Prospect Park West. The bike lane that would turn the neighborhood into a high-minded war zone was still months from completion.
As he glided down the street, Mr. Perez’s older brother Francisco followed behind him in a burgundy Volkswagen. When the Spyder neared the end of the block, it stopped in front of one of the immaculate brownstones, and Francisco double-parked a few feet behind him to block traffic. Mr. Perez hopped off his bike with a heavy Sephora bag, 2,000 glassines of heroin inside, each stamped with the Sin City brand, the same name that was emblazoned on the back of his helmet. “He was proud of his work,” Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan told The Observer last week.
Mr. Perez handed the package into a parked car, and back came $9,000 from an undercover cop. The transaction took less than a minute, all while artists, attorneys, nannies, maybe even some of Mr. Perez’s clients were beginning to gather a block away at P.S. 321 to pick up the kids from school.
On the morning of April 23, Edwin Perez walked out of the simple home on 19th Street he had converted into a redbrick castle, complete with gargoyles scrambling across the facade. He had the keys to his storage unit in his pocket, possibly headed for another run, but before he got to the sidewalk, three police cars rushed up and cornered Mr. Perez. Inside the storage facility, the Spyder was found with 1,400 heroin glassines inside.
For the past two years, the NYPD and the DEA have been tracking the Perez brothers and an accomplice as they made dozens of deals, 29 of which involved law enforcement officials. They are part of a larger sting that has, since January, netted a loose network of 20 Windsor Terrace dealers moving heroin and a healthy amount of cocaine in some of the chichier quarters of Brooklyn.
How long, how much and to whom the Perez gang has been dealing in Park Slope is unclear. Law enforcement and brownstone dwellers have differing views and contrary opinions. The dominant response to those questions is the Park Shrug. Nobody much noticed the drugs before, nor have they since the busts, even though it made the cover of The Brooklyn Paper. And there the story, with a picture of Perez on his Spyder, was below the fold, trumped by a memoriam to City Council aide Hope Reichbach, a story about kittens saved from a hoarder and “Baby Store’s ‘Lesbian’ Discount Provokes Ire.” A drug bust won’t sell even free newspapers these days.
A dozen or so blocks away in Windsor Terrace, where working-class clapboard row houses dominate, the reactions to the arrests were about the same as they had always been. Perez and the other alleged dealers lived on these same blocks, many for their entire lives, and it is here that most of the dealings of the 20 people arrested occurred, the Perez crew excepted.
Three guys from two separate crews lived on a particularly hot block of 17th Street, and one of them fancied himself a rapper, RNR. Videos of his can be found on YouTube, featuring all the standard gangster rap tropes–drugs, cars, women, the frequent invocation of the Notorious B.I.G., along with the occasional rhyme about the Slope. “Lessons You Must Learn” takes place in front of the bodega on the corner of 8th Avenue. “Light a guy up for wearing a wire/just got back from all of my priors,” he declares on the quiet street.
Inside this weekend, a clerk said he knew nothing about the drugs, but suggested we ask folks on 17th Street about it. When asked for a name, even just a first name, he replied, “Why would I do that? I make money off these people.” (Most people interviewed for this story offered psuedonyms or no names at all, and they have been changed accordingly.)
At least one patron inside knew something about it. A gentleman who lived right in between the rapper and his accomplice complained, “Drugs have been an open secret on 17th Street for a long time, and I still don’t know if they’ve done enough about it,” he said. “The Bloomberg administration-with all their cuts-is it going to get worse?” Minutes before, The Observer noticed an idyllic Brooklyn scene, the man walking his daughter and her friend back from soccer. Another couple and their kids would soon arrive for what looked like a dinner party. He was at the bodega for a can of cocktail nuts.
Ms. Brennan, whose office is handling the prosecution, told The Observer that there was some evidence the drugs were being distributed to the rougher periphery of the Slope, but not its co-op-frequenting core, and that Perez could be feeding dealers across the city. The plan was to use the unsuspecting Slope for cover-to hide in plain sight behind the Bugaboos and bumper-stickered Beemers.
Wherever it is headed, heroin flows into the city have doubled each year for the past three years, according to the Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s office, and the Park Slope approach is one Ms. Brennan is seeing more of. In the fall, a heroin mill was busted inside a pricey duplex on West 43rd Street–the workers were posing as Manhattan College students–and another mill in Riverdale was recently broken up. The same day the Perez arrests were announced, a mill in suburban Fort Lee had been raided. The workers were bussed in by minivan each day from Washington Heights, where the heat had apparently gotten too high to safely operate.
Joseph Corozzo Jr., Edwin’s attorney and the son of a reputed mafioso, believes that if his client was dealing drugs, it was for locals alone. “It’s not a distribution point at all,” he countered. “This is low-level sale to the consumer. This is not a crack gang with guns and violence. I think it’s just glamorous for Park Slope. To me, it’s a small case. I’m not saying its insignificant, but this happens all the time, and they don’t make a big deal out of it.”
Meanwhile a DEA official pointed The Observer to an annual study conducted by the University of Michigan that shows heroin use on the rise among teens and 20-somethings, owing in part to the gateway drugs that are oxycodone and percocet. “You could buy one pill or five dime baggies for the same price,” a law enforcement official said.
Sarah and Tina, a couple who have lived in a walk-up at the corner of 17th Street and 9th Avenue for 12 years, were eating lunch on Saturday at Elora’s, a Latin restaurant across the street. They said they never thought the area would change as quickly as it did, the had simply come for the space Windsor Terrace afforded. Tina accuses a fair number of her neighbors of being involved with drugs still, and as they saunter by, she points at various buildings through the open window of the restaurant. Sarah keeps insisting she has no way of knowing that for sure.
Peter, who opened Elora’s 16 years ago, warned us about what we wrote. “I know these guys along time, I watch them grow up, so it’s hard,” he said. “Don’t get me in trouble, and don’t get you in trouble.” Not the sort of warning one expects to hear in Windsor Terrace these days.
Tina blames City Hall as much as the South Americans who now produce much of the heroin flooding into the city. “Unfortunately, the police have really gotten slashed,” she said. “It’s a manpower issue, and it falls on the mayor. There should be a millionaires tax. They should be charging all the developers for all the buildings they put up around here. There’s a lot of things they could be assessing them for.”
Maybe the city could legalize drugs and start taxing those, too. But would that jeopardize the livelihood of those in Windsor Terrace? “They’re lazy, and they don’t want to find a real job,” Ms. Brennan said. The bartender at Elora’s suggested that most of the guys chose to go into this line of work. She said one of them had money from his dad, who works in construction.
That did not mean being a dealer made any more sense. It was not exactly gainful employment, or a nice service sector job, at least in the eyes of one resident, a husky guy in a Yankees cap and and baggie jersey. “When you add it all up, the lawyers fees and the time in jail, right down to the suit you have to buy to go to court, because you will get caught, it’s no better than minimum wage,” he said. And perhaps he is right. But a job at McDonald’s, or even Elora’s, will not buy a Can-Am Spyder.
Some people say the block 17th Street between Prospect Park West and 8th Avenue remains hot, even after the arrests. When The Observer tried one of the dealer’s houses, where two women sat on the stoop, the older woman with scraggly grey hair replied, “He’s not home,” and made a zipping motion along her lips.
Across the street, three doors down from where RNR shot another one of his videos outside his own home, we rang the door bell at a nice redbrick Italianate place. Three ADP stickers were stuck to the first-floor window and a vulture statuette perched over the door. A women in her 20′s with daisies on her nails answered. “I’m not saying anything,” she told The Observer. “We have these urban people who move here in a daze and they just act so surprised, and so superior,” she said. Urban people? “Yeah, the new people, the yuppies.”