By Michael Morton
More than a dozen suspects in the alleged $15-million-a-year wholesale cocaine distribution operation were arrested, the result of a two-year investigation during which the group tried to thwart the authorities with tactics gleaned from the popular HBO crime drama The Wire, police said.Their enterprise started to unravel, however, when one of the normally cautious suspects invited undercover detectives up to his hotel room during a trip to a men's fashion convention in Las Vegas where he wanted to pitch his clothing line, police said. He allegedly used the company to launder his drug money, and while the other suspects were not involved with the business, the surveillance ultimately provided crucial information on the whole gang, police said. The clothing line owner apparently believed Las Vegas to be a safe haven, but was mistaken.”He thought that,” said Detective Felipe Rodriguez, a supervisor on the case for the city's Organized Crime Investigation Division. “It didn't work.”Officers found many of the suspects at home during a sweep through Brooklyn, Queens and Nassau County. The suspects arrested Friday, 13 in all, allegedly ran a wholesale operation that distributed up to $15 million a year in cocaine in St. Albans, Laurelton and Springfield Gardens, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said. During the raids, police seized 43 kilos of drugs with a street value of $1 million, 18 guns, five luxury vehicles and more than $500,000 in cash.The suspects were arraigned Friday in State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens and charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance and conspiracy. Those charged included: Randyl Moore, 30, of Brooklyn; Castell “Cash” Brown, 33, of Roosevelt, L.I.; Timothy “Little One” Stackhouse, 34, of Brooklyn; Rodney “Shorty” Johnson, 31, of Brooklyn; Jeffery “Jay” Chatelain, 26, of 138-34 223rd St. in Laurelton; Fred Fulton, 42, of 228-21 141st Ave. in Laurelton; Ronald “Sha” Anderson, 25, of 138-41 Caney Lane in Rosedale; Pierre “Boe” Bannister, 32, of 255-52 147th Rd. in Rosedale; Brian “Bee” Barnave, 29, of 138-23 223rd St. in Laurelton; Keith Williams, 39, of 229-20 147th Ave. in Brookville; Byheen Brown, 21, of 119-09 119th Ave. in South Ozone Park; Gregory “Pop” Ferguson, 28, of 140-53 160th St. in South Jamaica; and Kataya Brown, 27, of Roosevelt, L.I.The 13 charged must return to court Feb. 2 and could face up to 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison if later convicted.At least three more arrests were expected in the ongoing investigation, police said, with one of the suspects telling a detective he would turn himself in. Three other suspected ring members were arrested in August 2004, after officers intercepted a drug package at a Woodside apartment and seized 40 kilos of cocaine and $500,000 in cash, police said. The accused ring members may also face additional charges stemming from violent acts they allegedly committed, DA Brown said.Police suspect Johnson and his brother Stackhouse obtained the drugs for the ring, which allegedly operated in small, affiliated groups. Among the other reputed members, Fulton, a worker for the Sanitation Department, previously served a five-year sentence for manslaughter, according to state Corrections Department records. Monroe, a guard at Rikers Island, was already under suspension for an earlier drug arrest, police said. And one of the suspects arrested in August, a woman on welfare, was found to own hundreds of pairs of designer shoes, including Prada and Gucci, police said.Police began investigating the ring after taking down another operation in the same area in 2002, a bust that tipped them off to the presence of the second group, which seemed larger and more entrenched. The first operation was reportedly run by Jonathan “Jiggy” Kidane, a then 35-year-old Jamaica Estates actor who had a bit part as a city police officer in the 2000 movie “Shaft,” police said. Kidane pleaded guilty and after serving time was handed over to the federal government for deportation to his native Ethiopia, a law enforcement official said.During the second investigation, known as Operation Sequel, detectives used physical and electronic surveillance to build their case and work their way up from the couriers to the bosses. They were often stymied, however, by the ring's alleged members, who took cues from the HBO show “The Wire” about how to evade the police. Like the fictional crooks they watched on television, the reputed drug distributors would quickly replace their disposal cellphones, forcing detectives to go through the onerous process of asking a judge for a new wiretap.”The timeline was definitely increased due to the technology,” Rodriguez said of the investigation. When such a switch was made toward the end of the operation, “we wanted to jump out the window.”One reputed member, Ferguson, reportedly let his guard down during a trip to a Las Vegas fashion convention in August 2003 to promote his clothing line, Divizon. While there, he unknowingly invited two undercover detectives posing as buyers up to his room at the Venetian casino, allowing them to conduct important surveillance, police said. When he was arrested Friday at Queens Village's 105th Precinct, one of the detectives told him of the ruse.”He laughed and he said, 'good work,'” Detective Carlyle Preudhomme said.Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.