Former pro basketball player from Queens charged as leader of Brooklyn-based heroin ring

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A retired pro basketball player from Jamaica Estates was arrested on Thursday for allegedly leading a major heroin distribution ring across Brooklyn, prosecutors announced.

James “Fly” Williams, 65, was among 13 individuals charged on May 4 for operating the ring that distributed 2 million glassine envelopes of heroin — with street values of between $6 and $10 each — across a number of Brooklyn neighborhoods over a three-month period, according to acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.

Law enforcement sources said Williams arranged for vast quantities of the narcotics to be purchased from Bronx-based suppliers; the other members of the ring then peddled the drugs in communities including Bushwick, Brownsville, Flatbush and Fort Greene. A number of transactions occurred near the Brownsville Recreation Center, according to Gonzalez.

“These defendants had no consideration of the harm suffered by so many from the dangerous narcotics they allegedly peddled,” Gonzalez said. “They just cared about making money, exploiting addicts and the heroin epidemic that is spreading throughout our communities with devastating results.”

Williams, a Brooklyn native and highly regarded prospect out of Austin Peay University, was drafted by the Denver Nuggets, which was then a part of the American Basketball Association (ABA), in 1974; his contract was later sold to the Spirits of St. Louis, where Williams played during the 1974-75 season.


He wound up not playing in the 1975-76 season and was without a team after the Spirits folded as a result of the ABA’s merger with the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Williams went on to play in the Continental Basketball Association and in leagues overseas, but his career ended in the early 1980s after being shot during a robbery attempt.

Prosecutors said the arrests were the result of an investigation conducted between September of 2016 and May of this year that included undercover drug purchases, electronic wiretaps and physical surveillance. Police executed search warrants on May 3 at various locations connected to the drug ring, seizing six firearms, two kilos of heroin, an additional 13,667 glassine envelopes and more than $185,000 in cash.

Williams was charged with operating as a major trafficker in violation of the state’s drug kingpin statue, first- and third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, third- and fourth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and fourth-degree conspiracy, among other charges. He faces up to 25 years to life behind bars if convicted, Gonzalez said.

The other 12 defendants, all of whom hail from the Bronx and Brooklyn, face similar charges and jail terms if convicted.

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