Shadow Economics 101: Labor-management relations in a West Baltimore drug crew

by Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Jan. 2, 2015

Drug dealing isn’t always the quick-buck, easy-street business it is sometimes thought to be. It’s often hard, demanding work, and, as court records in a recent drug-trafficking takedown in Baltimore show, sometimes involves unruly, hard-to-manage workers causing no end of trouble for their bosses.

Richard “Fat Boy” Smith is alleged to be at the top of drug-trafficking organization that is “pervasive in the Western Police District of Baltimore,” the records say, and “acts as the final arbiter for organizational decisions.” In October, while in Miami on a trip, Smith had to make such a call, over the phone.

“Nah my nigga,” Smith tells one of his underlings, Brian “Pitt” Nettles, “you ain’t even got no business to be on the block no more. You fired, yo.”

Turns out, Pitt had started trouble in a convenience store near one of the group’s street-level drug shops. As mid-level manager Eldridge Dubois put it to Smith, “Pitt in there fucking with yo, in the store man” and “threw juice in the window and all that dumb shit man,” prompting a police response, which was bad for the drug business. So Smith tells Nettles, “Yo, give them niggas whatever yo got yo and don’t come back up that motherfucker till Tuesday my nigga,” when Smith was due to be back from Miami. “Give them the money you got and them motherfucking pills yo,” he adds, since “I ain’t got no time for that dumb ass shit man.”

Earlier, in September, a couple of Smith’s lieutenants had to manage a different kind of situation: While one of their street-level slingers, Marvin Germany, was selling in an alley, the rest of the crew was hanging out in a convenience store, chatting, rather than keeping lookout like they were supposed to be doing. Bruce Jeffries, a lieutenant, calls up mid-level manager Darrell Randolph and says Bernard “Jig” Kingsborough is “watching yo, and he’s saying the same thing I’m saying, ain’t nobody watching Marvin while in the alley yo. Ain’t no way in the world niggas should be all in that store right there while a nigga hittin yo.” Randolph takes the orders well: “Alright,” he says, “I got it.”

In October, it becomes clear why having lookouts in place is important. Randolph gets a call from his brother, Pernell Randolph, and tells him that “Fresh just robbed Marvin, put the gun to his head and all that,” and “Cuddy acting like he don’t want to go get the joint and shit.” He’s talking about Marvin Germany, who is “in the house, he ain’t trying to come outside, he said he wants the joint.” The “joint” is a gun, so Germany can avenge the robber, Thomas “Fresh” Chambers, but Vincent “Cuddy” Jones doesn’t want to give him a gun. “Oh no,” Pernell Randolph responds, “where’s Cuddy at? I may tell Cuddy get that for him.”

Jeffries had to light a fire up under the crew again in October, when he called Darrell Randolph, who’s supposed to overseeing them, to ask why no one was working. Randolph, when Jeffries asks him where he is, is cagey, saying “right here on Monroe Street,” but Randolph was already there. “I’m on Monroe Street” Jeffries says, “so where at on Monroe Street?” Randolph covers himself, saying, “I’m talking about riding down Monroe Street.”

Jeffries then gets to the point—and learns that, rather than working, the crew is horsing around. “I’m trying to figure out why ain’t nobody out here selling dope yo,” he says to Randolph, “I’m like, nobody out here, nobody. Not one nigga out here yo.” Randolph explains that “Ticket on a dirt bike,” referring to Dedrick Coates, and “Pernell was just, Pernell just pulled up right there.” Jeffries gets angry: “What the fuck is his fat ass doing on a dirt bike? Niggas need to start, yo, alright.”

Work-ethic complaints cut both ways, though, as happens in November, when another of Smith’s lieutenants, Brian Carr, takes some guff from one of the lower-level managers, Kevin Grey, for starting work late in the day for a drug trafficker.

“Damn yo,” Gray says, “I’m glad I called you at six o’clock and just didn’t come straight outside,” to which Carr replies, testily, “Yeah, that’s what the fuck you going to always do.” Gray then has to cajole Carr to bring more drugs to sell. “Uhh,” says Carr, “I really don’t feel like going up there for real,” and Gray urges him to re-up, since the shop’s almost empty, saying “it’s nothing down here but half a joint,” a reference to the quantity of drugs.

Fear of the boss is evident in the records, as when, in October, Jeffries orders up some more drugs to sell, asking Derek Shorts to bring them to Darrell Randolph on Baltimore Street, and advises him to be smart about it, because Smith was watching. “Be careful how you move,” Jeffries tells Shorts. “Be careful how you move because Fat Boy on Bmore street too.”

Bosses can be tightwads, giving no leeway when it comes to the till. In November, Jeffries, after counting up the crew’s take, calls up Dubois to complain: “That shit was twelve dollars off yo” because “when I put it together it come up to thirteen eighty-eight” and “it supposed to count fourteen hundred.” Dubois acknowledges that the count came up short, so Jeffries says, “tell them niggas, one of them niggas they have short money man,” so “tell them niggas to get six dollars a piece for that shit man.” Dubois agrees, saying, “alright, well say no more.”

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