The leader of a round-the-clock distribution network that made hundreds of thousands of dollars pumping crack cocaine into the Norman Blumberg Apartments was sentenced to 30 years in prison Thursday for his role in turning the twin North Philadelphia public housing towers into high-rise monuments of urban poverty, blight, and decay.
At a hearing before U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond, Edward Stinson, 30, apologized for the drugs he sold between 2010 and 2015, though he respectfully insisted he was not the kingpin prosecutors had made him out to be.
But as soon as the judge left the bench, Stinson and the courtroom around him exploded.
“If I cooperate, do I get less time?” Stinson shouted, bounding from his chair while hurling obscenities as U.S. Marshals gathered to lead him back to prison.
His mother yelled from across the room. “Don’t you work for the DEA, especially this lying bitch,” she said, indicating the FBI case agent standing feet away.
In a corner, Stinson’s sister repeated a tearful refrain: “Y’all locked up my brother for nothing.” And all the while a cousin stood quietly pleading in vain for the family to keep their cool.
That scene capped off a tempestuous two-hour sentencing hearing in which the emotions of Stinson and his family had already threatened to boil over. Even as Diamond was announcing his punishment, his voice was nearly drowned out by loud, sobbing wails echoing from the hallways outside the courtroom.
But the tumult Thursday’s proceedings triggered within the Stinson family was nothing compared with the damage Stinson had wreaked in the lives of hundreds of his customers and neighbors over years.
“The defendant created a nightmare atmosphere for the people attempting to live decent lives at the Blumberg complex,” Diamond said. “I have no doubt that if the defendant were released today, he’d be out selling drugs tomorrow.”
Long before their demolition in 2016, the Blumberg towers near 23rd and Jefferson Streets in Sharswood had emerged as one of the city’s foremost examples of the failed American experiment with public housing projects.
Crime, drug dealing, and addiction coalesced around the towers from the start. And as early as the crack-cocaine epidemic of the early ’90s, residents routinely complained of drug users passed out in urine-soaked hallways while dealers openly sold illicit products in stairwells or next to children playing in the community’s two playgrounds.
Stinson grew up in that environment, shunted between the apartments of his grandmother and a crack-addicted mother, depending on how high the latter was at any given time, his lawyer Paul Hetznecker said.
While prosecutors conceded Thursday that Stinson had had a “horrific childhood," they blamed him for becoming a perpetrator of the same scourges that had negatively affected his life.
“He is now the aggressor,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Josh A. Davison said. “He is now the abuser of the future Edward Stinsons. It was unfair he had to grow up in those circumstances, but now he’s creating them.”
Witnesses at Stinson’s trial last year traced the contours of the crack-pushing organization he eventually grew to lead — one run from the towers’ top floors and that employed addicts as lookouts and teenagers to peddle product in the complex’s alleyways and playgrounds in 24/7 shifts.
Tower residents who complained too loudly or rival drug dealers who dared deal on their turf were quickly dealt with by the flash of a gun or the throw of a punch.
And Stinson himself, in FBI recordings played for jurors at trial, counseled other members of his organization on how to seduce otherwise law-abiding female tower residents, then persuade them to turn their apartments into gun, drug, or cash stash houses for the group.
Even when Stinson was arrested and sent to state prison between late 2012 and 2014, he continued to maintain a tight grip on his organization.
Jurors at his trial heard recorded prison phone calls in which he boasted he could sell $3,500 to $4,500 worth of crack cocaine in a night and bemoaned the slipping sales that plagued his organization while he was behind bars. He brainstormed incentives that his sellers might use to drum up more business, like offers of free beer.
Despite that, Stinson insisted in court Thursday that he was just one of many drug dealers operating within the towers — and by his estimation, not a very good one.
“I was a pathetic drug dealer,” he said. “I was living with a female in low-income housing. Her rent was $81, and even being the big-time drug dealer the government is making me out to be, I couldn’t even pay that $81 in rent. … The majority of the stuff in my case, it’s made up.”