The crack cocaine empire authorities say Edward Stinson ran out of the Norman Blumberg Apartments in North Philadelphia has, within the last year, crumbled to dust.
First came the demolition last March of the two public housing towers that served as home base for the million-dollar-a-year operation. Then came the indictments – a collection of 134 federal charges unsealed Tuesday accusing Stinson and 23 others of fueling the drug dealing and crime that turned the high-rises into monuments of urban poverty, blight, and decay.
Between 2010 and 2015, prosecutors said, Stinson, 27, and his associates ruled Blumberg, running a round-the-clock crack distribution network from the top floor of an 18-story tower near 23rd and Jefferson Streets that sucked in teenagers, single mothers, addicts, and mentally ill residents with few other options for places to live.
"For years, this organization has maintained a stranglehold on the ... complex and surrounding neighborhoods," FBI special agent in charge Michael Harpster said in a statement. "They've used intimidation and violence to maintain control of the area."
The case unveiled Tuesday comes after an extensive investigation by the FBI, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Philadelphia Police Department that involved wiretaps, undercover operations, cooperating witnesses, and dozens of undercover drug buys.
In court filings, prosecutors traced the contours of an organization whose employees included addicts working as lookouts and teenagers as sellers who pushed product in the complex's alleyways and playgrounds in shifts from morning to night.
They used the buildings' 510 apartments to hide drugs, guns and – when the police came calling – themselves. And when tower residents said too much about their operation or rivals dared deal within the buildings, they were quick to protect their territory with the flash of a gun or the throw of a punch.
In all, the group is accused of earning more than $5 million in proceeds during the five-year span covered by the indictment.
Stinson's lawyer, Paul Hetznecker, declined to comment on the specifics of the allegations Tuesday, saying he needed more time to fully review the indictments.
But he added: "We strongly challenge the government's accusations, and my client expects to be vindicated at trial."
Still, prosecutors said, Stinson retained a tight grip on the business while serving a prison sentence between late 2012 and 2014, prosecutors said. In wiretap recordings referenced in his indictment, 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 allegedly brainstormed incentives that his sellers, known as as "grinders" or "trappers," might use to drum up more business, like free beer.
Yet even at its height, authorities said, the organization Stinson ran paled in comparison to the worst conditions seen at the Blumberg towers at the height of the '90s crack-cocaine epidemic, when Philadelphia Housing Authority police routinely complained of addicts scurrying past playing children in urine-soaked hallways.
"The level of drug sales in this community has never been significantly impacted by local arrests," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jerome M. Maiatico and Katayoun Copeland wrote in a filing last month. "If one [member of the organization] got arrested, another simply took his place. If a member returned from prison, he resumed his activity upon return."
That unchanging state of affairs prompted city officials to label the towers as an "obstacle to neighborhood renewal" and demolish them last year. They are now seeking to remake what was once Blumberg Apartments with shops, offices, schools, and new residential units in an ambitious plan to breathe new life into the struggling community.
How far that effort will go toward stopping the rise of another organization like the one Stinson is accused of running remains to be seen. But, according to court filings, the plan was enough to plant doubt among Blumberg's drug dealers about the uncertain future.
Stinson explained to colleagues in one 2016 conversation quoted in the indictments why he was pushing so hard to increase business: Blumberg's drug dealers needed to make as much money as possible before the towers came down.