NEW YORK – A notorious drug dealer who got his start during the crack epidemic of the 1980s and was so good at hiding his whereabouts that he was known as "the ghost" has been arrested along with dozens of others on new charges, police and prosecutors said Thursday.
James Corley, 51, was charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance and other drug charges after a 15-month undercover investigation that used wiretaps and surveillance, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.
Forty-four other people were also charged with drug crimes in the dismantling of Corley's operation, known as the Supreme Team, and another drug gang, authorities said.
Corley supplied cocaine to a second gang called the South Side Bloods, and low-level dealers grossed about $15,000 a week in drug sales, Kelly said. Burned by a wiretap before, Corley used at least eight different phones, authorities said.
"He had an uncanny ability to keep his associates in the dark. No one knew where he lived, what phone number he used, what car he drove," Kelly said.
A call to Corley's lawyer wasn't immediately returned Thursday.
The case was pieced together by Detective David Leonardi, who said the dealers used a language called the "5 percenter" where every number and letter had its own word and members decoded messages about drug orders. The wiretaps also netted information on illegal guns and a possible killing in South Carolina.
Corley came of age during the crack era of the late 1980s and was an associate of the Supreme Team, which controlled housing projects and corners in Queens, the ground zero of the crack epidemic in New York. Crime was rampant; in 1990, the number of murders hit an all-time high of 2,245.
The Supreme Team was run by legendary gang leader Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, who reputedly funneled drug money into rap music label Murder Inc. He's now serving life without parole for a pair of murders after a 2007 conviction.
It was a brutal drug gang that came out of the same Queens streets where platinum rappers 50 Cent and Ja Rule emerged years later. At its peak, the Supreme Team's network of dealers was making $200,000 a day, authorities said.
After McGriff did jail time on a drug conviction, he was released in 1997 and aligned himself with neighborhood friend and music mogul Irv "Gotti" Lorenzo. The one-time street thugs produced one film: "Crime Partners," a straight-to-video affair that featured Ja Rule, Snoop Dogg and Ice-T.
The Supreme Team was responsible for the shooting of NYPD Officer Edward Byrne in 1988, authorities said, but Corley wasn't charged in that killing. He was jailed once in the 1980s on drug charges, and was later convicted of manslaughter for beating to death a man he believed to be a police informant, and served more than three years, police said.
New York Police Department Capt. James Ryan said the takedown this week finally signaled the end of the remnants of the team that had terrorized Queens for decades.
"We feel it's pretty much dismantled now with Corley being taken out of the picture," he said. "It remains to be seen, we're always vigilant and we think this is the end of them."