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Charlotte Observer: Charlotte Homeless Were Used To Foster Drug Deals

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' ', false_format=>' ' --> More Information Police have accused the following people in connection with drug dealing in a three-block corridor of North Tryon, just north of uptown. Most have been charged with selling, possessing, or conspiring to sell drugs: Ronnie Raymond "Pop" Miller, 31; Lerace Seth McCorkle, 25; Damon "Reggie" Bullock, 38; Duval "NS" Barber, 26; Amy Renea "Big Sexy" Smith, 41; Rafae Jamonte Lowery, 36; Kenneth James "Junior" Wallace, 19; Enrico "Rico" Carnickey, 28; Anthony Atwan Collins, 38; Marion Jamal "Dready" Mcilwaine, 36; Timothy Lee Mize, 41; Sheila Gwendolyn Miller, 34; Yavonka Monique Byrd, 32; Marquise Detra "Scarface" Teeter, 33; Quinton Antonio "Q" Johnson, 19; Chuck Berry Parker, 51*; Emmett Herman Mitchell, 31*; Shay-la Leigh "Ratchet" Taylor, 22*; Eric Spencer "E" McBride, 36* *Still at large late Wednesday A group of drug dealers turned a busy corridor just north of uptown into an open-air drug market, police say, recruiting homeless people from nearby shelters as drug runners and deal-brokers. Police announced they had arrested 15 people in connection with a seven-month operation and were seeking four more suspects late Wednesday. Investigators are unclear how long the drug-dealing scheme was going on but said they responded to community complaints and officers' observations earlier this year. The drug dealing happened in a roughly three-block stretch along North Tryon Street between the Brookshire Freeway and the Men's Shelter of Charlotte, just beyond uptown. Capt. Bruce Bellamy, who heads the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's Metro division, said the dealers, who were not all connected, were "taking advantage of the transient population that would be in the area, who use the (shelter) to get food, to get some sleep, to get mail." The homeless people would lead buyers to the drug dealers, police say, or sometimes transport the drugs to the buyers. In return, they would get small amounts of drugs or money. It's unclear how many of those arrested were homeless. Homeless used as go-between Many of the homeless people have substance abuse problems, money troubles, or mental health issues that made them easy targets, said Carson Dean, executive director of the Men's Shelter of Charlotte. Others cities have faced problems with criminals recruiting homeless people. "When you've got nothing, $50 seems like a large amount of money," Dean said. "And for people that are still actively in addiction, a few bucks can feed your addiction." The dealers themselves often mixed with members of the transient population, disguised as day laborers or people waiting for buses, police said. The corridor, which has heavy foot traffic and includes several bus stops, provided a natural cover for the activity. On Wednesday morning, dozens of people could be seen milling along the corridor. Day laborers often wait to get picked up for rides along the stretch, which includes an Autobell car wash and several independent auto shops. Police believe people from all parts of Charlotte came to the three-block section of Tryon Street to get drugs - mostly cocaine, but also prescription drugs. And the drug deals brought other crime to the area and to uptown. "People were committing other crimes to support their habit," Bellamy said. "It wasn't uncommon for people to exchange stolen property for drugs, or go into the (uptown) parking decks to commit larcenies from autos or panhandling to get money." The investigation continues, Bellamy said, as officers try to link the drug dealing near uptown to people and crimes in other parts of the city. Suspicions began in January The investigation began in January, when people who live and work in the neighborhood became suspicious of an increase in loitering and possible drug sales. Police officers who work that area also noticed more people congregating around bus stops or in the woods near the corridor. "You'd see people standing at a bus stop, then six or seven buses would go by and they don't get on," said Officer Jared Porter, a North Tryon Division Officer who patrols the area on bicycle and was one of the first to notice the trend. Soon afterward, undercover officers began mixing in with the transient population, making drug buys. Investigators also conducted undercover surveillance. In all, police say, the district attorney's office issued 89 felony charges and four misdemeanors against 19 people. Police say homeless people are frequently recruited for illegal activity. In November, 10 people were arrested in a scheme starting in Atlanta that used homeless people to cash fraudulent business checks in the Southeast. The men, who were recruited in Atlanta, said they were given food, drugs and alcohol while they stayed the night in a hotel, then were taken to Tennessee to cash the checks. In October, a 49-year-old man was convicted in Los Angeles for recruiting homeless men to fraudulently acquire medical services, power wheelchairs, hospital beds and other medical equipment they didn't need, then billing Medicare. Staff researcher Maria David contributed.