When the crack era in New York was jumping off in the 1980’s a lot of street legends were born in a hail of gunfire. Business minded and ruthless dudes seized the opportunities afforded and certain individuals out of the city’s five boroughs became synonymous with the definition of the new era black gangsta. Characters and cliques that seemed to evolve straight out of the pages of a Donald Goines novel rose to prominence becoming larger than life figures and ghetto stars in their respective hoods. Just like Hollywood catapulted the Mafia into the mainstream with the Godfather movies, New Jack City documented the devastating crack epidemic and the drug crews that terrorized and held sway in the city’s projects.
Nino Brown was a fictional character as was his crew but you didn’t have to look very far to find their real life counterparts who dominated the headlines of New York’s papers. Drugs, murder, kidnappings, shootings, more drugs and more murder were the rule of the day. They called it the game but in reality it was a vicious attempt to come up by any means necessary. In the late 80’s the mindset was get mine or be mine and nobody embodied this attitude more then the Supreme Team, the most legendary street gang of its time.
Besides Hollywood paying court to the team a number of homegrown rappers who were shorties in the 80’s started namedropping the teams exploits in verse. First was 1994’s Memory Lane where Nas spit, “Some fiends scream about Supreme Team a Jamaica Queens thing.” But the more famous couplet came courtesy of Queens native son Curtis Jackson aka 50 Cent who rhymed on 2000’s Ghetto Quaran, “When you hear talk of the southside/you hear talk of the team/see niggas feared Prince and they respected Preme/for all you slow muthafuckers I’m a break it down iller/ see Preme was the businessman and Prince was the killer.” Street tales, real life crimes, newspaper headlines, Hollywood sensationalism and rappers rhymes have perpetrated, promoted and created a legend of mythical proportions that has grown exponentially over the last 20 years keeping the Supreme Team name ringing bells from coast to coast. As one of the most notorious crews from a deadly era the team towers above its contemporaries in stature, notoriety and infamy. But it’s not all hype. Infamy has its price.
The Supreme Team was a street gang organized in the early 1980’s in the vicinity of the Baisley Park Houses in Jamaica, Queens New York, by a group of teenagers who were members of a quasi-religious sect known as the “Five Percenters”, court documents say. Under the leadership of Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff, with Gerald “Prince” Miller his nephew, as second in command, the gang concentrated its criminal efforts on widespread distribution of crack cocaine. At its 1987 peak, the Supreme Team’s receipts exceeded $200,000 a day and the gang regularly committed acts of violence and murder to maintain its stronghold on the areas drug trade, court documents continue. After McGriff went to jail in 1987, leadership of the Supreme Team was assumed by Miller. Miller solidified his control by increasing the security force and employing it against rivals and against team members suspected of disloyalty.
The Supreme Teams narcotics operation used dozens of employees, including layers of drug sellers to insulate the gang leaders from the street-level activity, court documents relate. Team members communicated in coded language and numerical systems. To thwart law enforcement efforts further, Miller used armed bodyguards and deployed sentinels with two-way radios on rooftops. The sophistication of the gang’s operation enabled it to survive the periodic targeting of various members for prosecution by the NYPD and the Queens County District Attorney’s Office. But like other hood stars of the age the team wasn’t immune from the feds.
Back in the day Queens was a notorious breeding ground for brutal progressive thinking gangstas. Fat Cat, Pappy Mason, Tommy Montana, The Corley Brothers, Pretty Tony and Hymee all hailed from the southside. But the two most infamous cats out of Jamaica were Supreme and Prince. They led a team that was said to be over 200 deep and rivaled the Mafia in structure. The notoriety of Supreme is well publicized and his transformation from gangsta to hip-hop icon and rap maestro has been well documented as has the feds blatant vendetta against the man. Supreme and Murder Inc are now in the first stages of overcoming the government’s latest and boldest assault on the rap industry since they tried to unsuccessfully take down Death Row records in the mid 90’s. The feds just can’t stand it when a gangsta goes legit. Its okay for the Kennedy’s but when a black man goes legit it’s a federal crime. But there is another story to be told, one that centers around Supremes nephew Prince who is doing 7 life sentences in the feds. Newspaper accounts say Prince inherited the leadership of the Supreme Team in 1987, when his uncle Supreme was arrested, charged as a kingpin and ultimately sentenced to a twelve year prison term in the feds.
At the time the papers called the heir apparent Prince, Mr. Untouchable because he was like the Teflon Don, nothing would stick. Everybody’s heard the raps, read the newspaper headlines and the magazine articles but what was the Supreme Team really about? What was the real story? You know Don Diva keeps it real and to that end we contacted a real gangsta. A man who stood tall in the face of adversity and went to trial at Prince’s side. A man who’s been buried in the guts of the belly of the beast for the last 15 years- meet Supreme Team member and true soldier, Ronald Tucker aka Tuck who’s going to take us back to Jamaica Queens circa 1986.
The working class neighborhoods of South Jamaica, St Albans and Hollis Tuck grew up in lie in the 103rd and 113th precinct, which are a 4.8 sq mile perfect box encompassing Van Wyck Expressway to the west, Hillside Ave to the north, Francis Lewis Boulevard to the east and a jagged line that runs along the 110th Ave to the south. Around 125,000 people live within its borders, 62 percent of them black. Tuck describes his days prior to getting down with the team, “I was in high school working at D’Agostinos. It’s a famous supermarket. I was a delivery guy. Seventeen years old and delivering groceries to fucking people.” He says. “I lived next door to my man, Black Born. We were walking to the store one day and this god Bishme told us about Prince coming home. He said he was trying to put the team back together. I had never heard of a Supreme Team before that and I lived in Jamaica all my life.”
“I met Prince in June 1986, almost 19 years ago in front of Baisley. Projects,” Tuck says. “I went from making 100 dollars a week at the grocery store to a thousand dollars a day. I was selling hand to hand, a worker. I was seventeen and didn’t have any goals. I thought I could sell drugs forever.” But forever is a mighty long time and looking back Tuck admits, “I chose to make the streets a part of my life. I lacked guidance in the form of a father figure so I looked to the streets for that which I couldn’t find at home. Prince became somewhat of a father figure to me. Someone I could look up to.” And someone who could show Tuck what it meant to be gangsta.
“Baisley Park,” Tuck says. “That’s where I hustled at. Five Buildings, 8 floors in each building. This was where I ate.” Under the red-brick towers of Baisley Projects, an around the clock crack cocaine trade that operated more Like a corporation then a drug outfit prospered selling 25,000 crack vials a week, according to newspaper accounts. “It seemed like the team controlled everything in Jamaica,” Tuck says. “From Liberty Ave and 171, 115th and Sutphin Blvd, to 121 which is several blocks. It was crazy.”
Street tales tell how the team kept the whole area in check, when-ever Supreme went to prison Prince was the boss. And when the feds got Supreme it was Prince’s show. There was no free styling. Either you were down with the team or else. That was how it played out in the streets. And the team placed a premium on loyalty. Tuck was one of the most loyal. Gangsta to his core. About his relationship with Prince he says, “I don’t think Prince and I ever had a friendship. I believe it was all business. I do know that most people would rather have Prince on their team then opposing him.” This was because Prince was about his business. As they say in the streets, he handled his.
Tuck breaks “it down about the two legends he came up under, “Preme is a dude who will rationalize, talk it out. He’s very diplomatic and charismatic. I remember the name Supreme as someone who always was spoken of highly. I don’t know if it was out of fear or respect. But usually when people spoke that name they were speaking of something greater then themselves.” And this image reflected downwardly as neighborhood residents said the Supreme Team were generally courteous and respectful to residents of the projects.
“Prince is a real good dude also,” Tuck says. “Very well respected and feared too. He was highly motivated, very organized and extremely intelligent. A real master at gamesmanship.” Under Prince the team was run like a military operation, newspaper accounts say. With a chain of command and everything. Dudes who stood strong and held their mouth were given more responsibility. Those who didn’t, the feds would have you believe, were murdered.
Tuck started off selling hand to hand to the crackheads. The team used a color coded system for the vials of crack. Each color signified whose cocaine it was. A color for every Lieutenant of the organization-yellow, orange, red and blue. “I had yellow.” Tuck says and crackheads from the era remember yellow as being Prince’s color. This was the scene back in the day- workers like Tuck were caged in by the handball court at Baisley Park. As soon as the crackheads got in the park they would yell the colors out. Like Yellow, yellow to signify whose crack they wanted. And there were strict rules also. There was a line on the handball court and worker couldn’t cross that line to make sales. They had to wait for the crackheads to come to them. And they couldn’t knock somebody’s customer out the box. If the crackhead wanted yellow then yellow it was. Another rule was no singles, no shorts. Workers would be chanting to the crackheads, “No singles, no shorts.” Meaning no one dollar bills and don’t come short with the paper trying to cop.
“I knew that if you were my customer that on your payday you were gonna give me all your money,” Tuck says and the crackheads were crazy too. Tuck explains, “They’ll take the joint and tap it. Try to switch it with an empty vial or one with soap in it or you’ll take the vial out of your mouth with your spit on it and the crackhead will put it right in his mouth.” Tuck relates an even more bizarre incident, “One time this bus driver came to cop. He parked his bus and copped. That’s the illest shit I ever seen. People were still on the bus. The power of this drug.”
“50 of 500. That’s what I made. But I was selling 10 grand worth of crack a day. So it was like a grand a day.” Tuck says. “If the drugs weren’t in the community Jamaica Queens could have been a beautiful place to live. But drugs were easy and fast money. As a seventeen year old my thoughts were, why go to school when I’m making more money then the chairman of the Board of Education.”
Court documents say the gang under Miller included Wilfredo “C-Just” Arroyo as second in command, Harry “Big C” Hunt as Miller’s bodyguard, Ernesto “Puerto Rican Righteous” Piniella as head of security and Roy “Pookie” Hale, Shannon Jimenez and Julio Hernandez as security workers. Tucker and Teddy Coleman managed retail spots and supervised crews of workers; long time gang-member David “Bing” Robinson helped to supervise the drug operations and kept records. Raymond “Ace” Robinson assisted in arranging cocaine purchases, provided security during drug transactions, supervised the processing of cocaine into crack and delivered crack to sales locations.
Prince was considered by law enforcement officials to be one of the most violent drug dealers in the city during the 1980’s but here’s Tucks take on Prince, “I looked up to him. He was everything that a young kid from the ghetto aspired to be. He had money, tons of women, power and got mad respect.” In the streets they called Prince the general. He was known to be cool, calm and collected. In control at all times. Legend has it he survived hit attempts and dealt with an iron fist. In the drug game there’s no tolerance for bullshit, because the game breeds larceny and anyone who can keep their cool in the face of all that deserves their stripes.
About the other Supreme Team members this is how the streets remember them. C-Just was known as a real quiet, soft-spoken dude who never raised his voice. But don’t get it fucked up, son was as thorough as they come, Bonifide, you heard. Big C was known as Prince’s right hand man. A real serious and intimidating cat that had dreads, wore dark glasses and tank tops that showed off his huge arms which were like pythons. Pookie was a known gunman from back in the day who did a rack of state time and came back out to hook up with the team. Ace was a dude fresh out of prison who just got down with the team before they went down. But he stood up like the old school cat he was. Shannon was as the prosecutor dubbed him “a lifelong member of the Supreme Team.” He was known as a loyal dude who would do whatever for the team. These dudes according to court documents were Prince’s security team.
The security team had a fearsome and well deserved reputation in the hood and they dressed accordingly. Tales from late 80’s Queens claim the army fatigue look was a Supreme Team signature. Their war gear was black fatigues and jackets, bulletproof vests, black Timbs and hats, the drawstring joints or baseball caps. And their weaponry consisted of AR-15’s, Mac-10’s, Nines, 45’s, 357’s, Tech- you name it, they had it. And when they were on a mission shit got crazy. They would be jumping out of mini-vans like a taskforce. And when dudes on the block saw them they’d start running and scrambling praying that the team wasn’t coming for them. Because don’t get it fucked up. Real gangstas do gangsta shit. It was even said that Prince had a bulletproof baseball hat and newspaper accounts talk of a James Bond Mercedes 500 Prince had that was equipped with bulletproof windows , oil slick and everything. The Supreme Team wasn’t playing.
About his life of drug dealing Tuck says, “I had no foresight to say I’m gonna make a certain amount of money and get out of this. Selling drugs is like an addiction. The dealer is just like the fiend. The dealer is addicted to the money. Just like the fiend is addicted to the drugs.” And Tuck, Bing and Teddy were known as the money men. Bing, according to court documents was arrested with Supreme on a 1985 case and when he got released in ’89, he got down with Prince. Teddy and Tuck were the youngsters of the team who rose up through the ranks from workers, according to court documents, to Lieutenants who ran spots. Bing, Tuck and Teddy were the ones bringing in the paper. They all had their own crews and were making crazy money themselves and for the team.
And the teams structure was well organized. They had the security force, the retail spots and the stashhouses where chicks worked around the clock bagging up vials of crack on glass tables just like in New Jack City.
A Queens native sums up the whole era and what it was all about, “Drug dealing, killing, more drug dealing, more killing, cops getting murdered, parole officers getting murdered for violating niggas, crooked police getting paid off, police issuing beatdowns, families getting murdered because other family members are testifying in court, you know, basic hood shit.” Prompted by the February 26, 1988, murder of Officer Edward Byrne the Tactical Narcotics Team or TNT was formed. The coordinated, city wide multiagency approach was the first to employ the concerted resources of many government agencies to combat crime and TNT covered the 103rd, 105th, 106th and 113th precincts- 22 miles of Southeastern Queens. Locals said that once you crossed the tracks into Baisley Projects it was a war zone or at least it was back then and the newly formed TNT task force agreed. After they took down Fat Cat and Pappy Mason the task force made Prince and the Supreme Team their new target.
The Supreme Team saw over more then 110 of its members arrested and convicted in the early 90’s. By targeting the area bounded by 110th Ave on the north, Sutphin Blvd on the west, Merrick Blvd on the east and Baisley Blvd on the south the TNT task force waged an all out war on the Supreme Team and brought them down. Newspaper accounts said the Supreme Team held the projects hostage but according to people who lived in the projects things were done for the residents of the community that wouldn’t have been done by the city. Including turkey dinners, trips to Great Adventures for the kids and bills being paid for those who couldn’t afford it. But was the good enough to outweigh the bad? Showing love to the community is all good but like they say what comes around goes around and when you deal in death sooner or later you’ll have to meet your maker.
In court documents the state explained that it had been investigating the Supreme Team for some years and had nearly exhausted its battery of traditional investigative techniques with little success. Using normal techniques, the state had been unable to penetrate the Supreme Team or, gain sufficient admissible evidence against any members other than those of the lowest echelons. The team’s leaders had insulated themselves from police ‘contact through extensive use of body guards and lookouts and when the state applied for wire tap authorization it had yet to identify all of the upper and middle level members of the Supreme Team or to determine where the narcotics and illegal proceeds were kept or to identify the teams suppliers. Tuck keeps it real, “For real as far as I’m concerned there was no Supreme Team. I pled not guilty and after 15 years I’m walking out the door still not guilty.”
On March 21, 1990, 130 cops from the TNT task force fanned out to 15 area apartments for simultaneous 6 a.m. raids. The arrests were results of a yearlong investigation of the group and came on the heels of Prince being found not guilty by a jury of a drug related murder. The papers screamed their outrage about the vicious drug gang that turned a neighborhood in South Jamaica into a killing field.
“That was the last of the posses,” said Lt. Michael Geraghty, commanding officer of the Queens Narcotics major case squad. “It is not an end to the drug problem in Southeast Queens by any means. But it puts an end to the Supreme Team. Prince was known as an untouchable. I think this dispels that myth.” Investigators said Miller and his henchmen terrorized the area, murdered suppliers they double-crossed, confederates who fell out of favor and potential rivals. To law enforcement authorities battling the relentless drug trade in New York city Gerald Miller was one of the most savage and successful of the flashy young kingpins who dominated the lucrative crack business.
“They are an extremely volatile group,” said Queens DA John J Santucci at the time. But the much feared and tightly run organization had run its course. Miller the heir to the Southeast Queens crack trade, police said, was through. His gang that had used violence and intimidation to establish and maintain its crack selling operation were all in jail. But Prince’s arrest only managed to increase his and the team’s infamy as the murder cases started stacking up.
Prince was charged with the murder of a 19 year old drug dealer who was shot once in the head at point-black range at 9 p.m., according to police on August 21, 1987, at the corner of Foch Boulevard and 142nd place in Jamaica. But the jury found Prince not guilty. On July 13, 1990, while he was incarcerated fighting that murder he was indicted for the second set of murder charges in two years. A quadruple homicide of four Colombians, the papers reported. The Queens District Attorney’s office said Miller ordered the killings from jail and that he operated his drug empire by using telephone code words to direct his underlings. “The fact is, these four people were slaughtered,” said DA Santucci. “They were handcuffed, gagged, strangled and then they bashed their skulls.”
In opening statements to the jury for Prince’s 1990 quadruple homicide case, Queens Assistant DA Eugene Kelly called Prince the mastermind behind the so-called Supreme Team, which controlled the drug trade in the Jamaica section of the borough. Local detectives testified that since Miller was arrested in 1990, homicides had dropped by more then 30 percent. But for the second time in two years, at the State Supreme Court in Queens, Prince was acquitted. DA Santucci said he was startled and dismayed at the verdict.
“Prince beat four or five bodies in the state and beat eight or nine in the feds,” Tuck says. “He was back and forth fighting murder cases. They called him Mr. Untouchable in the papers because every single case he beat at trial. That’s what made the feds come and get us. It’s called the Silver Platter Doctrine. The state said we can do nothing with ’em. You take ’em. They handed us over to the feds on a Silver Platter.” Court documents describe Trent “Serious” Morris as the team’s primary drug courier who negotiated deals by telephone with William “Willie G” Graham a supplier linked with the team who had Colombian connections. Serious testified at the state murder trial that Prince confessed the entire crime to him and showed him where the bodies had been dropped. Ernesto “Puerto Rican Righteous” Piniella who according to newspaper accounts was head of security didn’t turn out to be very righteous. At the state trial Piniella described how four men were tricked into coming to Baisley Projects with cocaine to sell and how they were each systematically beaten to death and their bodies put into plastic bags and dumped. Puerto Rican Righteous agreed to testify against Prince in exchange for a promise of a sentence of 8 to 16 years for trying to kill three police officers.
Court documents say after Morris testified against Prince in the 2nd state murder trial his sister-in-law and her father were killed and the first letter of Miller’s nickname, p, was carved into their torsos. The incident outraged the feds and put all the witnesses and their families on notice- don’t come forward. Tuck breaks it all down, “That is straight bullshit. None of that was ever proved and some dude admitted to the murders in 1997. They just put that all on the team to get the feds to take the case because the state was gonna have to let everyone go. Prince was acquitted of the murders and the wiretaps were all thrown out. All the feds had was the snitches who were saying anything to save their own asses.”
Court documents say approximately 80 witnesses were at the federal trial including Ernesto Piniella, Julio Hernandez, Trent Morris and Ina McGriff (no relation to Supreme) a corrupt former parole officer who traded info to the gang in exchange for sex and money. In 1987, the Supreme Team according to court documents, was allied with another drug gang led by Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols that supplied the Supreme Team with powder cocaine. Nichols suspected two men, Henry and Issac Bolden of robbing Nichols organization. While Nichols was incarcerated he sought Miller’s assistance in locating the Boldens so that Nichols crew members could kill them. At the trial Ina McGriff testified that Fat Cat asked her through Miller to obtain info on the Bolden brothers to facilitate the murder and from the witness protection program which Fat Cat entered when he turned state, Fat Cat corroborated this.
The feds indicted Prince and his co-defendants on a 14 count racketeering indictment that included counts for drug related murders, drug conspiracy and drug dealing. The newspaper headlines proclaimed, The drug ring that terrorized Southeastern Queens during the 1980’s was indicted in a string of violence that included at least nine murders. Investigators described the Supreme Team as one of the busiest and bloodiest of the trafficking rings that plagued Queens at the height of the crack epidemic. Court documents say the substantive narcotic distribution charges against the defendants focused on the period from December 1989 to March 1990, during which the state was monitoring the gangs activity with wiretaps. During that period the Supreme Team conducted its business in the Baisley Park House projects. Looking back Tuck says, “The feds can make anything look however they want. It’s the United States of America versus you. The whole fucking United States. Their resources are unlimited. Why do you think the feds have a 99% conviction rate?”
Court documents say at the Miller trial the government presented voluminous evidence including tapes and transcripts of more than 100 wire tapped conversation among Supreme Team members, telephone records, fingerprint evidence, photographs of assembled Supreme Team members, firearms and ammunition, narcotics paraphernalia and assorted documents. “At trial during the opening statements,” Tuck says, “one of the jurors went back and told another juror, ‘This trial seems just like New Jack City. And the jurors told the judge. The Judge didn’t know what New Jack City was about so he went out and watched the movie that night.” As Tuck and them went to court more treachery was uncovered. Julio Hernandez joined Puerto Rican Righteous and Serious as a snitch. “Julio was the only one who was indicted by the feds who flipped.” Tuck says. “He was the only one who had access to all the floors at MCC New York. 7 South was notorious for rats and Julio was on 7 South. He swore to god he wasn’t telling. He was coming to our co-defendant strategy meetings with all the lawyers. He’s sitting there in the room, going back and telling the feds our trial strategy. What they call a spy in the camp.”
And during the prelude to the trial the judge reported that Prince who served as his own lawyer in pretrial proceedings was making carefully orchestrated maneuvers to delay the trial as long as possible so that witnesses could be intimidated into not testifying against him. And jumping on this authorities insisted that not only was Miller a remorseless killer but he blended lethal wickedness with legal wiliness. A dangerous combination according to the feds. Reflecting Tuck sums it all up. “Coming up in the hood its rough. You see all types of shit and its not pretty. Sometimes when you’re young you make decisions that affect the rest of your life. you have to pay the consequences for your actions. You can’t say I got to find a way out of this. Dudes want to play monopoly all day but nobody wants to go to jail. Everybody wants that ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card. If you’re gonna play the so called game then play it right. When your number is called, and your number will inevitably be called. Be willing to handle this jail shit just like you handle that street shit, gangsta.”
The federal prosecutor was Leslie Caldwell. She had made a career of prosecuting Queens’s drug dealers as she was the prosecutor who put away Fat Cat and Pappy Mason. She was ruthless in her pursuit to clean up the streets in Queens. She attributed the Supreme Teams longevity to its unhesitating use of violence. And the only place for members of the team that she said left a four year trail of bodies and terror in South Jamaica was in the federal penitentiary.
“When I went for sentencing I was mentally prepared to do the rest of my life in prison,” Tuck says. “Teddy was the first one sentenced. We were in MDC Brooklyn and he came back and told me he had thirteen. I thought he was telling me 13 life sentences, imagine that.” The gang that the feds said were responsible for 20 murders and countless shootings beat almost every single murder count. “Prince beat them all except one facilitation of a homicide (the Bolden murder) and for the 848,” Tuck says. “He damn near beat every murder except this humble shit. Big C beat 7 murders, Shannon beat 4 and Prince beat 8 1/2. They beat them shits but still got hit in the head.”
“Prince was sentenced to 7 life sentences. C-Just to 3 life’s, Big C got 2 life’s, Pookie got life, Shannon got 30 years, Bing got 19 years. Ace 15 years, Teddy 13 years and I got sentenced to 14 years.” Tuck says. “When they gave me 14 years instead of a life sentence I thought I was blessed.” Tuck goes on. “I would never in a million years do what I’ve done all over again. I don’t give a fuck how much money you have. No amount of money is worth 10, 15, 20 years of a life sentence. When I was younger I didn’t give a fuck. It was all about getting that paper. However as one gets older his perspective on life changes. When I look back I see that all my friends are dead and none of them died of old age.”
Judge Raymond Dearie, US District Court Judge for the Eastern District of New York told Tuck at sentencing, “You people have stuck together. I’ll give you that. And you have proven your loyalty, I’ll give you that. But there’s a real high price to pay for that loyalty and you’re going down in flames. I cannot understand it, but it’s not for me to understand. And even if I could understand it I could not excuse it.” Are you your brother’s keeper?