Baltimore is one of the nation’s murder capitals. There’s a reason it’s known as Bodymore. In the swirl of paranoia and profit surrounding the heroin trade in the inner city guns are pulled quickly and indiscriminately with no regard for the loss of human lives or the consequences to the individual and the community at large. The drug game has long held roots in B-More, where the majority of the city’s population is black. The politicians are black, the citizens, the cops, the administrators, the addicts and the drug dealers. Two years ago it was reported that Charm City had 10,000 dealers serving 65,000 heroin and cocaine addicts. This in a city with a population of well under a million.
The critically acclaimed HBO series, The Wire depicts fictional druglords of the city’s past in their struggles against law enforcement. But the cities real life history is more BET’s American Gangster than make believe. As the emergence of Stop Snitching, the now-infamous underground DVD that discourages cooperation with police, that Carmelo Anthony had a cameo in, showed dudes from Bodymore go hard. The Wire portrays stretches of abandoned rowhouses, hard faced street characters and police helicopters trailing suspects with a spotlight, but to the natives of the city all that is nothing new. That shit is real life, day in and day out. Since way back in the day. When names like Little Melvin, Marty Gross, Anthony Jones, Itchy Man, Joe Dancer and Black Barney inspired fear, respect and admiration in the inner city. And it wasn’t that long ago that Peanut King was the man, plain and simple. No ands, ifs or buts about it. If they were talking about B-More’s premier druglord they were talking about the man know as Nutt.
In 1982, the news from the television reported that the FBI had a warrant for the arrest of Maurice “Peanut” King, one of the biggest kingpins of the heroin trade in Baltimore history. The case which took five weeks to try arose from the operation of a major drug distribution organization in Baltimore City, court records indicate. The defendants were convicted in 1983 in the United States District Court of Maryland fengaging in a conspiracy to possess and distribute heroin and cocaine. King and Thomas “Joe Dancer” Ricks, two of the leaders of the conspiracy were convicted of conducting a continual criminal enterprise, CCE 848, the kingpin charge. Along with Clarance “Magic” Meredith they were named as the heads of the organization; defendant James Carter was the financial advisor; defendants Marcell “Black Barney” Moffat and Kerney “Wilco” Lindsey were lieutenants of certain inner city street corners where drugs were sold; defendant Clifton Frisby was a sub-lieutenant and distributor; defendant Stanley Rodgers was a courier of drugs and money; and defendant Beatrice Roberts was the girlfriend of Ricks who allowed her apartment to be used for illegal purposes and who otherwise assisted in the operation, court records relate.
The evidence was more than adequate to prove all elements that were charged in the narcotics prosecution, court records say but all of the above is just what was reported in the official record. And you know that’s only one side of the story. We went to the street to get the other version of events and here it is the real story of the Peanut King Mob, one of the most notorious crews to ever do it in Baltimore. Allegedly led by one of the biggest names in the drug game- street legend Peanut King.
“He was making $25 million a year,” says a dude from Holbrook Street who was around during the Nutt’s reign. “Peanut King had Hoffman and Holbrook. That was the most lucrative area. He was putting seven to 10 percent pure on the street. He had a better cut on the heroin. They’d be coming from DC, Virginia- all over to get that bang for their buck.” Most dealers put out three percent pure in that era so the heroin that Nutt’s people allegedly put out was of a higher quality and with the better product Nutt quickly cornered the market. The Peanut King Mob sold a lot of heroin and the price of a bag was $60 and $70. The Federal government said they estimated his mob made $45 million a year through his drug business.
“Peanut King was bigger than the mayor because he took care of the ghetto,” An oldhead from the era remembers. “He did things in different ways. He was a businessman with morals. He knew if he took care of the people the people would take care of him. He had big Christmas dinners at Lafayette, pulled up a U-Haul van and gave a way presents for the kids, so how can you say something bad about a man like that. He was like the savior of the ghetto. He was one of the best conmen in the business. If he could fool society and get them on his side while pushing dope and employing ruthless killers his game was tight. He knew how to play every angle.”
He drove a Delorean and had a huge house in Silver Spring, Maryland. It’s said the house had no windows, just surveillance cameras on all angles of the house. King and Meredith Market and Deli on East North Avenue was one of three stores owned by Joe Dancer, Meredith and Nutt. Peanut was feared by just about everyone. He wore bedroom slippers that cost $100 to $150. He dressed like a Mafiosi, top notch suits, top dollar shoes. A classy dresser well known in all the big nightclubs for his extravagant ways. It’s said he used to step out of a big old limousine in front of the clubs wearing flawless diamond pinkie rings that Nutt said cost 40 grand.
“He had police, city cops on his payroll. Might of had a couple judges. He got out of a lot of shit. His style was like no other hustlers I have ever seen in Baltimore City’s underworld. Him and his crew shopped at Bernard Hill, the best clothing store in the city.” The oldhead says while the dude from Holbrook adds, “He was a flyman. He had the Delorean. The stainless steel joint. The man was sharp. He had a lot of charisma. Real laid back. Very humble for the type of business he was in. He had the latest of everything. All the women gravitated toward him. They said he was a vicious crimelord, but we didn’t look at it like that. He was trying to put people to work. He was trying to bring a better quality of heroin to the people in a way that showed respect to the addict. His business was about respect and that’s how you get money.” And Nutt put his money back into the community.
“He owned El Dorado, a strip club by the old civic center. He owned the Gatsby on Charles Street around the corner from O’Dells. They said he had bail bonds and Delis and Markets.” A young hustler from that time remembers. “I was off the East B-More side but Nutt had the whole town, the power that he had, nobody knew who he was but dudes would compare themselves to him like ‘I’m getting it like Nutt.’ He was a quite dude. You never knew he was around but his name was bigger than life. We always had a vision of him with money, guns, cars and women. When you meet anybody from any part of B-More they all know of Peanut King.”
And eventually the feds knew of him too. Evidence linking Nutt with illegal gambling, firearms and drug trafficking surfaced. Nutt was shooting craps with the best of them and breaking them all. The Feds said he did his best shooting at Atlantic City casinos. They said he used it to wash or clean up his drug money. To legitimize the drug money. When he cashed the chips back to the cashier he would receive the cash with the casinos bands. The FBI said he would get three million in chips at a time. He had credit and could get a million in chips with just signing his name. He used to sit at the crap table with just him and the dealers alone. They were roped off from the public. He was dressed in a tuxedo and that was his thing. But the extravagance attracted unwanted attention from law enforcement. And Nutt would rue his demise. But understand it was only after a very long and successful run.
“In 1976, he was coming up in the drug world. Taking over territories.” Says the oldhead and street legend has it that in the beginning Peanut was just a street corner hustler near Preston and Bond Streets in East Baltimore. “Peanut comes from a long family of hustlers. His daddy was a gunrunner. Peanut had contacts all over- Florida, New York, New Jersey, Philly.” The oldhead continues. “He went in Lafayette and recruited all the young kids and their families and had them selling drugs and hot merchandise. He had a warehouse in East B-More full of hot merchandise.” This was Nutt’s start, but he still had to put together his crew.
“His crew came from a place called Lee Street in B-More. They called it Death Valley because more bodies were found in that area then in all of B-More, the oldhead relates. “Joe Dancer was the enforcer for his mob. He was a treacherous dude on the street. He was Nutt’s right hand. Whatever he said to get done, got done. Dancer came out of East B-More. He was a small town hood but Nutt took him under his wing. I knew his whole mob. Some trusted soldiers were Roland X and Spudie. They were youngsters in his mob.” Drugs, hustling, lots of murders, lots of contract killing. It’s said Peanut King snuffed out all the other dealers before him to gain control of every area he wanted to.
In 1979, Peanut was on the run. The city police were looking for him wanting to ask him about a murder. Nutt and Joe Dancer were locked up. They were in jail nine months and they let him out. He was found not guilty. When he came uptown after beating the charges he never looked back. He went from street level to king of the hill. His name started to ring and people from his crew started opening doors for him and driving him around. It was clear that he was in power.
“You couldn’t get close to him. He was protected by his crew. He controlled all the heroin.” The oldhead says. “He didn’t fuck with nothing small time. He had a piece of the action of every club on the strip. The clubs, gambling, strip joints.” Baltimore Street at that time was the strip and Peanut allegedly had his hand in all that. “He took over prostitution on Pratt and Monroe Streets and sold a lot of heroin down there. That’s when Lafayette was ringing. The big money was made at the projects. The money generated off his name was crazy. Twenty to thirty thousand a day coming off one corner selling halves and wholes.” The young hustler says.
“By 81-82 he done took over Baltimore. He bought some shops and had some clubs on the strip.” The oldhead says. “He had some clothes stores he used for fronts. He laundered all his money through businesses. Bailed people out through his bail bonds to clean money.” It’s said he had a Gold Cadillac Seville, went shopping at White Flint Mall in Rockville and hung out in West Baltimore near Park and North Avenues. “He had a good chunk of Baltimore. He owned it all. A real good chunk.” The oldhead says. And in Alfred Reed book about B-More’s underworld, A Barber’s Close Cut, he wrote of Peanut, “I used to see him go to his store on North Avenue, Grocery and Deli on the side. Peanut had a lot of class to be a drug dealer. He was very smart and he could feel you. Once I brought my nephew to personally meet Peanut. Nutt came down the steps to meet him and my nephew said after he met Nutt, ‘He looks like a gangster.’”
And a gangster Nutt was, but he was also an innovator and he revolutionized the drug game by taking Nicky Barnes use of kids to another level. Nutt used teenagers who, unlike the kids used by Barnes, were wise to the drug game and were dedicated to their jobs. Further, to make their jobs work more efficiently Nutt bought mopeds for all his young workers to get back and forth from the stash to customers. The mopeds gave the youngsters mobility, agility and speed in transporting the merchandise to their customers. Teens in Russell brand sweatpants, Coach shorts and bedroom slippers, the style Nutt made popular, became a common sight in Baltimore inner city streets.
“He had kids between 15 and 18 about 30 or 40 of them on mopeds selling heroin,” the Holbrook dude says. “This was one of his strategic moves because it sped up his deliveries with the transfer between money and drugs. The lore with the kids was that if you worked for Peanut King you got a moped, so all the kids wanted to work for Peanut. He always had hundreds of kids who wanted to work for him. This was his stroke of genius.” The use of teenagers by Nutt caused a new law to go on the books in Maryland though. It became a requirement for anyone driving a moped to have a valid driver’s license. That gave the beat police a reason to stop the kids on mopeds and also took a lot of Nutt’s kids off their bikes.
“Nutt was big from the early to late 70’s into the eighties. He was always present.” The young hustler says. “In 1980, a key cost like $130,000. It was part of that NFrench Connection/ Nicky Barnes hookup.” And if you weren’t hustling for Nutt it was dangerous to hustle. “You couldn’t sell nothing.” The young hustler remembers. “If you were a hopper you knew where it ended up. Nutt wasn’t having it. It was about them putting their hands on you. It was just Nutt. You respected him.” And Nutt was instrumental in the youth basketball leagues also sponsoring teams and tournaments.
“They were real avid basketball dudes. They ran the dope leagues.” The young hustler says and he remembers the times at O’Dells where Nutt’s crew styled and profiled. “O’Dells was like Studio 54- the hood version. It was over on North Avenue between St. Paul’s and Charles Street. The line would go around the block. It kicked like that from 75 to 85. They had a million dollar sound system. Thursday nights were the nights, it was rumored Nutt owned the club. The hustlers would be lined up in their furs and jewels, pimped out. It was a beautiful time. But Nutt’s crew, you would have thought they were business men. Peanut always had a reserved table and women all around him. His crew was deep up in O’Dells. O’Dells had a radio commercial that said, ‘The under ground is open. You’ll know if you belong.’ And Nutt and his crew definitely belonged. They were like royalty up in that joint. Police would be up in there dancing and everything. It was crazy.” And the photo booth captured the moments even the moments with Nutt.
“The thing about Peanut, that the run was so long was because he was taking care of all the Lafayette families paying rent.” The oldhead says and the young hustler gives Nutt’s strategy, “Nobody knew what part of town he was concentrated in. He was like hit and run, keeping his business steady. They were the guys. It was just that simple.” Wilkins, Fulton Avenue, Pigstown, Sandtown- Nut set up everywhere, but it didn’t help. Eventually his long run would come to an end.
There was a big shootout over at Lafayette Projects. Some say it was on the playground and there were about 30 people involved. Somehow Peanut got shot in the foot in a van. He was driven to DC, 44 miles away, to get some help for the gunshot wound and was alright. But the incident was never forgotten. A girl got shot on Broadway and Oliver Street. The girl was carrying a child. That corner was considered Nutt’s territory and they said Nutt’s people had something to do with it. The drug activity in and around the Lafayette Projects was heavy and the shooting incensed state and federal law enforcement officials and brought attention to the projects and Peanut King. The Feds were on Peanut’s ass, but his game was tight. The authorities stepped up their efforts to bring him down. Investigations were started, surveillances increased, raids conducted and arrests were made. They raided Peanut’s businesses and harassed his crew, but still they couldn’t get anything on him. The feds needed an inside guy.
“For a long time he couldn’t be touched.” The oldhead says of Nutt, but nothing lasts forever and Peanut’s time in the streets was getting short. “In that business you knew he was under investigation. His people were. His stores and businesses were. His name rang like that.” Says the Holbrook dude. In his book, A Barber’s Close Cut, Alfred Reed wrote that Peanut even prophesized his own end. “During the end of his run he was talking to me, Peanut said, ‘I am looking at the penitentiary and I know it.’” It was just a matter of time. A matter of time and a rat.
Mike Smith was in prison when his brother Howard Smith was shot to death at the corner of Hoffman and Holbrook Streets with his two sons in the back seat of the car. Mike thought that Peanut had something to do with it. The FBI, who had nothing at this point, were trying to find someone to wear a wire on a buy from Peanut. In Mike Smith they had their man. Court records indicate that Otis “Mike” Smith first assisted Detective Sergeant Gary Childs of the Baltimore City Police Department in the summer of 1980. After having his parole revoked, Smith reestablished contact with Childs in late 1981 and began assisting Childs in the Peanut King case.
Bankrolled by the Feds, Mike was made up to be as big time drug dealer from the Eastern Shore. Smith first approached Ricks about purchasing heroin in late 1982, court records indicate. Ricks refused, explaining alternatively that he was no longer in the heroin business and that he was being watched too closely by police. In order to develop his credibility as a drug dealer, Smith began making small purchases of heroin from individuals at the organizations Ellsworth and Bond Streets location and represented that he was reselling the heroin in the county where he could double his money. Accordingly Smith was plausibly able to finance even larger purchases.
On March 16, 1982, Ricks contacted Smith and indicated he was ready to deal with Smith directly, court records relate. Over the course of three transactions that same month, Ricks, assisted by Moffat, sold Smith large amounts of heroin. These purchases were made on 50 percent credit and consequently Smith owed Ricks a substantial amount after the third purchase. Ricks was arrested on April 1, 1982 on a homicide charge unrelated to the case and was in custody the remainder of the government’s investigation. Smith subsequently paid the balance of the transaction to King and met with King, Meredith and Moffat to arrange and complete sizable additional purchases. Smith was assured by Moffat that the debt to Ricks had been satisfied because “it was 11 in the same pot.”
The feds gambit with Mike Smith worked with a large amount of marked cash as bait. Nutt bit and the feds finally had him on a buy. When the smoke cleared Baltimore City jail became the new residence for all of Nutt’s sale force. Nutt’s crew all stuck together and did not tell on each other. This was the first time a black mob did not snitch each other out especially in B-more where it’s said the city breeds snitches. “Nobody in Baltimore got him. It was the special federal prosecutors,” the oldhead says. Peanut was arrested on June 14, 1982. Court records indicate that Ricks and King, along with defendant Clarance Meredith headed a major drug operation in Baltimore, Maryland. Moffat was a lieutenant overseeing distribution of heroin from one of several street corners controlled by the organization. The case against the defendants was proved largely as a result from Otis “Mike” Smith and to a lesser extent from Delphine Robinson who were police informers. Evidence was also collected as a result of the undercover efforts of Detective Arlene Jenkins who represented herself on various occasions as a companion of Smith and as a friend of Robinson. Detective Sergeant Childs coordinated the investigation, court records says.
Smith testified that he had known many of the defendants for years, had purchased heroin from King and Meredith in 1979 and 1980 and knew Ricks to be a partner of King and Meredith. The government presented evidence that two grocery stores owned by Ricks, Meredith and King, as well as gambling trips were part of a carefully concealed money laundering scheme. Smith testified unequivocally that it was King with whom he met on numerous occasions. Officer Childs testified that he personally observed King on several occasions in meetings with Smith and was able to identify King’s voice in recorded conversations with Smith regarding heroin sales. Officer Jenkins also testified regarding her personal observations of King as one of the individuals with who Smith dealt, court records detail.
During the course of the investigations the police locked up Peanut’s mother and told him he needed to stand up and be a big man to get her released. There were also allegations by the defense of foul play and dirty cops testifying for the prosecution. Officer Marcellius Ward testified about Kings previous arrests for counterfeiting and possession of marijuana. “Officer Ward was a dirty cop.” The young hustler says. “He made the guys from The Shield look clean.” Officer Ward was murdered after the trial by another drug dealer. Prosecutors also entered into evidence the fact that lawyers had been paid a significant amount of cash over a four-year period to represent members of King’s network when those members were arrested on narcotics charges. Such proof was highly relevant, court records indicate, to the status of Ricks and King as organizers or managers of a criminal enterprise because it would show their payment of fees for underlings who were in trouble.
King’s defense was that he made a substantial amount of money gambling throughout the late 70’s and early 80’s and later invested in the two grocery stores. Ricks testimony at trial corroborated King’s contention that King was a successful gambler and at no point did Ricks link King with the narcotics transactions he acknowledged participating in as a middleman for Mike Smith. But the jury didn’t buy it. The defendants were convicted of a variety of substantive narcotics possession and distribution offenses and of engaging in a conspiracy to possess and distribute narcotics. In addition Ricks, King and Meredith were convicted of heading a continual criminal enterprise, court records indicate.
Peanut was convicted in 1983 and received 50 years in federal prison with no chance of parole because of the Rico Act and his property and businesses were seized. He also got 10 years in Maryland for all the guns seized in the investigation. Following a second trial in 1986 Peanut and his crew were again convicted after the circuit court ordered a new trial because of prejudicial error with regard to jury selection. But Nutt and his crew couldn’t get any play.
“Nutt wasn’t no violent type of person,” the Holbrook dude says. “He would forego violence to try to work stuff out. He was about his money. His Lieutenants held onto that philosophy for a minute but when he went down the bodies started dropping. The murder rate went up. The police saw that Nutt was the only thing keeping it all under control. Bodies aren’t good for business because they attract police attention and Nutt had such a long run because of the way he carried it.” And to this day Peanut’s legend still resonates.
“Whatever was going down was going down because of the King.” The young hustler says. “What showed his power was when he ran his shit from the joint. When he went down it was still the same, but they started killing people. Beating people to death with baseball bats.” In the pen Nutt’s control was less but he still made his paper. “To this day he still got millions and he still got businesses. He was involved in organized crime. The man was smart. They never got none of his money.” The oldhead says but they did end up giving him more time as Nutt’s moves caught him a case from the pen.
In 1987, four years into his ten year bid, for the state, Nutt hooked up with a Pakistani who claimed to have a connect for high grade heroin. What Nutt didn’t know was that this Pakistani was an informant for the feds. The informant set Nutt up. Trying first to get the heroin on consignment Nutt was told that only cash was acceptable. He then got in touch with two of his trusted soldiers who happened to just get out of federal prison. Spudie and Roland X. They visited Nutt in prison to set up the deal. Several months later they flew to Boston and brought back samples of the heroin. It was just like the Pakistani said, pure high grade, so Nutt instructed Spudie to search for cop money. The deal required 1.2 million cash, in installments of $250,000 a pop. Nutt got Kevin Scott, a young up and coming dealer to do the deal for them. It was set up in a Boston hotel room. Kevin, Spudie and Roland X were busted by the feds, lost the cop money and got sentenced to ten years each. Peanut for his involvement received an additional eight years on top of the 50 year federal sentence he had to serve following the ten he was serving for the state to bring his total sentence to 68 years without the possibility of parole.