By George Anastasia
They called it "pumping the block" or "getting the block jumping."
It was the underworld equivalent of a retail "loss leader." The idea was to give something away for free in order to attract customers.
In this case, the product was drugs -- cocaine, marijuana and a methamphetamine concoction known as "wet."
Lamont Lewis had taken over a corner at 8th and Venango Streets in North Philadelphia, government witness Eugene Coleman said from the witness stand, and the kingpin he worked for, Kaboni Savage, decided they had to do something to "get the block jumping."
"We did this to let people know there was drugs on that corner," said Coleman, who took the stand this morning in the racketeering-murder trial of Savage and three co-defendants.
Coleman was a key Savage associate through most of the 1990s before pleading guilty to drug trafficking charges and agreeing to testify for the government. Prosecutors contend that Savage ordered the October 2004 firebombing of Coleman's mother's home on North Sixth Street in retaliation.
Coleman's mother, his infant son and four other family members, a woman and three children, were killed in the early morning blaze. The fire is considered one of the most despicable examples of witness intimidation in a Philadelphia underworld where violence against witnesses and their families is a common occurrence.
Soft-spoken with his head neatly shaved, the heavyset Coleman spent nearly five hours on the stand today detailing his life in the underworld and offering the jury an inside look at the way business is conducted. He was not asked about the fire, but that is expected to be a key area of testimony when the trial resumes tomorrow.
Instead, he spent most of the day discussing how he worked for and with Savage. He talked of murders that he said Savage had ordered and of the cheating, lying and stealing that were every day occurrences.
"That's the game," he said Savage told him after another associate had been robbed of a shipment of cocaine and Coleman suspected that Savage was behind it.
"That's a done deal," he said Savage told him when they were discussing someone who had been marked for death and would soon be killed.
Savage, 38, is already serving a 30-year sentence for a drug trafficking conviction in 2005. Coleman was one of the witnesses against him in that case. While Coleman's family had been killed prior to the start of that trial, the homicides were not part of that case.
They are, however, central to the current case against Savage and his three co-defendants. In all, the case includes 12 homicides. Seven have been tied to witness intimidation. All were part of what the government alleges were Savage's violent reign of terror while controlling a multi-million dollar cocaine distribution network in North Philadelphia.
Coleman said he became a close member of Savage's "drug family," and spent hours each day at Savage's home on North Darien Street. He said in early 2000 when Savage was under house arrest, he not only did his bidding in the drug underworld, but also ran errands and did favors for Savage's mother and his sister Kidada.
Kidada, a co-defendant in the case, is charged with helping relay her brothers orders to firebomb the Coleman home.
"I would come to his house every morning," Coleman said. "Drive his mother where she needed to go...run errands. Sit and talk with him."
Later, when Savage was allowed to leave the home but was under a court-imposed curfew, Coleman said he was frequently his driver, taking him to the gym and around the neighborhood.
Coleman also said that Savage had "been to my mother's home on Sixth Street, met my mother and other members of my family." While he didn't mention the firebombing, Coleman appeared to pause and compose himself as he spoke of his family.
Returning to the business of the underworld, Coleman said he was assigned by Savage to help Lamont Lewis get the block at 8th and Venango Streets "jumping." He said Lewis, who was known as "Poppy," worked the corner and a bar called Big Faces that was located there.
"Kaboni told Lewis that to get the block jumping you have to give away $200 or $300 worth of drugs free one day...so that people would know there were drugs on the corner," Coleman said.
Coleman said that on Savage's orders he helped Lewis get started and coordinated the free drug giveaway. While working with Lewis, he said, he met Lewis' cousin, Robert Merritt.
Lewis and Merritt have been accused to carrying out the firebombing in which Coleman's family was killed. Merritt is a co-defendant in the case.
Lewis has pleaded guilty and is expected to testify for the prosecution later in the trial.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.