Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Imam's Clout

By Ralph Cipriano

On a 13-year-old FBI surveillance tape, a cocaine dealer named Bubby is overheard lamenting how he could have saved the life of a fellow drug dealer known as Shafiq.

If only he had brought Shafiq and his rival known as Bree to the Sister Clara Muhammad School, the late Gerald "Bubby" Thomas says on the tape, recorded in Oct.  6, 2000, it could have all been worked out. We could have saved Shafiq.

On Aug. 2, 200 Kareem Bluntlly, AKA "Bree," shot and killed Mansur Abdullah, AKA "Shafiq," while he was sitting in his Mercedes-Benz. In federal court today, former drug dealer and now cooperating witness Craig Oliver talked with regret about his best friend Shafiq didn't listen when Oliver warned him to stay away from Bree.

"Did you know that Shamsud-din Ali referred street disputes involving drug dealers?" defense attorney Christian Hoey asked Oliver.

"No," Oliver said; he wasn't into the Muslim thing.

But Bubby Thomas was, and so was Shafiq. They were both members of the Philadelphia Masjid mosque, where Shamsud-din Ali was the imam who also ran the Sister Clara Muhammad School. Ali, once known as Clarence Fowler, was a former Black Mafia hit man so well-respected that he could settle turf battles among drug dealers without violence.

Oliver, now 43, told the jury in the Kaboni Savage case about how he moved some 50 kilos of cocaine on behalf Savage between 1999 to 2003. Savage and three co-defendants are on trial for a dozen murders, including seven tied to witness intimidation.

Oliver told the jury how he got out of jail in 2007, after serving a four-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, money laundering, and attempting to purchase more than five kilos of cocaine. For the past four years, he has been working in construction, Oliver said.

The prosecutor outlined the life Oliver formerly led, where the drug dealer owned or rented 10 houses, kept piles of cash and a fleet of cars that included Escalades, Mercedes and a Hummer.

Oliver's downfall came when he attempted to buy 50 kilos of cocaine in 2003 from a guy who turned out to be an undercover operative from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Before he was busted, Oliver put up $185,000 and $350,000 in assets to buy the coke, including a 2003 Hummer worth about $600,000, a custom-built Harley-Davidson motorcycle worth $100,000 and diamond bracelets, chains and a watch worth $180,000.

On the witness stand, Oliver described a falling-out with his boss, Kaboni Savage, after Oliver bought one kilo of cocaine from Savage for $27,000. When he got the cocaine home, Oliver discovered it had turned brown from moisture, and looked like it had been tampered with.

"The kilo was real wet and pasty," Oliver said. "If the cocaine's pretty," Oliver testified, it should look like "diamonds and pearls."

On another secretly-recorded tape, Oliver complained about Savage to Bubby Thomas: "Man, every time that mother-fucker gets 20 [kilos] I get one," he said.

The prosecutor entered into evidence letters that Kaboni Savage mailed to Oliver after he got busted for trying to buy coke from a DEA operative, and wound up in jail.

Savage wrote Oliver that he was sick about his arrest, and wanted to know who set him up. "I didn't forget I owe you," he wrote.

"I had loaned him $22,000 for a motorcycle," Oliver explained to the jury.

In his letters to Oliver, Savage asked him to "get my man for me; you know who." The guy Savage was referring to was "my little fat homey," another drug dealer known as Twin who might be talking to the feds.

Later, Savage became worried that Oliver was turning on him. One day, while he was in prison, Oliver testified, other inmates told him "Kaboni wanted to talk to me" by sending a message through the prison toilets.

There's been plenty of testimony during the Savage trial about inmates using toilets to send messages to each other. How this was done has not been explained, but inmates previously have turned their toilets into telephones by yelling through the toilet traps.

But when Oliver went into the bathroom, he found he was the victim of a bait and switch; it wasn't Kaboni on the bowl, it was Dawud Bey, another drug dealer.

"What's up," Bey wanted to know. "You cool?"

Bey told Oliver he heard a rumor that Oliver might be cooperating.

Then Bey warned Oliver, "My girlfriend knows where your people's at."

Oliver took that as a threat and teed off on Bey: "I know where your girlfriend's at," he told the jury he responded.

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