Kingpin: 'I broke the code'
On the stand four days, Camden drug lord Raymond Morales ratted on major players. He did good business, he said. His regret: Testifying.
By Troy Graham
Inquirer Staff Writer
In the last 15 years, perhaps no one has contributed more to the misery of drugs and violence on Camden's streets than Raymond Morales.
A former cocaine wholesale and retail kingpin, Morales secretly pleaded guilty in federal court in 2005 and helped investigators dismantle his organization and target his old customers.
For four days, Morales recently sat on the witness stand for the first time, testifying against three men with whom he did business, and giving a remarkably frank and chilling description of his long reign at the top of the drug world.
Morales' business ties to some of Camden's most notorious crime figures stretch back to the early 1990s, when he said he used the menacing Sons of Malcolm X street gang as muscle. Gang members eagerly provided their help so they could have more access to his wholesale cocaine, he said.
The Sons controlled vast swaths of the North Camden drug trade for more than a decade and were best known for the 1992 "test night" shootings, in which gang members had to show their loyalty by killing random civilians. A former member, convicted as a juvenile in one of the test night shootings, is scheduled to testify this week.
Years later, a competitor tried to contract a hit on Morales with Leonard "Pooh" Paulk. Paulk, described as another of the city's largest wholesalers, warned Morales instead.
Paulk is the stepfather of Camden basketball legend Dajuan Wagner, who played three years for the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers. Paulk was given a life sentence on drug conspiracy charges in federal court in 2005.
Morales's testimony also was remarkable for the way he described his business, dealing with many of the same issues as legitimate executives and applying many of the same economic theories.
For one, he offered a money-back guarantee on the quality of his drugs. And he griped from the stand about expenses cutting into his profit - though his expenses included paying bail bondsmen and lawyers and the toll of stick-up artists.
The wild card, of course, was the violence. Morales once had a drug dealer killed for representing his own, inferior cocaine as having come from Morales' supply.
"Nothing's normal in the drug trade," he said. "Every day's different."
Morales was wildly successful. Investigators said his business grew so large and was able to buy so much cocaine at once, that he drove out his competitors - a strategy not unlike Wal-Mart's.
At his height, Morales said, he was moving 70 kilos a month from his connection with a group of "Arizona Mexicans."
His drug-corner "manager," Dennis Rodriguez, testified in this same trial that they pioneered the sale of $5 bags of crack rather than the corner standard $10 bags. Addicts, he said, often showed up with $8 or $9 and haggled.
The $5 bags were a sensation.
"We were selling more coke than ever. Customers were coming out of everywhere," Rodriguez testified. "We were number one."