A family network of brothers, sons and a few close friends controlled the neighborhood drug trade in Enderly Park for years, police say.
Before he was promoted to Charlotte-Mecklenburg police lieutenant, Blake Hollar and fellow officers in the Metro division often responded to complaints of drug activity in houses along the tree-lined intersection of Rogers Street and Karendale Avenue, a block off Tuckaseegee Road two miles northwest of uptown.
As police grew familiar with the area, they came to suspect that a loose association of relatives and friends was selling crack and marijuana from several homes along the streets. They used a brick house on the corner 1222 Karendale Ave. as a headquarters of sorts, Hollar said.
After years of watching the drug activity worsen and neighborhood crime rise, Hollar launched a six-month undercover drug investigation with federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
On Friday morning, police and DEA agents raided several homes and arrested nine men on federal drug conspiracy charges.
This was one of the areas big problems, Hollar said Friday afternoon. It was one I knew we really needed to address.
Police say Enderly Park has long been plagued by drug and violent crime.
Last August, the homicide of a 13-year-old boy especially shook the neighborhood. The grandmother of the 16-year-old charged in his death blames what happened, at least in part, on the troubled streets where the boys grew up.
Neighbors along Rogers Street and Karendale Avenue said theyve witnessed frequent drug deals in their neighborhood. Most who talked to a reporter didnt want their names used.
A 49-year-old woman who lives next to 1222 Karendale Ave. said people often loiter in the streets, waiting to buy drugs or partying on weekend nights.
Sometimes, she said, she cant drive down Rogers Street because of the large groups of people gathered.
Another woman who lives across Karendale Avenue said she wont let her 2-year-old granddaughter play in areas where people are selling drugs.
Hollar, the police lieutenant, said crime has risen in Enderly Park over the past year, noting an increase in robberies in particular. Not all of the crime can be connected to the drug trafficking on Rogers Street and Karendale Avenue, he said, but some of it is.
One of the houses raided Friday morning was the scene of a home-invasion robbery in early November, Hollar said. The suspect knew that drugs were being sold out of the house at 3411 Rogers St., he said, and he tried to rob the traffickers.
Arrested on the drug conspiracy charges Friday: Theodore Falls, 38, Maurice Crawford, 32, Derrick Lowery, 31, Derrick Owens, 35, Aaron Ligon, 48, Mario Wilson, 23, Cadaryl Drayton, 25, Curtis Smith, 36, and Lavar Rodgers, 31. Hollar said most of the men are related and a few are close family friends. Another man named in the indictment, 30-year-old Nathaniel Washington of Charlotte, has not yet been arrested, authorities said.
Police also arrested 70-year-old Mary Falls on charges of maintaining drug-involved premises. Falls owns the house at 1222 Karendale Ave., Hollar said. She was the mother and grandmother of some of those arrested, according to her daughter, Cassandra Ligon.
Ligon, 53, lives across the street from Falls. She was helping her 16-year-old daughter get ready for school when police raided her home and the houses of her relatives.
Her main concern, Ligon said, is getting her mother out of jail. She aint never been in no trouble, and for grown men to put her in this position isnt right.
Falls home has a well-kept yard, trimmed bushes and a couple cactus gardens.
Discarded black rubber gloves lay in the yard Friday afternoon, and neighbors milled around the street corner.
I dont take up for my sons and brothers, Cassandra Ligon said. I try to keep separate, look out for my mom without being in the mix.
A records search revealed Falls had no prior criminal charges. Neither did Curtis Smith or Ligons son Maurice Crawford, but the others have all had run-ins with the law before. Derrick Owens served time in prison in 2004 on drug possession charges, in 1994 for larceny and in 1995 for assault with a deadly weapon. Aaron Ligon was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1991 for selling drugs, Mecklenburg County records show.
Cadaryl Drayton was found guilty of felony possession of cocaine in 2009 but was given probation, and Lavar Rodgers was found guilty on drug possession charges and given probation in 2002.
Mario Wilson, Derrick Lowery and Nathaniel Washington have all served time in prison; Wilson is awaiting trial on several other drug charges stemming from a Nov. 16 incident.
All of the men face a minimum prison term of five years and a maximum 40 years plus a $5 million fine if convicted on federal drug conspiracy charges.
Mary Falls faces a maximum prison term of 20 years and a $500,000 fine.
We had been putting one or two of them in jail here and there, but that didnt cause the problem to go away, Hollar said.
By going the route this investigation took, we were able to take down the whole operation. Observer researcher Maria David contributed.