Members of a brazen Brooklyn crack gang raked in more than $500,000 in taxpayer money by repeatedly suing the city for civil rights violations, records show.
Accused drug dealers from the East 21st St. Crew and associates sued the city more than 20 times - and the city settled every time, even though many of the same people sued again and again.
The reason: The city's policy of aggressively settling cases rather than risk a big judgment after a costly trial.
Law enforcement officials are outraged at the repercussions.
"They [the reputed drug dealers] are raising hell in the community and collecting judgments on top of it," one police source said. "They were emboldened; taunting cops."
Authorities say the gang ran a street-level crack operation that wreaked havoc on an East Flatbush neighborhood before being busted last month.
Investigators say they have gang members on tape making more than 100 sales to undercover cops in two years.
"This was a very violent crack crew," city Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan said. "A real thorn in the side of the community."
Incredibly, court records show the gang pulled in much better money from suing the city in Brooklyn Federal Court, claiming cops violated their civil rights.
# One crew member, Shamel King, got $117,500 from the city, in six separate claims, including one for $35,000 and three for $20,000 each. King, charged with 37 sales, was caught on video smiling as he counted out crack rocks, a law enforcement source said.
# A main target of the East 21st St. Crew, Anthony Lawrence, was shot multiple times and wounded Aug. 31 in his apartment, apparently by gunmen who went to rob him of his latest settlement check from the city - for $17,500, law enforcement sources said. Lawrence collected $40,000 in settlements. He was indicted on 11 counts of drug selling.
# Another reputed crew member, Affection Johnson, got three settlements totaling $41,500. Johnson was indicted on 39 counts.
"It's crazy," said Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association. "How could this happen more than once?"
Law Department spokeswoman Connie Pankratz said, "Within the last 10 years, there has been a significant increase in the number of cases that we've settled."
She said the city is sued 200 times a week, and that claims against the police have increased.
As of July 1, the city has paid out $637.7 million in judgments and settlements this year.
The department "is responsible for protecting the city's [fiscal situation]," she said. "Although we are often successful at trial, it can be more expensive to defend a case than to settle it."
She said that since the indictment, these cases were being reviewed "at the highest levels" of the department.
Asked if the agency would make any changes to prevent such an egregious playing of the system, she said, "We would like to prevent this, but each case has to be weighed."
Asked if city lawyers checked into King's background after the first three suits, Pankratz said they believed it was more responsible to settle than go to trial.
In the suits, some of which date back several years, the accused dealers claimed that cops - most of them assigned to Brooklyn South Narcotics - fabricated cases, conducted illegal strip searches, falsely arrested them and harassed them while they were merely walking down the street.
They sued after their arrests were dropped or adjourned contemplating dismissal.
The majority of the suits were handled by lawyer Richard Cardinale, who was successful in a class-action suit against the city for illegal strip searches at Rikers Island, and in cases against Brooklyn South Narcotics cops.
He said the clients paid him one-third of their settlements as his fee.
"The cases that I brought, those individuals were innocent of those charges," Cardinale said. "The district attorney had dismissed the cases."
He suggested the recent indictment was retaliation.
"I spoke to some of the families, and they said the officers who arrested them made comments like, 'You like to bring stupid lawsuits?'"
The dozen accused members of the East 21st St. Crew were indicted in September. Eight were arrested; four already were in jail.
Undercovers made dozens of crack purchases in and around the Ditmas Arms on E. 21st St., where King and Lawrence live.
Brennan said the gang made 171 sales to undercovers totaling $10,460, many from inside Star USA, a 99 cent store at Flatbush and Ditmas Aves.
Cops started focusing on drug-dealing in the area after community complaints and shootings in the vicinity linked to feuding gangs.
One shooting, still unsolved, took place on July 30, 2007, outside 501 E. 21st St. near Dorchester Road. Gunmen killed Robert Dixon - who had a criminal record for marijuana possession and assault - in a hail of bullets. Two women who were walking by were wounded.
Click to view image: 'King, Lawrence'
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