Drug Sting Nets 49 but Barely Dents Dealing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sheriff deputies posing as rock cocaine dealers arrested 49 people at a Lancaster apartment house Friday night, but tenants said drug dealing began again only hours after the officers had finished their sting operation.

"It's business as usual," one tenant, who requested anonymity, said Saturday. Another tenant of the 90-unit Sandpiper Village Apartments, located on West Avenue I, said she had already seen three drug deals being made Saturday morning at the complex.

The sting operation was conducted with the help of the building's owner, Pooja Property Management, said Pooja supervisor Theresa Sage. With the owner's permission, sheriff's deputies spied on drug-dealing at the building for weeks from nearby units, she said. "That's why they knew they'd have such a success with their raid."

Pooja is trying to evict most of the tenants suspected of being involved with the drug trade, Sage said.

Still, Sage called the problem at the Sandpiper relatively minor. "Go to Blythe and Langdon Avenue--it's nothing like this," Sage said, referring to two well-known drug areas in Panorama City and Sepulveda.

But one resident said the Sandpiper has a well-deserved reputation for drug dealing. It is common to find a dozen young men loitering in the building's parking lot, buying or selling drugs, said the tenant, who has lived several years at the Sandpiper.

Tenants said cigarette lighters and pipes--the paraphernalia of rock cocaine users--are often found strewn about the Sandpiper's parking lot.

Friday's sting operation began about 6 p.m. with plainclothes deputies raiding two units where they suspected that drug traffickers operated. No one was at either apartment when deputies arrived. For the next five hours, however, deputies posed as drug dealers and arrested people who visited the units and tried to buy drugs, said Deputy George Ducoulombier.

All told, 49 people were arrested, including 39 men, six women, two teen-age boys and two teen-age girls, Ducoulombier said. Twenty-seven of the suspects were booked on suspicion of possession of cocaine and 22 on suspicion of other miscellaneous drug violations, he said.

One tenant familiar with the drug situation said the problems at the Sandpiper began to worsen at Thanksgiving. Not long before that, deputies had raided the Nova Apartments, also in Lancaster, to bust up drug dealing there and arrested nearly two dozen people.

"When they knocked over the Nova, the people came here," the tenant said. "That's what the deputies said."

Sgt. Gary Olson of the Antelope Valley sheriff's station said he received a call from one Sandpiper tenant Saturday morning congratulating the deputies for helping clean up the drug infestation.

And one suspected drug dealer was seen hurriedly moving his belongings out of the building Saturday. "He was moving so fast I thought he was going to break his leg," one tenant said. "Maybe things are too hot for him now."

All the adult suspects arrested in the raid were booked at the Antelope Valley sheriff's station and held in lieu of bail ranging from $500 to $2,500. The four teen-agers were released to the custody of their parents.

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