James "Wall" Corley -- a reputed Southeast Queens gang leader and accused drug trafficker -- was arrested after a 15-month NYPD investigation that officials say ended the operation of two notorious drug gangs, one of which was connected to the 1988 execution of Officer Eddie Byrne.
Corley was a drug trafficker "enforcer who cemented his reputation with fear," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said at a news conference Thursday announcing the arrest of 26 men and women accused of working in Corley's drug enterprise as suppliers or dealers. Another 19 people arrested were alleged customers. The arrests occurred within the past week and earlier this year.
Corley was once associated with the "Queens Supreme Team," a drug gang that raised havoc in Jamaica, Queens, at the height of the city's 1980s crack epidemic, officials said. The gang was associated with the shooting death of NYPD Officer Byrne, who was guarding the home of a drug case witness in Jamaica.
Corley, 51, served jail time in the 1980s on drug charges. He also served 6 years, beginning in 1996, for manslaughter.
He beat a man to death by kicking him and hitting him with his fists, police said. In 2002, when Corley was released from prison, he resumed his drug career and ultimately grossed more than $15,000 per week packing and selling cocaine and heroin "bricks," which were primarily sold in the South Jamaica Houses, the Baisley Houses, Rochdale Village, and other public housing neighborhoods across Jamaica, according to police.
Queens Gang Division detectives seized cocaine, heroin and about $70,000. Also seized were four handguns and an Intratec 9 mm submachine gun, officials said.
Corley was charged with second-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance. He faces up to 15 years in prison. The drug charges against the 44 other people arrested are punishable by up to 20 years, said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
Last year, the Queens Gang Division started its investigation of Corley's gang after the arrest of a man who was seeking revenge because his relative had been killed in Corley's drug territory, police said.
By then, Corley's drug operation was in full swing, said Det. David Leonardi of the Queens Gang Division, which executed 14 search warrants that included eavesdropping warrants.
Corley "was living well," Leonardi said. "His wife was walking around with designer handbags" and living in private housing in Rochdale Village.
Capt. James Ryan, commanding officer of the Queens Gang Division, said Corley was able to elude police by having others drive him to drug drops and changing his cellphone as many as eight times a day.