An alleged member of the Heath Street gang, whom the feds say ran a "successful" coke and heroin ring in and around the Mildred Hailey Apartments in Jamaica Plain, was arrested yesterday on federal charges he sold drugs in stairwells in the development.
Michael Pridgen, who grew up at the then Bromley-Heath but who currently lives in Westborough, was formally charged with distribution and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances and distribution and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances in a public housing development, the US Attorney's office in Boston reports.
According to an affidavit by an FBI agent who oversaw an investigation into his alleged activities, Pridgen had more than just privacy in mind when arranging cocaine in the stairwells of at least two buildings in the development: He used an electrical box in one of the stairwells to store cocaine, a digital scale to measure it with during sales and plastic bags in which to package up the drugs for customers.
The affidavit suggests additional arrests could be possible - it discusses an investigation that began in April of Pridgen and others, and said Pridgen "heads a successful drug trafficking organization, in which he employs Heath Street gang members to facilitate the distribution of cocaine, cocaine base, heroin and fentanyl and to oversee the collection of drug proceeds."
The affidavit says that Pridgen was both willing to bargain but also suspicious of customers, such as the local drug user who agreed to buy drugs from Pridgen twice. In arranging the first purchase, on the afternoon of June 5, the affidavit states, Pridgen offered to sell the man an "8-ball" - or 3.5 grams of crack - for $175, but when the man asked if he could get it for $160, Pridgen agreed, and they consummated the deal by a brown electrical box in a stairwell at 287 Centre St. When the man left and met with his FBI handlers, though, they measured the crack at just 3.2 grams.
On July 2, the local user arranged another purchase, this time for a "Z" - an entire ounce of crack that he agreed to pay $1,300 for. Pridgen and the user met in a stairwell at 295 Centre. But given the disparity in the sizes of the two purchases, the affidavit states, Pridgen was suspicious. "Where'd you get this money from?" he allegedly asked "Are you working for the police?"
Pridgen then measured out the drugs - and gave the user some money back because the amount was not a full ounce.
The user then left, but didn't go straight to his designated meeting place with his handlers, instead stopping in a nearby convenience store, where he bought something to drink. The user later explained he thought he was being followed by Pridgen's associates and so stopped into the store to try to throw them off the trail.
If convicted, Pridgen faces up to 20 years in prison on the general drug count and up to 40 years on the count of distributing drugs in a housing development, the US Attorney's office reports.
To determine a sentence, federal judges use a sentencing formula that takes into account past convictions, so Pridgen might not get off easy. In 2006, he was sentenced to 7 years in federal prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm after a 2004 incident outside Roxbury District Court in which somebody started shooting a gun.
In a sentencing memorandum in that case, his attorney at the time argued for leniency because Pridgen, then 22, was a troubled youth - who not only grew up in the crime-ridden Bromley-Heath and had a father who was rarely home, but came home one day to find his mother dead from an undiagnosed brain tumor. Sentenced to a stay with DYS after a shoplifting conviction at 16, he failed to get any real help.
And then, a year before his mother's death, he was diagnosed with ameloblastoma, a disease in which large, but non-malignant tumors grow all over. He had to have a large tumor removed from his jaw, which required replacing part of his jaw with a metal plate and having his jaw wired shut for several months. And that wasn't all:
Taking into account Mr. Pridgen’s personal circumstances, where in the course of a few years he experienced the death of his grandmother, a close friend, and two cousins, and then the death of his mother, Mr. Pridgen’s inability at the time of the incident to maintain a stable job and focus on his future is understandable.