Sunday, January 31, 2010
Tattooed across Tony Lewis's right biceps is a teenager's declaration of loyalty: "Like Father Like Son."
Father and son share the same rounded face, stocky 5-foot-7 frame and a name recognized instantly on some of the toughest streets in the District. Whereas the older Lewis is serving a life sentence in a federal penitentiary in Maryland, the younger one works for the federal government, helping people with criminal records find jobs.
Two men with one name grew up on the same block, but what "Tony Lewis" meant on Hanover Place NW during the peak of Washington's 1980s drug wars and what that name means now are two very different stories.
In 1989, Hanover Place, a one-block dead end just off North Capitol Street, was an open-air drug market. The sidewalks teemed with people looking to buy crack. "Little Tony" Lewis, then 8, and other neighborhood children made playhouses of the vacant buildings and served as lookouts, running through the streets shouting, "O-ler-ray," when they saw the police coming. Lewis still doesn't know what that word means -- it's pig Latin for "roller," which is street slang for the police cruisers that came rolling through the drug markets -- only that there was no shame in yelling it back then.
A common joke in those days, he recalls, referred to the view from the corner, a glimpse of a gleaming white dome: In the Capitol, they make the laws. Here on Hanover, we break them.
One of the main people breaking them was Lewis's father.
The older Tony Lewis was a legend on Hanover Place and beyond. He was the partner of the District's most notorious drug dealer, Rayful Edmond III, whom authorities described as the city's largest cocaine importer, bringing in millions of dollars of Colombian cocaine each week from Los Angeles.
On poverty-ridden streets where even a battered car was a luxury, Lewis and Edmond drove BMWs, Porsches and Jaguars. They wore designer watches, flashed gold-inlaid hubcaps and traveled on a whim to Vegas, New York and Atlantic City. Money coursed down Hanover, and it was no secret who was behind it.
The name Tony Lewis in those days inspired both fear and a perverse form of respect. Lewis gave money to needy families and took kids on field trips to Six Flags or Atlantic City, but he wouldn't take along children who dealt drugs. Yet he wasn't careful to hide what he did. At his trial, a witness testified that she saw $3 million in cash strewn around Lewis's house.
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The boy known as "Little Tony" remembers being escorted into a Virginia jail cell, where he saw his father, seated and crying. It was 1990, and he had never before seen his father cry. He's never seen him cry since.