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53 Charged in NYC Open-Air Drug Market

needle and pile of drugs (heroin)
Federal prosecutors charged 53 people on Wednesday with running open-air drug markets at two housing projects near Yankee Stadium.

Among the drugs for sale: Heroin with the brand name "American Gangster" - an apparent reference to the 2007 film starring Denzel Washington as a Harlem drug lord.

Early morning raids on Wednesday resulted in 37 arrests and seizure of cash, guns and stockpiles of heroin and crack cocaine. The takedown followed a yearlong investigation of violent drug crews by the New York Police Department, Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"As grounds crews were preparing Yankee Stadium for Game Six of the World Series, (federal agents and police officers) were doing their own house cleaning, so to speak," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at a news conference.

The other defendants were either already in custody or still at large, authorities said.

Authorities began the investigation after seeing a spike in shootings - at least six fatal - in and around the Melrose Houses and the adjacent Jackson Houses in the South Bronx. About 5,000 people live in the projects about seven blocks east of Yankee Stadium.

During the probe, undercover officers made dozens of purchases on the street of crack and heroin, authorities said. The heroin came in $10 bags stamped with brand names including "Magic" and "Poison."

If convicted of conspiracy to distribute drugs, several of the defendants would face a maximum term of life in prison.