NEW YORK -- Sporting dark sunglasses and 'street clothes' disguises, a U.S. senator, federal prosecutor and parole commissioner drove to upper Manhattan Wednesday searching for 'crack' and returned with vials of the drug and criticism for the justice system.
'Crack' dealers have long arrest records but serve little time in prison, said Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., shifting uncomfortably in his Army surplus jacket. 'They are making a mockery of the system.'
'We need emergency action,' said U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani, giving a tug on his black leather vest emblazoned with the Hell's Angels symbol.
'The problem is much, much, much greater than I ever imagined,' said U.S. Parole Commission Chairman Benjamin Baer standing stiffly in his white painter's outfit.
The three, riding in separate undercover Drug Enforcement Administration cars and accompanied by young female narcotics agents, went to upper Manhattan where they discovered how easy it is to buy 'crack,' a potent and addictive form of cocaine.
Even early on a rainy afternoon, they found scores of dealers hawking 'crack' along the streets of Washington Heights.
D'Amato said the agent he was with merely held up two fingers and a dealer then disappeared into a building and emerged with two vials of the drug. The Senator rolled down his window and slipped a $20 bill into the dealer's palm. In eight seconds the Long Island Republican had made his purchase.
Giuliani said his agent asked another dealer in Spanish for two vials. But his sale took a little longer because the man, who had gone into a building, stayed off the street until a uniformed police officer patrolling the area turned his back.
As soon as the officer walked away, the dealer emerged and quickly made the $20 sale to the sober-faced prosecutor hiding behind dark sunglasses.
Baer, who was in a car with Massachusetts license plates, had to bargain with his dealer who wanted to charge him the out-of-towners rate - $40 for two vials. But Baer said he bargained the man down to $15 a vial.
About 30 heavily armed drug enforcement agents and undercover police officers stood ready to move in if the expedition took a violent turn, but the trip to the area around 160th Street and Amsterdam Avenue was uneventful and the three undercover addicts returned to Drug Enforcement Administration offices to tell of their exploits.
New York City police made 56,000 narcotics arrests last year, but only 5,000 of those arrested spent more than one night in jail, the senator said.
Under current law, a drug dealer has to be arrested with a kilo of cocaine or 15,000 doses of 'crack' before he can be sentenced to the maximum 20 years in prison for first offenders or 40 years for repeat offenders, he said.
Under a bill proposed by D'Amato, the maximum penalty would be imposed on those caught with 100 grams of powdered cocaine or one gram - about 20 doses -- of 'crack.'
He also called for mandatory prison terms without parole for 'crack' dealers.