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81-year-old woman among 27 arrested in drug raids

BAYOU LA BATRE (AP) — An 81-year-old woman was among 27 accused crack cocaine dealers arrested in raids throughout south Mobile County early Thursday.

Joined by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, the U.S. Marshals Service, undercover officers from the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and the Mobile County Sheriff's Office, Bayou La Batre police targeted 54 people.

Margie Steiner's modest home on Mallette Street was the site of one of the busts. Bayou La Batre Police Chief John Joyner said police received information from an informant about five or six weeks ago that the 81-year-old grandmother was dealing drugs, the Mobile Press-Register reported. Capt. Darryl Wilson, head of the Bayou La Batre Police Department criminal investigation division, said Steiner was secretly videotaped selling crack cocaine Tuesday night, two days before the raid.

Joyner said that same day undercover officers also purchased crack at the home from Steiner's 39-year-old daughter, Rhonda Tate, and a friend of Tate's, 30-year-old Hue Van Tran. All three were charged with distribution of crack cocaine. Besides the 27 people apprehended Thursday, Joyner said 10 others already were in custody for other violations.

"That's pretty decent. It's more than I was expecting, to tell the truth," he said.

The arrests included seven of 12 people indicted by a federal grand jury on crack conspiracy charges. Two others under federal indictment already were in state custody on unrelated charges.

Most of the 12 operated in a roughly 11/2-block area on Alba Street in Bayou La Batre, near Alba Middle School, police said.

"I think it's great. I think this will send a message that we're not going to tolerate this," Bayou La Batre Mayor Stan Wright said.

According to the Press-Register, Joyner said Steiner's arrest was ironic — she has no criminal record and has filed many complaints about illegal drugs over the years.

Joyner said Steiner has long owned many of the falling-down, wooden shotgun houses that surround hers and rents them out for $300 a month. Her complaints about drugs often targeted her tenants, he said.

Joyner said he didn't know whether Steiner just started selling crack or if the complaints were a ruse to fool police.

"If she was doing it all along, she was good," he said. "Because we're usually on top of it."

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Information from: Press-Register, www.al.com/mobileregister

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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