EAST CLEVELAND — High-profile community activist Art McKoy was arrested Wednesday and is accused of running a major drug-distribution operation from his East Cleveland barbershop.
Police confiscated a pound of powder cocaine after searching the Superfly barbershop on Euclid Avenue and a Cleveland home on Brackland Avenue.
Officers also arrested Leroy Sheets and Earl Nash, whose ages and addresses were not available. None of the three men was charged with crimes.
In addition to powder cocaine, officers bought crack cocaine and heroin in the shop, Mayor Eric Brewer said. The investigation began in February. Police made numerous drug purchases in the barbershop, Police Chief Ralph Spotts said.
Police declined to say whether McKoy personally sold any of the drugs or was present when the drugs were sold. Spotts said drugs should be harder to find in East Cleveland.
"This was a major drug-distribution operation inside the city that supplied a number of on-the-street drug dealers," Spotts said in a news release. "This will help dry up some of the city's problem areas and send a very strong message to the drug dealers."
McKoy, 64, who for decades has been the vocal leader of Black-On-Black Crime Inc., leads protests against gangs, drugs and crimes across Greater Cleveland. He often criticizes police officers and injustice in the court system.
His supporters and daughter don't believe the accusations and say McKoy is a target because of his work in the community.
"I know Art doesn't have anything to do with this," said Judy Martin, the crime group's treasurer. "There are too many people coming in and out of a barbershop for him to know what they all have."
Mary McKoy, 21, said her father doesn't spend much time at the shop and rents the chairs to the other barbers. She accused East Cleveland officials of arresting her father because they need to show that they are cleaning up the city and seek media attention.
"What other person do you target that is bigger than Art McKoy?" she said. "That sends a huge message. It is not true."
Brewer scoffed, then laughed. He acknowledged that it is ironic for police to seize a large amount of cocaine from a well-known activist.
"It shows hypocrisy," Brewer said. "He will have his day in court."
He said people want criminals off the streets in the city, regardless of their standing in the community. Brewer is not surprised that McKoy's supporters are accusing the city of targeting him for his public crusading. "This is their motive," Brewer said. "There has been suffering in this community that is tied to his barbershop."
McKoy formed his crime group in the early 1970s. Its original focus was preventing crimes committed by blacks against blacks, but over the years the focus expanded beyond race.
Members have protested in all of Cleveland neighborhoods and many suburbs when young people of any race have been killed and when anyone has died at the hands of police.
McKoy knows injustice firsthand.
In a scandal that received national attention in the early 1990s, local postal inspectors admitted charging 30 innocent people, all postal workers except for McKoy, with drug trafficking. The inspectors claimed informers misled them.
McKoy was nearly convicted and thought he would be sent to prison along with the innocent postal workers, but his case broke open the scam. Prosecutors listened to purported recordings of McKoy dealing drugs and realized the voice was not his.
Years later, though, he did go to prison.
In 1998, McKoy and two other members of the crime group were convicted of grand theft after the city of Cleveland mistakenly deposited $617,000 in the organization's bank account. The two members spent most of the money on luxury items. Evidence presented at trial showed McKoy spent none of the money, but he was convicted because he was the leader of the organization that took the cash.
McKoy also has dealt with personal tragedy. In 2006, his 36-year-old daughter, Denise McKoy, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. She had battled depression and had mentioned suicide before her death.
McKoy hosts a weekly talk-radio show aimed at combating crime. It airs Sunday nights on WTAM AM/1100.