Clarence Heatley and his "Preacher" gang extorted, kidnapped, and even killed to gain notoriety on the Bronx and Harlem streets.
Who Is Clarence Heatley?
Clarence Heatley and his "Preacher Crew" sold drugs, extorted, kidnapped, and even killed to gain notoriety on the streets of New York City's Bronx and Harlem. Heatley's top lieutenant was John Cuff, a former housing cop. The New York Police Department and the FBI formed a task force in the early 1990s to take down the Preacher Crew. Heatley and Cuff both agreed to plead guilty in order to avoid the death penalty. Heatley is currently incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Talladega, Florida.
Early Life and Criminal Activity
Little is known of the early years of Heatley, who was born in the early 1950s and raised in the Harlem section of northern Manhattan in New York City.
Said to have dropped out of school by the fourth grade, Heatley learned to handle himself on the rough streets of his neighborhood. He became increasingly involved in criminal activity, leading to a string of convictions in the 1970s for possession of firearms and robberies.
Crimes With the 'Preacher Crew'
Heatley, also known as "The Preacher" and "The Black Hand of Death," and his "Preacher Crew" sold cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, PCP, and other drugs, extorted, kidnapped, and even murdered to gain notoriety on the streets of New York City's Bronx and Harlem.
Heatley's top lieutenant was John Cuff, a former housing cop. His team included "janitors," whose job it was to clean up the mess left by the Preacher Crew's tortured and murdered victims. According to authorities, the drug ring operated out of Bronx apartment buildings. Several media outlets reported that the Preacher Crew once kidnapped singer Bobby Brown â€” ex-husband of late pop singer Whitney Houston â€” and held him for ransom over a drug debt.
Arrest, Conviction and Sentencing
By the early 1990s, the New York Police Department and the FBI had formed a task force to take down the Preacher Crew, which had allegedly been involved in nearly 45 homicides by this point. Soon after, Heatley and Cuff agreed to plea bargains in order to avoid the death penalty.
Heatley, 47, pleaded guilty to racketeering and murder conspiracy in connection with 13 drug-related homicides as part of a plea bargain in February 1999 and was sentenced to life in prison. According to The New York Times, one of Heatley's attorneys, Joel S. Cohen, stated, "There didn't seem to be any upside to going to trial if we could be certain that he would avoid execution by pleading guilty." Cohen went on to say that Heatley wanted to spare his family "from having to witness his execution, and he also wanted to try to be a positive presence in his children's lives."
Heatley admitted to authorities during his plea bargain that he made a significant income from his drug dealing, which primarily involved the sale of cocaine and crack cocaine from 1990 to 1996. Heatley is currently incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Talladega, Alabama.
Family and Son
Heatley's criminal enterprise was also dubbed "The Family," owing to the involvement of his son, daughter, and girlfriend.
In a 1997 prison interview recorded for the documentary The Son of Preacher: The Black Hand That Ruled Harlem, his son Shaka, who also cooperated with authorities, provided an inside account of the organization's methodology.