Back when crack was king, the Parson gang brought in $200,000 a week. Everybody knew them, nobody could touch them.
At least for a while.
From about 1985 they operated out of Sullivan Park at the corner of 30th Court and Windsor Avenue in West Palm Beach. They would eventually expand the family business to Tallahassee, where a $20,000 kilo of Colombian powder would sell as crack on the streets for more than $50,000.
"We know for a fact, on one block over a 24-hour period, they were doing $1,000 an hour," said Kevin Coppin, a former West Palm Beach police captain who formally retired on Friday.
Coppin, 49, was a lead investigator in the four-year law enforcement effort between 1992 and 1996 that ultimately brought down the Parsons, a notorious family-run criminal enterprise that included the Parson brothers, nephews, and a tight circle of friends from the neighborhood. Prosecutors called them 'urban terrorists.' The case would ultimately put more than a dozen people behind bars.
Now, 20 years later, the memories of the veteran police officers have been stirred by recent events — and a family connection.
On Nov. 26, two men cut the fence surrounding a Bank of America transfer station in West Palm Beach and tried unsuccessfully to rob an armored truck. One was shot by a guard.
Fourteen minutes after the robbery attempt, Kelby Germaine Parson, 33, walked into St. Mary's Medical Center with a bullet lodged in his face, according to a criminal complaint filed in the West Palm Beach federal court.
Parson, of Riviera Beach, is related to the imprisoned gang members, said Bill Fraser, now the deputy chief investigator with the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office.
But Parson's exact place on the family tree was not yet clear to the veteran police officers who investigated the Parson gang. His attorney, Gregg Lerman, could only say that Parson's father is currently incarcerated. Efforts to reach members of the Parson family were not successful.
After the robbery attempt, surgeons removed the bullet from Parson's face. FBI agents confirmed it had been fired from the armored truck guard's gun, the complaint stated. As well, DNA taken from Parson matched the blood trail left at the attempted robbery scene, agents said.
Now, Parson finds himself in the same predicament that many of his older relatives did in 1996: under federal indictment.
Detective Sgt. Gregory Key, head of the major crimes unit of the West Palm Beach Police Department, said he doesn't know much about the Parson charged in the armored car robbery. But he knows the last name well. "If you lived in that community, you knew who they were," Key said.
According to Florida Department of Law Enforcement Records, Parson has been arrested 18 times since 1998.
"The fruit doesn't fall too far from the tree," Key noted.
There are six Parsons currently serving life sentences in various federal prisons after they were convicted on narcotics charges in 1996, including Kelby Ramon Franklin, who bears a similar name to the armored truck suspect. Franklin, now 40, was the gang's leader.
Despite using the Franklin surname, he was actually a Parson, the veteran investigators said. His father was also a Riviera Beach police commander and unlike many of his fellow gangsters, Franklin didn't smoke and didn't drink. He was studying to become a paralegal.
But Franklin used his skills to run a ruthless gang that police suspect may be linked to several unsolved murders in the city.
"When it comes to unsolved murders in Palm Beach County, they would be persons of interest," Key said.
Another eight Parson gang members and associates were also sent to prison to serve lengthy sentences — including two men who pleaded guilty to the 1994 murder of Riviera Beach woman Alberta Burden, 60. Burden had witnessed Dumas Parson Jr. shoot his wife, Tannis 'Cookie' Parson, dead on their front lawn, police said. Burden had testified before a grand jury and was ready to testify at the trial.
On Sept. 29, 1994, two men shot her dead as she arrived at work. She was found in her car, clutching her Bible. An outrage, the murder led to the creation of the Florida witness protection program. It also inspired the FBI to get involved.
In 1999, Franklin, already serving a life sentence, pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact for his role in the murder and got five years. Police said Franklin paid the killers, one of them from Tallahassee, $6,000 in total. Dumas Parson Jr. would never face trial for his wife's murder. Ravaged by AIDS, he died in prison in 1996.
Fraser, a former West Palm Beach police officer, said he wasn't impressed by the last name and that the Parsons' "reign of terror" is long over.
"Every town has their own street story, and we have one, too," Fraser said. "The story is that they were bad guys, we dealt with them, we closed the chapter on them. The federal court is now dealing with this suspect, and hopefully they will be able to
close the chapter on this suspect in short order."