He was under witness protection in Maine. But his Harlem life kept calling.


In Lewiston, Maine, a man who called himself Abraham helped his neighbors with trash and rode a dirt bike with his friend. His old life in New York City killed him.

Police have not solved Mr Martinez’s murder – partly, one officer said, because of the multitude of suspects who wanted him dead. Dakota Santiago/The New York Times

It was 2016, and Abraham Rodriguez got a text message that lightened him. It was from his friend Nick PappaConstantine, who had just picked up a new toy: a sleek, fast dirt bike—perfect for back-road rides in the small town of Lewiston, Maine where they lived.

Rodriguez had just turned 50 and moved to Lewiston a year earlier and came up with nothing. When he came to open his first bank account, he met Pappa Constantine, who worked in a local bank, and the two grew closer. They bonded over a shared love of cars and adventure sports, and when Rodriguez saw the lesson, he proceeded to try out the new bike.

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Alberto (Alpo) Martinez was one of the most notorious drug dealers in New York in the 1980s. But the federal Witness Protection Program brought him to a quieter town in Maine. (via Nick Pappa Constantine via The New York Times)

They took the motorcycle into the woods, and Rodriguez moved on. He restarted the engine, popped a wheelie and drove for a quarter mile. Then he turned, did another pop and rode back, sliding through the empty, wooded ground like a professional road rider.

Pappa Constantine was stunned. But Rodriguez laughs it off.

“I used to ride bikes during the day,” recalled his friend.

At the time, Pappa Constantine rejected the comment. Years ago he may have learned that Abraham Rodriguez was not the man’s name; His friend with trick skills was actually Alberto (Alpo) Martinez, one of New York City’s most notorious cocaine dealers of the 1980s.

Five years after passing through Maine Field on a dirt bike, Martinez’s wild ride came to an end in Harlem on Halloween when he was shot and killed through the window of a raised pickup that was driven into town from Maine.

The ending was as dramatic as the rest of Martinez’s life. As a youth in Harlem, Martinez gained notoriety as one of the most lucrative, most successful cocaine dealers around during the height of the drug’s popularity. His downfall, however, was swift: he murdered one of his best friends, expanded his business to Washington, D.C., and by 1991 was arrested and charged with drug trafficking. He would later inform about several associates as federal witnesses.

Now, as police investigate his murder, they say they are running into an unusual problem: a lot of people wanted to see Alpo Martinez dead.

“There is no shortage of suspects,” a senior law enforcement officer said at the time of the murder. “Part of the difficulty may be being too suspicious with too many motives.”

After Martinez’s death, friends and neighbors who knew him in Lewiston became entangled, unsure how to feel about the man they knew to be a kind, friendly friend.

“He was the best neighbor,” said Marisa Ritchie, who was smoking a cigarette and throwing a ball to her dog in an icy parking lot on Saturday. “He was always polite, good with dogs.

“You would never have thought of anything,” she said. “He was one of the decent people. He would help the old people take out their trash.”

In Lewiston, Martinez’s murder was a bizarre, dark blip in a former mill town of about 36,000 people nestled between Portland and Augusta on the Androscoggin River.

“There was definitely some buzz around town,” Lewiston’s mayor, Carl Schlein, said of Martinez’s death. A convicted murderer in New York City, he said, was “not your average neighbor” in the city.

“Who would have thought that?” Said a neighbor, Harold Hanlon, who had a friendly relationship with a man he knew as Abraham. “I was just as shocked as the next person when my neighbor goes, ‘Hey, Abraham got killed.’ What?”

Even in death, a coherent picture of Martinez’s double life – once the subject of a Hollywood film – proves elusive. He was both a loyal confidant and one of the most infamous turncoats in New York lore. He was a kind friend and a recruited, brutal killer; A selfless neighbor and a man are so loathed in Harlem that former friends popped champagne in the streets to celebrate their violent end.

“He almost died like a comic book villain,” said Kevin Chiles, a reformed cocaine dealer and Martinez’s former friend from Harlem. “He resisted fate.”

living in two worlds

The path that took Martinez from New York to Lewiston and then back – to his death in the neighborhood where he made his name – began more than 30 years ago. Nicknamed “Mayor of Harlem,” Martinez rose to fame as a kingpin of the crack cocaine era, known for plying luxury cars and biking entire city blocks on fast-paced streets.

“He was an attention seeker and an adrenaline junkie,” said Chiles. “You have to find out, we were all young adults, teenagers, and we had a lot more money than we knew.”

But Martinez’s ruthlessness also came to the fore in an illegal business. In 1990, he plotted the murder of a close friend and fellow dealer, Rich Porter.

The assassination was the beginning of the end of Martinez’s regime. Less than a year after he was arrested in Washington, D.C. after facing drug trafficking charges after attempting to expand his cocaine empire, Martinez — one of Harlem’s toughest players — A federalist agreed to be a witness and pleaded guilty to contracting seven murders. His testimony would dismantle the DC metro area’s cocaine infrastructure.

“They eventually did what they did and killed people for less than they did,” Chile said.

The betrayal would later be set to film in the film “Paid in Full”, which followed fictionalized versions of Martinez, Porter, and another kingpin through Porter’s murder.

Martinez’s real-life arrangement earned him a reduced sentence and a place in the federal witness protection program. The program, which officials regularly note, has a 100% success rate of keeping witnesses safe when they follow its rules, requiring participants to completely leave behind their old lives, identities and contacts.

Released on parole in 2015 with a new name—Abraham Rodriguez—Martínez started out in Lewiston, the kind of place where people focus on their own business and not go hunting, says Shawn Gummo, owner of a local construction company. he said.

Shielded by the program, Martinez flourished. He obtained his commercial driver’s license and began working for Walmart, and played basketball with teenagers in the area. With the help of Pappaconstantine, he settled in an apartment and was a good neighbor.

As of 2017, Martinez has launched her own construction business, founded her own LLC and deals in construction cleanup. He often worked south of Lewiston, said Gummo, who said some of his crew knew Martinez while he was living under his own identity.

Hanlon, who lives next to the six-unit apartment building on College Street where Martinez stayed, said he never suspected anything.

“We both had Dodge trucks, so we would give each other rides to the dealership for repairs and accessories,” Hanlon said. “It was a cordial relationship. He just came in and out; he didn’t hang around here very much. He was quite a good partner.”

Still, Martinez’s old life and legacy came to the fore. Almost as soon as he came out of prison, Martinez reached Chile through a mutual friend. He said that he wanted to explain himself and what happened in 1991. Soon, he was returning to Harlem regularly.

“These scenes were almost like Bigfoot,” said Chiles. “People will say they saw him.”

a quest for redemption

Martinez’s trip to Harlem would almost certainly have been a violation of his witness protection system. (The U.S. Marshals, who operates the Witness Protection Program, did not comment for this story.) Those who knew him later in his incarceration said it appeared to have kicked him out of the program at the same time. was given when he began to return. City.

“They apparently messed up the terms of witness protection in 2018 in some way,” PappaConstantine said. “He would ride to New York with someone else. He was always worried about government surveillance.”

Around the same time, Martinez also appeared to capitalize on his notoriety. In a YouTube clip from 2019, Martinez leads film director Troy Reid to the corner where he says he killed Porter.

“It happened right here. In this light,” Martinez says in the video clip, leaning his head against the car window. “I grabbed a gun from my little guy and put one in his head.”

By 2020, Abraham Rodriguez had largely disappeared from Maine. Alpo Martinez was once again a fixture in Harlem.

What ultimately killed Martinez in the early hours of Halloween remains a mystery. Some say the murder was a late meeting of long-sought street justice to testify against several former accomplices. Others believe that Martinez was killed because of a girl or simply found trouble the way he always did: he was cocky and ambitious and angered the wrong people.

A senior law enforcement official said investigators now believe Martinez was possibly back in the drug trade in Harlem. When police found him dead in their truck last year, a trail of heroin packets emerged from his open window down the road, the officer said – as he threw the drugs out of the car in a panic.

For people like Pappa Constantine, who learned Martinez’s true identity just before his death, his demise seems complicated.

“I want to sit here and say that I knew he was totally real all the time,” Pappaconstantine said, struggling to articulate his feelings over his former friend. “You take someone you know incredibly well, and then you read this thing, and it doesn’t add up.”

But for Chile, Martinez was never going to start; It was always going to end in Harlem.

“He wanted to put his hat on redemption,” Chiles said, adding that Martinez’s thirst for his former glory may have played a part as well. “He is a narcissist beyond anything I can put my finger on. He needed that attention.”

In a scene that now feels foreboding, Martinez’s character in “Paid in Full” spends the final scene agreeing to cooperate with federal agents.

“I’m not sneaking up on anyone in Harlem,” Martinez’s character says. “Because when I come home, I still become king.”

This article is originally from . appeared in the new York Times,

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