One of the Charleston’s most notorious gang leaders was finally sent to prison Tuesday after a lifetime of drug dealing and violent crime.

Michael Angelo Hayes, 31, known as Little Mike or Mikey, was one of the leaders of the East Side Posse, a major source of heroin and crack until police broke it up.

Circuit Judge Michael Duffy sentenced Hayes Tuesday in federal court in Charleston. Hayes got 327 months, or 27 years and three months.

Hayes already had racked up a long criminal record by the time he went down in a drug sweep in April 2010. It seemed like he finally had turned his life around a year earlier when he planted a community garden to feed needy East Side residents.

He and fellow gang leaders Calvin Dixon and Arnold Bellinger smiled for a newspaper photographer amid their vegetables, looking to all the world like young men out to help their neighbors.

But the garden turned out to be a cover-up, with deals continuing even amid the vegetables, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Kittrell said.

The gang leader’s true nature was revealed when he tried to attack a witness in court in front of the judge during his arraignment, Kittrell said.

“Mr. Hayes was someone whom others feared, and during the course of the investigation intimidated witnesses,” said Kittrell, who prosecuted the case with Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Linder.

During his arraignment, Hayes rushed the rail between the well of the courtroom and the public seating, threatening someone whom he believed was cooperating with authorities.

“The deputy U.S. marshals present in the courtroom had to grab Mr. Hayes, take control of him and put him in a holding cell,” Kittrell said.

Another witness against Hayes took back statements after a mother received anonymous phone calls, Kittrell said. The witness later decided to testify after all.

Total of 66 years

Busting up the East Side Posse was a major victory for police working to curb drug dealing in that part of town, and finally putting a guy like Hayes behind bars is a deterrent for others wanting to take his place.

“Michael Hayes is well known throughout the criminal underworld,” Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said in a statement. “This is a significant sentence and we know it will have a deterrent effect. We have already seen the difference this case is making in the community.”

Dixon and Bellinger, the gang’s two other main leaders, already are in prison. Dixon was sentenced to 264 months and Bellinger got 202 months.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she was glad to see the final leader heading for prison.

“In going after gangs, it is essential to investigate, prosecute, convict and imprison the leaders and their associates in order to have a lasting impact,” Wilson said in a statement. “Michael Hayes, Calvin Dixon and Arnold Bellinger were all leaders and members of ESP, which was a violent street gang, and it is significant that these three got a combined total 66 years in the federal pen.”

Clever marketing

The East Side Posse got cocaine and heroin from Atlanta and came up with the idea of selling it on the street in $10 bags. Most other dealers were selling small packets wrapped in wax paper, called bindles, at $20 for each.

Investigators said Hayes came up with the marketing tool. It gave the gang a leg up in getting business, but it also allowed police to know when a drug deal was tied to ESP.

Hayes was first raided on May 29, 2009, just a couple months after the publicity over his community garden. Police said they found a Hi-Point 9 mm semi-automatic handgun, about 172 grams of crack, 158 grams of marijuana, and tools to grind and package pot and crack.

Hayes moved his base to an abandoned house and was raided again on Aug. 11, 2009. Officers said they recovered a Norinco SKS rifle, a Hi-Point 9 mm handgun, a Hi-Point .380-caliber handgun, 83 wax paper bindles of heroin, 460 grams of marijuana, and a scale.

Hayes moved his operation again and started selling his trademark $10 bags of heroin, including sales to undercover officers, until the raid in April 2010.

Long record

Hayes was first arrested when he was 14. He ended up with 18 convictions, including five felonies, according to the prosecution’s count. He was arrested 23 times, including 15 times for drug offenses.

He also was charged over the years with murder, strong-arm robbery, assault on a police officer while resisting arrest, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, simple assault and battery and simple assault.

He was convicted five times for violent acts, including strong-arm robbery, assault on a police officer while resisting arrest and assault while resisting arrest.

He was arrested eight times when he was out of jail on bail or on parole for another offense.

Several other agencies that participated in the drug busts also released statements concerning the significance of putting Hayes behind bars.

Harry S. Sommers, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration Atlanta Field Division, said the East Side Posse was responsible for a significant amount of heroin and other drugs in the Charleston area.

“It is important to go after the leadership of these groups in order to have a community impact,” Sommers said.

The ATF also put out a statement.

“ATF along with our law enforcement partners will continue to work together in our efforts to lower the rate of violent crime in affected communities,” ATF Special Agent in Charge Wayne L. Dixie said.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or