Cocaine Ralph – Ralph’s Not Dead! — Yet
It was mid afternoon on a Friday when the DEA in Muscle Shoals Alabama contacted Buster. They had a deal going the next morning and our buddy Ralph was showing up in the middle of it. As was standard DEA practice, when a name popped up, they ran the name through the computer to see if anybody was looking for the person. Of course when they checked Ralph’s name it came back that Buster had entered him as “Wanted” since we had indicted him in U.S. District court in Jackson Tennessee.
Ralph was supposed to show up at 9:00 am the next morning somewhere on Hwy. 72, west of Florence/Muscle Shoals. He would be bringing 6 kilos of powder cocaine with him to sell. It was Ralph’s bad luck that the guy he was selling the coke to just happened to be an undercover officer.
I had called in two other TBI agents to go with Buster and myself and the four of us arrived in Muscle Shoals about 7:00am to meet with the authorities there. They had already received a sample from Ralph and it tested positive for cocaine. We told them he had given us a couple of samples and then sold us a pound and that he was involved in an organized drug selling group. We went on to explain there were corrupt law enforcement officers engaged in the illegal operations we were investigating. We wanted to get our hands on Ralph pretty bad.
There were some things you always considered when you were setting up to take down a deal like this. You had to be aware there might be someone watching the watchers. Counter surveillance trying to spot anybody who “looked out of place”. These people (the counter surveillance) could be involved with either the drug seller OR the drug buyer. They could also be trying to make a little quick cash by ripping off the dope, the money, or both. Whatever their motivation, we wanted to see them before they saw us!
To try and spot any counter surveillance and familiarize ourselves with the area, we always tried to arrive early. It was a judgement call as to how early you wanted to be. You didn’t need to get there too early, especially in a rural setting. Country folks tend to notice cars and people they don’t recognize who appear to be just “hanging around”. People in the area of the deal may be friends with the folks involved in the transaction and could very well make a call to let the dealers know “something don’t look right”. On this particular deal, I think we first showed up about 8:00 am, looked around and left the scene for a while. We maintained rolling surveillance of the area until we spotted Ralph’s vehicle and then we started setting up, waiting for the “take down” signal from the undercover officer, or the Alabama officer in charge of their investigation.
A couple of other considerations are kind of important. You don’t want to be out numbered or out gunned. People will kill you over 6 kilos of cocaine.
When we got the signal, we descended upon the deal. 3 cars and 5 officers secured the area. Ralph didn’t bring the dope.
I approached Ralph’s car, he was already in custody, and I saw my buddy Nick sitting in the front passenger. A series of emotions ran through my mind. At first, I guess I was just totally surprised, then confused. In seconds those feelings disappeared and I went straight to full blown, wide open pissed off. It was unbelievable to me that anyone, even Ralph, would bring a small child to a multi kilo cocaine deal!
If Ralph had been dealing with legitimate bad guys, and he showed up without the dope, no telling what would have happened. Nick would have made a nice little hostage for them to hold until Ralph produced the product. If he showed up WITH the dope and the bad guys decided to just take the coke away from Ralph, they might not have liked the idea of leaving my little buddy alive to be a witness against them.
What happened next is something I will not forget. It impressed upon me, like nothing else had ever done, the terrible impact living in a drug culture can have on a child.
I talked to Nick for a minute to make sure he was OK and assure him that everything was going to be alright. When Ralph talked about cocaine in front of the child, Ralph referred to the drugs as his “little white rabbits”. After I got him settled down, a lot had just happened in his young life, I said, “Nick, daddy wants me to go get his little white rabbits, but he can’t remember where he left them. He said you would know. Where are daddy’s white rabbits?” He started to answer, then stopped and looked at the floorboard of the car. He wouldn’t tell me. At the age of 5, he was already street smart. Even if he didn’t know exactly what was going on, his instinct told him he shouldn’t let me know where the white rabbits were.
We handcuffed Ralph and I got in the back seat with him to head to jail. Nick was sitting in my lap. Nick said, “What’s wrong daddy?”. Ralph replied, “Nothing’s wrong, everything’s gonna be OK”. “What are those things on your hands daddy”. “There just bracelets, I can take them off any time I want to.” “OK, take them off daddy.” Of course Ralph couldn’t take the handcuffs off and I guess that’s when Nick began to get scared. The little fellow was a real handful to control after that.
Ralph was a “had lad”. He could have some problems in Alabama if they decided to pursue their case. In Tennessee, he had sold me a pound of very high quality cocaine and our conspiracy case was starting to come together nicely.
Was Ralph going to do “the right thing” and try to work out a deal for a lesser sentence in exchange for being a government witness or was he going to be a really tough guy? He refused to talk to us that day.
We assured him we would see him later. As we were leaving, Buster said, “Oh yeah Ralph, I strongly suggest you get a really good lawyer”.
The author, Jimmie Leach, served as the Director of Criminal Investigation for the Tennessee Department of Safety.