It’s Gotta Be Cocaine!!

In the couple of months since we had been living next to Ralph, he had given us two small samples of his product. Cocaine. He told me he went to Savannah Ga. to pick it up from a ship that came from South America. According to him, the coke was coming straight out of Colombia. It didn’t really seem like, from what we were seeing, that he was doing enough volume business to attract a supplier such as that, but that is what he said.

I did hear a rumor one time that drug dealers would tell a lie!

As a matter of fact, at one point, Ralph accused me of lying to HIM. I agreed with him, but I couldn’t but help point out the fact that he had lied to me too. I said, “Look, Ralph, we were both lying to each other. I was just a better liar than you…”. He didn’t seem to like that response too much. He suggested I do some things to myself that were anatomically impossible..

Nashville (TBI headquarters) was kind of pushing us to get something solid done or terminate the investigation. That put quite a bit of pressure on us. This operation had been designated to be an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) case, which meant it was a joint effort between the DEA, the FBI, and the TBI. We (TBI) were doing the undercover work and at this point, the case seemed to hinge on whether we could make the drug case on Ralph.

We felt pretty sure he was convinced we were dope dealers or he wouldn’t have given us the samples. On the other hand, he might have given us a small amount to see what we would do! Arrest him? He knew with that small amount weight, he wouldn’t get in much trouble if any. He was well connected with law enforcement, to say the least.
With all that in mind, we got ready to go back to the cabin to see if Ralph was ready to do some serious business. The reason he gave us the samples, to begin with, was to prove he had high-grade cocaine to deal, in hopes of becoming our supplier.

I was supposed to be the “money man”, so I was driving a Cadillac. We wired the Caddy up with a fancy recorder. I think they told me it cost $3,000. My partner was driving a 5-speed Mustang and he was carrying a $49.95 Mini-Cassette recorder with a $12.95 power mic attached to it. The Mustang would become significant later in the investigation.

It was a rainy night.

It was after dark when we arrived at the cabin. We had no sooner gotten inside when Ralph began banging on the door. When we let him inside, he began talking non-stop. Apparently he and his “wife” had gotten into another argument. She had made several threats and then left. He was afraid she was going to inform on him to the Sheriff in the state across the line. Ralph knew he couldn’t get a break from that Sheriff and he was scared of being raided.

He had some cocaine he badly wanted to get rid of before that Sheriff had time to organize things and get into action.

We told him we might be able to help him out if he gave us a good deal. He said he had a pound of coke and he would make us a good deal on it. I told him I wanted to see the dope.

Ralph had reverted back to his old ways when he bootlegged homemade whiskey. He had hidden the stuff in the woods. We all went to the woods together in my car. Ralph began to search. Frantically. It was a dark, rainy night and there certainly were no streetlights where we were. He couldn’t find his cocaine.

After a few minutes, he walked over to my car to talk to me. He was wet and out of breath. “I think I could find it if I had a flashlight”, Ralph stammered. “Get in, we’ll go get one”, I replied. He got in my car and sat in the passenger side front seat. My partner was in the back seat and he had his small recorder equipped with the power mic. The power mic had a cord about 12” long. He and I glanced at each other in the rearview mirror and he turned on his recorder.

As soon as he got in the car, Ralph began running that mouth, trying to impress us with how good his coke was, how much he could handle, and what a good price he could give us if we did enough volume business with him.

Ralph badly wanted to do business with us. He had seen the money we flashed around, the jewelry we wore, and the nice cars we drove. He kept talking as we traveled to the store to find a flashlight.

My partner in the backseat was acting like a news reporter. He held the power mic in his right hand and when Ralph was talking, he would hold the mic right behind his head, and when I was talking, he would hold it behind my head. I was watching him in the mirror. It was hard not to get tickled.

Once we got a flashlight and returned to the area where Ralph said he had hidden the coke, he got out of the Cadillac and went straight to the package.

We went back in the cabin to negotiate the deal. I had $10,000 of TBI confidential funds and had been told I could “let it walk” if I made the deal. That meant we would take the cocaine, give Ralph the money, and not arrest him right then. That is known as “letting it walk”, meaning we allowed him to walk away with the money instead of snatching him up and getting our money back. The reason we did it that way is because our primary targets were the corrupt officers he was involved with. We sort of took a dim view of the police being involved in the drug business.

I talked Ralph into fronting me, what he said was a pound of coke, for $5,000. I was supposed to pay him the balance later. I think the total price we agreed on was $12,000, but not real sure. I had no intention of paying him anyway. The pound was probably worth around $16,000 – $18,000 on the street depending on how many times it was “stepped on”.

By letting the money walk, we looked even cooler. Our ultimate goal was to make a hand-to-hand drug deal with one of the law enforcement officers involved in the drug operation.

I was waiting at the TBI crime lab the next morning when they opened. The lady unlocking the door greeted me with a smile. “Hey Leach, what’s going on?”. “Never mind, just test this for me and tell me whether or not it’s cocaine!”. They tested it and, not only was it cocaine, they said it was some of the purest coke that had ever been submitted to the lab. A sense of relief swept over me. If Ralph was ripping me off and I had bought something besides cocaine, I might have been forced to pay the $5,000 back to the State. That was $5,000 I didn’t have!

Please don’t ask why I didn’t “taste” the product to make sure it was cocaine. First thing, I don’t know what cocaine tastes like, so it wouldn’t do any good for me to taste it. Second, who knows what might be in that bag? Even if it was the real thing, he might have mixed it with anything! So, no, I didn’t taste it. I don’t drink Drano either. This wasn’t a movie.

After we made the deal, we left. Ralph was walking to his trailer next door. My partner shifted gears in the Mustang, and it backfired.

The author, Jimmie Leach was fortunate to serve as Vice-President of the Tennessee Narcotics Investigators Association.

**This is a follow – up blog to “I Thought I Heard Footsteps” posted on April 4, 2020.

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Jim Leach and Steve Bowers

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