Through a combination of patience and careful police work, Detective Justin snakes his way up the heroin supply chain and links it to a cartel south of the border. And a couple of lives are turned around in the process.Read Transcript
Justin: [00:00:35] His big motivation is he doesn’t want to go to jail. It’s not because he fears jail or doesn’t like the environment. It’s solely because he doesn’t want to deal with getting sick from not having access to heroin. I don’t know if I’ve seen a motivation more powerful in my professional career than that. They’ll do almost anything.
Yeardley: [00:00:56] When a serious crime is committed in a small town, a handful of detectives are charged with solving the case. I’m Yeardley, and I’m fascinated by these stories. So, I invited my friends, Detectives Dan and Dave, to help me gather the best true crime cases from around the country, and have the men and women who investigated them, tell us how it happened.
Dan: [00:01:22] I’m Dan.
Dave: [00:01:23] And I’m Dave.
Dan: [00:01:23] We’re identical twins.
Dave: [00:01:24] And we’re detectives in Small Town, USA.
Dan: [00:01:27] Dave investigates sex crimes and child abuse.
Dave: [00:01:30] Dan investigates violent crimes. And together, we’ve worked on hundreds of cases including assaults, robberies, murders, burglaries, sex abuse, and child abuse. Names, places, and certain details, including relationships have been altered to protect the privacy of the victims and their families. Though we realize that some of our listeners may be familiar with these cases, we hope you’ll join us in continuing to protect the true identities of those involved out of respect for what they’ve been through. Thank you.[music]
Yeardley: [00:02:05] Today on Small Town Dicks, we have the usual suspects. We have Detective Dave.
Dave: [00:02:12] Good afternoon.
Yeardley: [00:02:13] Good afternoon. We have Detective Dan.
Dan: [00:02:15] Happy to be here.
Yeardley: [00:02:17] So happy to see you. And we are so pleased to welcome back now a detective, Detective Justin.
Justin: [00:02:23] Good to be here.
Yeardley: [00:02:24] Justin, it’s been much too long.
Justin: [00:02:25] It has.
Yeardley: [00:02:26] Thanks for coming. So, Justin, you have a great case for us today.
Justin: [00:02:30] I do.
Yeardley: [00:02:31] Let’s hear it. How’d this case come to you?
Justin: [00:02:33] So, this is a little bit different than a lot of the cases detectives work in that it’s a drug case or narcotics case that I started myself. And my first couple of years in detectives, I worked drugs. And so, it was just go out and find and arrest drug dealers. And so, this one started with a house in town that was a problem house for the community. Our patrol officers would, as we call it, fish around this house and just circle it like sharks and catch people coming and going, and arrest people for warrants, and small amounts of drugs on their person, and stuff like that. And so, the neighborhood had gotten tired of it.
[00:03:06] We heard about that through our tip line and a number of other complaints from neighbors. And so, I began trying to develop a way to get into this house. Meaning, means for a search warrant or something to get into this house and search it for whatever I could, but primarily drugs, because that’s the root of what drew all these people together. And so, I have it on the back of my mind for probably a month or two. Finally, I end up with an informant who came to me. Out of the blue, he called and said, “Hey, I have a raging heroin addiction. I want to help get rid of this stuff.” And I’m thinking, “Well, that’s weird. They don’t usually call us, but I’ll call this guy back and we meet up,” and he goes, “Yeah, I get drugs from this house and it happens to be this house in town.” And so, I think, “Well, perfect storm. I’ll let this guy help me out.”
Yeardley: [00:03:47] Is he trying to get rid of his addiction or is he trying to offset some charges that he’s been arrested for?
Justin: [00:03:54] So in this case, it’s just because of his addiction. He knows that having access to this substance, heroin in this case, is what’s holding him back. And so, he wants to do whatever he can to try to get that temptation and that access out of his wheelhouse, and so he can hopefully clean himself up.
Yeardley: [00:04:10] Fascinating.
Dave: [00:04:11] What’s the time delay between him calling you and you calling him back? Because at some point, they’d be at the top of the wave where, “I need to kick this. I’m going to go help the cops.” And then they come off of that really quickly like, “I need to use.”
Justin: [00:04:24] Oh, it was days, maybe the next week, I got the message. I’m thinking, “There’s no way this guy’s going to answer or call me back or still be of this mindset by the time I get in touch with him.” And so, I had a day where as a drug cop, there’s days where you have nothing really going on. You’re waiting for things to develop. And so, I’m sitting at my desk board and I go, “Oh, what the hell? Let’s call this guy.” And so, I call him, and he talks about this house that I’ve had in the back of my mind as a target for a month or two.
[00:04:49] So, we get together and talk about things and who lives there. He’s able to tell me the names of folks there, who he buys the drugs from. When he goes there and agrees to perform, what we call, a controlled buy from this house, that’s going to give me the information I need to apply for a search warrant to go kick a door in and take a look at what’s inside.
Yeardley: [00:05:07] I quite like this dude who’s being proactive about his addiction and wants to use law enforcement to help him kick it. That’s cool. I’ve never heard of that.
Justin: [00:05:17] It’s unusual. I mean, it’s not how we typically come to have informants. Usually, it’s folks like he asked about that have gotten in trouble and they want to work something off. And so, it’s a selfish motivation because they’re in trouble and they want help out with that where this guy was completely self-motivated and just knows, “I got to make a change.” And so, he reached out and was able to help me out and ultimately performed that controlled buy we talked about. I met with him, gave him some buy money, and we watched him with surveillance. Myself and other detectives go to this house that has been a problem. He’s there for a few minutes. He comes back out without my money and with a gram or two of heroin.
Yeardley: [00:05:50] Does he have a name?
Justin: [00:05:51] This guy’s name is Jeff.
Yeardley: [00:05:53] And how old is he? How old is Jeff?
Justin: [00:05:54] Jeff’s in his early mid-20s, younger kid. With the heroin stuff that we deal with, you see lifelong drug users that use it or this rash of younger people. I’ve known of Jeff through not police work stuff, but just through family and schools and high school and sports and that kind of stuff. And so, the name was familiar to me. I didn’t personally know him, but I recognized the name. And so, with that, it intrigued me. We talked about how he got into the heroin game and the addiction. It started with a car crash and an injury and prescription pain meds, and then he got addicted to those, then couldn’t find those, and they were too expensive. So, he moved on and started using heroin.
[00:06:33] So, the entire time I knew this guy, he had a full-time job, worked hard, and we had to coordinate doing our stuff around his employment. You wouldn’t know it unless he told you that he had this problem.
Yeardley: [00:06:44] Wow.
Dave: [00:06:44] He’s a recreational heroin user.
Justin: [00:06:47] Nah, no such thing. But yeah, he recognized it early on before it destroyed his life, that he had this problem and was doing whatever he could, however he could to make a change.
Yeardley: [00:06:56] Right. And was he married, has kids, that kind of thing?
Justin: [00:06:59] Not married, had a child. That also was some motivation for this is doing right and being around for his child. But yeah, just not what we typically see, especially with heroin. It’s so devastating that we usually don’t see it until it’s well past this phase of the addiction.
Dave: [00:07:12] Good for him. I’m impressed. It’s so rare to hear that.
Yeardley: [00:07:16] That’s extraordinary. So, Jeff says, “I’m making a change. I would like your help.” You do this controlled buy and then what?
Justin: [00:07:23] So, we make the controlled buy. And that process is fairly straightforward. We meet with him beforehand, and we check and make sure he doesn’t have any drugs on him before this controlled buy thus the controlled nature. And so, that way, I’m able to, when I apply for a search warrant, say, before this happened, I know that Jeff didn’t bring any of his own drugs, or he’s not setting this guy up. I can swear to that in an affidavit. So, we check him for drugs, also money to make sure I can say my money was used to buy those drugs. Again, it’s just that control, and it’s super controlled environment. There’s really no question as to what happens after we meet with him.
[00:07:56] We then let him make his way to this house. The whole time he’s under surveillance, either with myself or other detectives who are in the area and able to watch him and put him to that front door. And so, we know he went to that house. And he goes in, and it’s quick. He’s in there for 5 minutes or 10 minutes maybe, and comes back to our meeting location, and gives me a baggie with a gram of heroin. So, roughly $100 worth of heroin, which isn’t a whole lot, depending on the habit. It’s maybe a day’s worth. And so, it’s an expensive problem. So, we make that buy. He goes on his way. I bring the drugs back here, lodge them into evidence, and then draft a search warrant for this house just based on that controlled buy. Finish that up. It’s a pretty quick process. Within a day or two present it to a judge who signs off on the warrant, grants it. And at that point, we’re authorized to then go search that house.
Yeardley: [00:08:45] And that house, though it had been a problem, had never been searched before?
Justin: [00:08:49] Correct. I think our officers had been inside for a couple of different reasons on various calls, disputes, that type of thing, but nothing that gave them the authority to search all the dresser drawers, and get into safes and lockboxes, and stuff like that. They never had the teeth they needed to go in there and really take care of the problem.
Yeardley: [00:09:06] Got it.
Justin: [00:09:07] So, once I obtained the search warrant, our detectives division– At the time, there’s two of us working drug cases and then the rest of our team had different assignments, but they all come together when we have these types of search warrants to do. And so, I brief our team.
Yeardley: [00:09:20] How many in the team?
Justin: This day, there’s 10, roughly, give or take. I don’t remember if everyone was available that day.
Yeardley: [00:09:26] That’s roughly the whole detective pool in your small-town agency,
Justin: [00:09:30] Correct. Yeah.
Yeardley: [00:09:31] I think it’s remarkable for big city agencies. There are, who knows how many, 30 detectives or something?
Dave: [00:09:37] Yeah. The neighboring city, they’ve got dozens more than we have.
Yeardley: [00:09:41] And you are expected to produce the same high-quality work product as a large agency with fewer resources. I always try to drive that home whenever I talk about our podcast on an interview or something, that just because you’re smaller, the bar doesn’t drop. The bar is not lower.
Dave: [00:10:00] No, because the bar is set by the courts. And the bar honestly is set by an individual police officer or detective. If you have pride in your work and you’re doing it the right way, not violating people’s rights, you want to do it the right way. That way it’s justifiable A, to yourself and to a court, to a juror, all that stuff.
Yeardley: [00:10:20] So, 10 people are helping you search this house?
Justin: [00:10:24] Yeah. We brief it. I have a general idea of the layout of the house from Jeff who’s been inside and knows where the living room is, where the kitchen is, and the bedrooms are. And so, he relays that to me, and I share it with the rest of the team. They have as much information as they can going into this search warrant, because we know who comes and goes from there. And so, we have an idea, but you never know what you’re going to get into. You don’t know about weapons, or dogs, small children. You just never know for sure. The first piece of it is securing the location, so making it safe for ourselves, everyone that’s there, neighbors, anything like that. And so, we coordinate how we’re going to make the entry and then we go execute it.
Yeardley: [00:10:58] Is it broad daylight or is it nighttime?
Justin: [00:11:00] It’s daylight. It’s shortly after 07:00 in the morning. The search warrants themselves specify whether there’s 24 hours service where you can serve it at any time, or and in this case, it was a 07:00 AM to 10:00 PM service window.
Dave: [00:11:13] There’s limits on the invasive nature of the government coming to your property. So, there’s consideration for the targets of search warrants from the government.
Justin: [00:11:25] Basically, affords people a little bit of privacy or convenience, so that we’re not kicking their doors in at 04:00 AM for no reason.
Yeardley: [00:11:32] That’s interesting. Okay. But also, I’ve heard you guys say that these drug dealers and users are often not usually early risers unless they’ve been up all night.
Dave: [00:11:42] Right. There’s a reason why we pick certain times.
Yeardley: [00:11:45] Sure.
Dave: [00:11:45] Yeah.
Justin: [00:11:46] And so, again, it’s early morning. We brief it up. We go out there and go to the front door. We actually knock on the door, like, the delivery guy or the postman. And there’s no initial response. Knock again, announce who we are at this time, police department search warrant. Again, at this point, you can start hearing some scurrying around inside, but no one’s coming to the door. And so, at that point, we then break the door down with the battering ram, and our team makes entry into this house. It’s not a very big house. It’s maybe 1,000 sq ft. It’s relatively small. You walk in, and living rooms right there, kitchen is right there, you go down a hallway, two bedrooms, bathroom. That’s it. Little laundry, kind of closet off the hallway. We run across five people or six people in this residence.
[00:12:24] So, not just the targets that we knew about. There’re some extra people there just hanging out still from the night before, or sleeping off the night before, probably more accurately. So, everyone that’s in the house gets detained. That can mean handcuffs. Not always. It depends on their demeanor when we come across them. In this case, I believe everyone got handcuffed just because of the number and this close proximity we’re dealing with. And then we collect them in the living room of this house. So, everyone’s in one location, and we can explain to them what’s going on. One, out of courtesy and convenience, but two, it’s required as part of the search warrant process in our state.
Yeardley: [00:12:59] Is it tidy, the house?
Justin: [00:13:00] No, not at all. Their time is occupied by doing drugs. When they’re not doing drugs, they’re thinking about doing drugs or how to get more drugs. And so, not only are they selling drugs, but they’re selling drugs at this location to support their own habit. Their number one priority in life is obtaining more drugs.
Dan: [00:13:18] These drugs have such a grip on them that a lot of these people don’t even eat food. It’s amazing and it’s really sad.
Yeardley: [00:13:24] Yeah. How many people live in this house?
Justin: [00:13:27] Living there, there are, our targets, Steve and Natalie. Specifically, Steve is the individual we bought the drugs from, but his girlfriend, Natalie, lives there. So, we know about them. But then there are three additional people, one of whom is a roommate who lives there, and then the other two are just friends that are still basically left over from the night before and the drug use that went on at that point. So, with everyone gathered, we advise them of their Miranda rights. So, if they don’t have any questions on that, we were all together. So, they all hear it at the same time. Everyone understood then. There’s no question there. I would venture to guess it wasn’t the first time any of them had heard those rights.
Dave: [00:14:00] They were familiar.
Justin: [00:14:01] Yeah. We tell them that, and then I proceed to read them the actual search warrant itself. We tell them what we’re looking for. It’s in the warrant. In this case, heroin, packaging scales, money, weapons, lockboxes, that type of thing. And so, it becomes pretty clear after the reading of this search warrant, why the cops are there.
Dan: [00:14:16] And it’s something like you see on television when they’ve got the folded-up warrant that they just pull out of an envelope, and they just slap whoever the resident is on the chest, and gently walk past them, “Hey, we got a search warrant,” and they just walk in. That is not how it happens.
Yeardley: [00:14:30] Oh, really? TV lied about that?
Dan: [00:14:33] Yeah, a little bit.
Dave: [00:14:34] We do clear the house like Charlie’s Angels though.[laughter]
Justin: [00:14:38] It’s safer that way.[laughter]
Yeardley: [00:14:41] So, they’re all gathered like cattle in the living room. You’ve read them their Mirandas.
Justin: [00:14:47] We search the couch too before we seat them.
Yeardley: [00:14:49] Oh, you do?
Dave: [00:14:51] People hide guns and drugs in couches.
Yeardley: [00:14:53] Okay. So, at least there is a couch.
Justin: [00:14:55] It was back to couch from bed from the previous night. It served double duty.
Yeardley: [00:14:59] Copy. Does the house smell?
Justin: [00:15:01] Oh, yeah.
Dave: [00:15:01] Yes. I’ve been in a couple of tidy drug houses that we serve search warrants in. It’s usually the higher end drug dealers that aren’t as much users as they are sellers of the product. But in this case, this is one of those houses when you go in, you’re like, “Two pairs of gloves, I don’t want touch anything, but I have to.” They’re nasty.
Yeardley: [00:15:21] Because I remember, it was actually your dad, Justin. Detective Don, one of our first episodes in Season 1, Unspeakable, he described that house. They were heavy drug users. It was absolute squalor and he also described the smell.
Dave: [00:15:38] There’s an unmistakable musty, nasty drug house smell that is shared by other drug houses we go to. People don’t shower, have this lingering body odor issue, clothes aren’t clean, all that stuff.
Yeardley: [00:15:52] Right.
Justin: [00:15:53] So, after everyone’s been collected in the living room, my job as the detective that has made this case up to this point is to conduct the interviews with the folks present. So, we typically find a place in the house that’s away from the rest of the individuals. So, we have independent statements, and I’ll start calling people back, “Hey, come talk to me.” There’s two different ways to prioritize that. We either talk to the people that are our target first, or the folks that we didn’t expect to be there and they’re just hanging out from the night before, so we can get them out of there, and pare down the number of bodies we’re dealing with. That’s what we did in this case.
[00:16:24] These folks don’t live there. If we find something hidden in the back bedroom, we’re not going to be able to make a case on Fred or whoever it is that’s visiting for the night. It’s not his house. He doesn’t live there.
Dave: [00:16:34] It is always funny when we are serving these warrants and we’ve been there for an hour and a half, two hours, and you hear a knock on the door, and it’s one of their customers.
Yeardley: [00:16:42] Ah, oh.
Dave: [00:16:43] We’ve sold drugs to people that walked up one of our search warrants before.
Yeardley: [00:16:48] Wait, what?
Dave: [00:16:48] Where they’re like, “Hey, what are you here for, man?” “Oh, I came to buy.” Like, “Oh, what do you need?” They purchase it from the cops.
Yeardley: [00:16:57] How are you allowed to do that?
Dave: [00:16:58] What’s wrong with that?[laughter]
Yeardley: [00:17:01] You’re kidding, right?
Justin: [00:17:02] We don’t actually give them the drugs.
Dave: [00:17:03] We don’t give them the drugs, but they’re attempting to purchase it. It’s like–
Yeardley: [00:17:06] Oh, and then you arrest them?
Dave: [00:17:08] Yeah.
Yeardley: [00:17:08] Oh. [laughs]
Dave: [00:17:09] It’s rare, but it’s happened before. You’re just like, “Are you kidding me?”
Justin: [00:17:14] We had one. It was a case that I worked on, and we had somebody show up at the house while we were executing the search warrant. We answer the door and he walks in like he’s been there a million times. It’s like, “Oh, who’s the random guy in here?” He doesn’t really notice that it’s the cops until, “Oh, shit, it’s the cops. I’m going to try to leave now.” And no, you have introduced yourself into a crime scene, and we know that you’re probably here looking for drugs, so we can detain you. The fight is on. This guy actually tries to pull a gun on us while we’re executing the search warrant.
[00:17:52] I believe his face got driven through the drywall, because the fight was so violent. We were trying to get control of his hands while this guy’s pulling this gun on us. And thank God, instead of him getting shot, he got his face pushed through the wall.
Yeardley: [00:18:08] Right. Oh, my God.
Justin: [00:18:09] Unbelievable.
Dave: [00:18:22] All right, so we’ve kicked the castaways off.
Yeardley: [00:18:25] So, we’re down to Steve, Natalie, and the roommate. What’s the roommate’s name?
Justin: [00:18:30] This guy’s name is Sam. And so, these are the three that we know live at this house, with Steve being our primary target, who our controlled buy occurred from. Obviously, Steve being our target, the guy who Jeff says, “Hey, I bought drugs I just gave you from Steve inside that house.” Steve’s girlfriend, according to Jeff, is a part of this too. She’s as involved in this as Steve is. She’s still there. And then Sam, the other roommate, who has his own bedroom there. Obviously, we know about the two. Sam, if we find anything in his room, obviously, we’re going to be able to attribute it to him drug wise. And so, they remain. And then I grab them and have the same conversation.
[00:19:05] Obviously, it’s more in depth because I know a lot more about them. I know that my money purchased narcotics from them from that house. I know when it happened. I know how much it was. I know all of those details. I don’t share a lot of the specifics with them to protect the name of the informant. And so, I can use some of it as an interview tool and check how honest they’re going to be with me in the interview, but I don’t offer them that information. So, I grab them individually. We’re using the patio outside the sliding glass door because the house is so small. There’s really no privacy anywhere else. It affords the rest of the detectives that are there to simultaneously search for the drugs we’re looking for, because it can take hours and hours to search a house. Even then, there’s always this thought of, “Well, did I miss something?”
[00:19:49] Criminals in general are amazing at hiding their stuff from, not only the police, but their friends. They don’t trust their own friends in their house, so they can’t have their drugs or whatever the item is somewhere where even a friend could find it, because that friend would take it at any given opportunity.
Yeardley: [00:20:04] Right. And are Steve, Natalie, and Sam roughly in their 20s as well?
Justin: [00:20:08] 20 to 30. Sam’s a little bit older, but he’s still less than 30. So, talking with Steve, I get the typical, “I have a heroin problem, but I don’t sell drugs. I’ve never sold drugs in my life.” We play that game for the first five minutes of our conversation. I give him every opportunity to, “I’m here for a reason.” And we go through that, and we talk in a circle for a while. Finally, I do tell him, “Steve, my money bought drugs from you at this house.” He processes that. I think that’s the first time he realized that there was more to the case than just the cops kicking down his door.
Yeardley: [00:20:41] Tell me again how many days between the controlled buy and when you kicked down Steve’s door, so that he couldn’t track the timeline?
Justin: [00:20:48] Sure. In this case, the controlled buy happened. There’s a few days where I drafted the search warrant, had it reviewed by a prosecutor, presented it to a judge, had the judge sign it. From the moment it’s signed, there’s a window in that search warrant that I have to execute it in. And in this case, it was a 10-day window. So, we’re 5 days to 10 days from the actual controlled buy before the search warrant is executed.
Yeardley: [00:21:08] So, presumably, quite a few people could have bought drugs from Steve. So, there’s absolutely no way he would have known it was Jeff.
Justin: [00:21:16] Correct. The only way that information would get out is if Jeff said something to somebody about helping the police out, which happens from time to time in that world. They’ll talk about, “I’m working with Detective X, Y, or Z,” and then their friends tell a friend, and then they get this reputation. A lot of times, it’s not even a case they’ve done, but they get blamed for it. But most often, it comes from the informant themselves saying stuff to people they shouldn’t say.
Dan: [00:21:39] You’d think that these dealers would just say, “Oh, that guy just showed up in my house. There’s no way I’m going to sell to him.” They still sell to him.
Yeardley: [00:21:47] What? Okay, the dumb ones, as you say.
Dave: [00:21:50] I’m thinking about other times where we’ve just mentioned loud enough for the other party to hear, “Didn’t Cole say it was going to be over here? ” You just give them some other name, and they’re like, “Motherfucker. Cole?”[laughter]
Dave: [00:22:06] It’ll be someone that’s in their circle that maybe they haven’t seen for months, but there’s little ways to throw them off. And like Dan said, just because you get labeled a snitch in the drug world around here, it’s not necessarily an expulsion from buying drugs.
Yeardley: [00:22:22] Because money is money.
Dave: [00:22:23] Money is money.
Yeardley: [00:22:24] Right. Okay. So, Steve’s starting to put the pieces together, “Uh-oh, I’m in more trouble than I thought I was.”
Justin: [00:22:30] Right. Light bulb goes off, and he realizes that, search warrant, detectives. “Okay, yeah, somebody snitched on me.” Being able to tell him how much I bought, the amount of money I spent, but I know that my money bought drugs from here. When we throw that at them, they can’t argue that and they typically come around at that point. Steve did a little bit. He continued to minimize his operation, but does ultimately talk about he’s got some scales and packaging material and a little bit of heroin left at the house, but not a whole lot. I didn’t have any way to know where he was at in his supply cycle of selling drugs, and collecting money, and then flipping that, and spending all the money on more drugs. So, I didn’t have any intel.
[00:23:13] The informant in this case wasn’t close enough to go in and know that detail. And so, we served the search warrant at a point where they were almost out, really, between selling it and then using it themselves. All of their profit goes to supporting their own habit. The folks, and they’re few and far between that sell drugs that are strictly in it for the business side of it, are actually fairly successful and can make fairly decent money until it catches up with them. But those that have a habit, they have to support any money they do make goes right back into drugs.
Yeardley: [00:23:42] Right. They’re terrible business people.
Justin: [00:23:43] Oh, they’re horrible. And so, it’s just this cycle that continues and continues. So, Steve starts coming clean, minimizes stuff, tells us where we’ll be able to find some of the items in his room. We find those items, digital scales with heroin residue on them, some small baggies, everything we expected, but just not the quantity of drugs that should have been at this location given the amount of complaints we’ve had, the amount of traffic in and out of it. We find the similar amount and similar items in Sam’s room. Nothing exciting. Again, not what we expected to find. And so, at the end of it, we’re all collectively scratching our heads about, “Well, that was a bust. It’s not what we were hoping to get out of it.”
[00:24:21] So, my conversation with Steve shifts from, “Hey, you’re the target. I’m after you two. How can I use Steve to further impact the drug business in our small town?” And at the same time, we’re back to why people become informants, give Steve an opportunity to potentially help himself. And so, that conversation occurs, and Steve’s receptive to it, realizes he’s in some trouble. His big motivation is he doesn’t want to go to jail.
Yeardley: [00:24:48] Has he been to jail before?
Justin: [00:24:50] He has. It’s not because he fears jail or doesn’t like the environment. It’s solely because he doesn’t want to deal with getting sick from not having access to heroin. I don’t know if I’ve seen a motivation more powerful in my professional career than that. They’ll do almost anything.
Dan: [00:25:06] They will beg you to cite and release them and not take them to jail. They will beg you because they know what’s on the horizon.
Yeardley: [00:25:12] Because it’s so awful to have that withdrawal.
Dan: [00:25:15] Yeah.
Yeardley: [00:25:16] Sad. So, based on the small amount of heroin you find at Steve’s place, does that impact what you’re actually able to charge him with? Let’s say, you found a pound of heroin. Is that a greater charge versus you find 2 ounces of heroin?
Justin: [00:25:34] In our state at this time, it had no bearing on it, the scales, packaging material. It was larger than, what we’d call, a user amount. So, in this case, it wouldn’t have mattered for him. He could have had 10 pounds. At the time, all it would have done is made us a little bit more excited that we got a large amount. It may have some implications for him as far as where his case goes, whether it stays in a state court, for example, or ends up in a federal level case where the federal government gets involved because of the sheer amount of drugs. So, he’s got less than 10 grams of heroin still at the house. That’s not even a day’s supply for the folks that are there, let alone those who come and buy and sell.
[00:26:13] So, it wasn’t making sense to us. I was confident we didn’t miss anything. So, Steve and I talk, and he starts talking about where he’s getting his heroin from. Ultimately, he gave me the phone number and the name of his dealer.
Yeardley: [00:26:25] Okay, that didn’t take much.
Justin: [00:26:27] Nope. It’s back to that motivation of he doesn’t want to go to jail. And we’ve had people not in this case, but people in the same situation, they’ll turn on family members, best friends. They’ll do literally whatever they can to stay out of jail.
Yeardley: [00:26:39] Does this disclosure of information my dealer, my supplier, rather does that keep him out of jail?
Justin: [00:26:46] It does in this case. So, he ends up receiving a citation for his charges with a court date. So, he’s been arrested, but not physically taken into custody. It’s twofold. One, he’s wanting to cooperate. And for him to do that, he needs to be not in jail. And two, with social media and internet technology. Now, drug dealers prolifically monitor any of the online jail booking type forums to see if someone they know or do business with has been arrested. If they get arrested, they immediately start getting sketched out on the person and will shut down their business for maybe forever, week, month, days, it depends, just in the fear that they’ll talk, even though they’ve gone to jail, which isn’t usually how it happens. They’re that paranoid.
Yeardley: [00:27:29] Would they actually track a citation as well?
Justin: [00:27:32] So, the citation buys us some time. Eventually, as it goes through the legal system, it would be something they could see. But we’ve got a month or more before anything like that even starts to take place. Mainly buys us some time, and it gives Steve an opportunity to help himself out. If he comes through, it may help him in the long run. If he fails to come through, it may not. That’s not a decision I get to make. Ultimately, a prosecutor will look at the case, and they’re the ones that get to make any kind of determination as to what consideration Steve may get.
Yeardley: [00:27:59] Interesting. So, Steve gives up the name of his supplier and his phone number. I’m assuming you’re like, “Yahtzee,” and you check that out.
Justin: [00:28:10] Yeah, great. Next guy working up the ladder move on to somebody that hopefully yields what we’re looking for as far as quantity of drugs. And so, I start Phase 2 and start researching the name and phone number that Steve gave me.
Yeardley: [00:28:23] Is the dude local?
Justin: [00:28:24] He is. I can find him, but he doesn’t have the signs that show me that this is a big drug dealer. He has some minor arrests, a shoplifting type charge from a few years ago. He’s got an address that’s not anything special. It’s a trailer park address. It’s like, I immediately start thinking, Steve gave me some bad info. So, I’m in contact with Steve via phone and text message. One, because he’s trying to narrow down information, and he doesn’t know exactly where his supplier lives. Phil is his dealer’s name. He doesn’t know where Phil lives exactly, but he has an idea. And so, I’m trying to put all the pieces together, make sure I have the right guy. And so, I’m in contact with Steve and we’re communicating back and forth a lot via text message.
[00:29:05] But if I can’t get a hold of Steve, I’ll text or call his girlfriend, Natalie, because one phone will be off. Even though they need their phones to conduct their drug dealing, it seems like their phones are either out of minutes, out of battery. I still can’t comprehend how their phones are more often not functioning than functioning. And so, having Natalie there, if I couldn’t get a hold of Steve, gave me a way to contact him. It worked fairly well. Within a day or two days, I’m engaging with Natalie. It wasn’t even about Phil, but it was about getting some property that we’d taken during the search warrant released back to them. May have had evidentiary value, decided it didn’t. And so, we were going to release it to them.
[00:29:40] So I’m conversing with her about dropping these items off and giving them back. Conversation ends. And then a couple of hours later, out of the blue, I get a text message from Natalie. The message read, “Hey, do you need?” I immediately look at it, read it out loud, and our detectives bay like, “Hey, guys, anybody busy? We might have something going.” I’m reading this message like, “You got to be kid–” She’s asking, if I need drugs.
Yeardley: [00:30:03] It’s part of the condition you also won’t sell drugs while you have this citation?
Justin: [00:30:09] Yeah. But again, it’s the addiction and source of income. And so, she sends me this message and I know Dave was back there and think Detective George was there. So, I read this message out loud and everyone would be like, “You got to be kidding me.” And so, I reply, and again, not as Detective Justin at this point, but as somebody posing as a heroin addict and say, “Yeah, what do you got?” She comes back with, “Well, what do you need?” And so, we play that game a little bit, and ultimately, I ask her for 3 grams of heroin, and she goes, “Yeah, I’ve got it.” I know where she lives. She obviously thinks I’m somebody else, but I’m playing the game as best I can, thinking at some point, she’ll realize her error and quit talking to me.
[00:30:47] It goes so far as she talks about, she just got raided, you can’t come to the house, but I’ll meet you at the gas station a block away. I go, “Okay, I’ll see you there.” We get in cars and drive out there. I’m waiting at the payphone at the gas station. A couple of other detectives are watching the house to wait for her to come deliver me drugs. And the plan was just to grab her and arrest her for that and find the drugs on her. Well, I get there, and after waiting for 10, 20 minutes, it’s clear that she’s probably realized her error. It’s a five-minute walk, maybe, from her house. And so, she’s not coming. I try, “Hey, are you coming?” No reply.
[00:31:22] So, we get back together, the detectives, that is, and we go over to the house. I don’t have a search warrant this time, but I have this information. I had enough. I could have applied for a search warrant, but it takes time. I have to write it, get it reviewed, find a judge. This is later in the evening, I mean, it’s 05:36, and I figured, “Well, let’s go talk to him.” And so, conveniently, we go up to the house. I think it worked out for the better. Steve’s out-front sitting on the bumper of his car, smoking a cigarette. He sees us, and he remembers us, and recognizes us, and has this, uh-oh, look. We never found out for sure, but I have no doubt Steve knew what Natalie had done and her error, and he had this, “Ah, hey, how’s it going, guys?” We explain and I just come right out with it. I go, “Hey. Natalie was texting me, asking me if I wanted to buy drugs.” I told her I did. She said she had it. “Are you okay with us coming in and searching the house?” And he says yes.
[00:32:10] He still wants to be cooperative because he wants our assistance with his charges, but it’s totally his choice. Had he said no, I would have had to make a decision on leaving these guys there and writing a search warrant and going the long route. That would have made it four, five-hour process at the fastest. But Steve says, “Yeah, come on in.” So, we go in. At this time, it’s just him and Natalie are the only two home and pull them back in the same living room, and have the same talk. No one at first wants to own up to sending the messages. I know it’s Natalie, but I lead with, “Hey, somebody here sent me messages asking if I wanted to buy heroin. Anybody?” Crickets.
Yeardley: [00:32:46] [laughs]
Justin: [00:32:47] The gigs up. Here we are. You’ve let us come in. So, finally, Natalie comes clean, “Yeah, it was me. I’m sorry. But money’s tight, rent’s due. I need to make a buck.” ‘Okay. Where are the drugs?” “I don’t know.” [Yeardley laughs] Okay, here we go. Play this game again. We’re in a weird spot because we’re operating under consent rather than a search warrant, and so they’ve allowed us into their home. At any point, they can revoke that permission, and we’d have to stop and then, again, make that decision, if it’s worth it, to go write a search warrant, get it reviewed, have a judge authorize it, and come back. And so, we’re tiptoeing around, if you will, this, “Where are the drugs?” “Oh, I don’t know.”
[00:33:22] Finally, Natalie says, “I need to talk to you,” and pulls me aside and tells us where the drugs are. They’re hidden in the handle of her hairbrush that she has thrown behind the washer and dryer. We’re good, but we would have never found it even with a search warrant. Maybe found the hairbrush, but you have to pry the end cap off. There’s not just the 3 grams I want, but there’s closer to 9 grams of heroin in there, more than we found on the initial search warrant. And so, I’m interested again. Did we miss it? I don’t know. Did they re-up? And so, we seize that. No one goes to jail again. We have the same, “Hey, show of good faith on our part. This is strike two. We need to get going on Phil.” They both agree. We take the drugs, leave.
[00:34:02] She gets a ticket to match Steve’s ticket. And so, they both have a court date coming up. They’re more motivated now because they’re both in trouble. There’s two people that don’t want to go to jail and go through the withdrawal. And ultimately, Steve is able to get a hold of Phil. I ultimately meet with Steve again, and we have a frank conversation where I explain to him, at this point, “I’m done with you as far as the case goes. My focus isn’t on you anymore. I want Phil. Tell me how business goes.” This time, Steve’s finally honest and straightforward. He told me he would meet with Phil every day and pick up an ounce of heroin every day and then go through that between using and selling and just every day, this cycle.
[00:34:40] Now, this is on the other end of the spectrum. And so, I’m thinking, “No, this is bullshit. He’s exaggerating to try to keep me happy. There’s no way this Phil guy who has no drug history that we can find and we don’t know about him, no one else talks about him. There’s no way this guy’s selling an ounce of heroin to these guys a day,” because in our world that means he’s selling ounces to multiple other people every day.
Yeardley: [00:34:59] Is an ounce a lot?
Justin: [00:35:01] Of heroin, yes.
Yeardley: [00:35:02] Heroin is light. Is it pretty light, like powdery?
Justin: [00:35:05] Heroin is denser. If you had the same volume of heroin and meth, the heroin is a lot denser. And so, an ounce is about a golf ball-sized chunk of heroin, and is far more than a user amount. You couldn’t use that much in a day and survive. You just can’t.
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Justin: [00:36:58] So, we play this game of me trying to get a hold of Steve, him not answering for a couple days. We got to get something going on Phil. You say you buy from him every day, and it’s now been multiple days that Steve hasn’t bought from him, but he’s going, “Yeah, I will.” It’s hard and had excuse after excuse after excuse.
Dan: [00:37:14] They want you to go away. They want you to lose interest and just go away.
Yeardley: [00:37:17] Sure.
Justin: [00:37:18] I hadn’t. He told me just enough and the volume that Phil was doing was interesting enough. If it’s true, it’s a big case. In the meantime, I do research on Phil and get a pretty good idea where he’s living and the actual location of his trailer and I drive by. It has none of the signs of big-time drug dealer. It’s a rundown travel trailer. It’s like, “Yeah, he’s selling drugs, but should have more income because of that than what this shows.” And so, it still didn’t add up.
Yeardley: [00:37:46] Do you suspect he uses drugs as well as sells?
Justin: [00:37:49] By visual appearance only I’d gotten glimpse of him a couple of times conducting surveillance. And he did. He looked like a heroin user, had the scabs and sores and swollen legs, and he absolutely had that appearance. Again, it doesn’t fit. He’s moving through this much drugs to just these people a day, yet he has a habit. He lives in a trailer, rundown trailer park. It just doesn’t add up, but we’ll see where it goes. And so, I draft, actually, three separate search warrants for Phil’s trailer. The warrants are kind of anticipatory. Some of the details hadn’t happened yet, but there’s three ways this case is going to go.
[00:38:26] Either, I can do what we try to avoid at all costs, but some point we have to make a case. I can name Steve in this search warrant and say, “Steve told me this, this, this, and this about Phil and his operation.” Because I name him, it lends credibility, and a judge would evaluate that because he’s named in this affidavit. Now, it would make Steve mad at me. It would burn him, as we call it, as a snitch or informant.
Dan: [00:38:52] And word would spread throughout the streets and it’s not a very good solution for Justin. Other people are not going to want to work with Justin, if word travels.
Yeardley: [00:39:02] Right. I see.
Dave: [00:39:03] And it’s not good for Steve, if and when Phil gets that case, he reads through the paperwork and he goes, “Son of a bitch.”
Yeardley: [00:39:09] Steve’s a snitch.
Dave: [00:39:10] Exactly.
Yeardley: [00:39:10] There’s got to be another way to do it, right?
Justin: [00:39:13] There is. I draft one search warrant anticipating a controlled buy from Phil, conducted by Steve, this time as the informant, where they meet, buy drugs. And then I have a third ready where the way I wanted to do this is, Steve explained that when he would meet with Phil, they’d meet away from Phil’s house, out in public and conduct a hand-to-hand exchange. He said most of the time it was in a cigarette box. He’d hand him a cigarette box, and he’d hand him money, and there’d be an ounce of heroin instead of cigarettes. And so, the plan was, Steve would order the drugs from Phil, Phil would leave his trailer, and at some point between the trailer and where Steve was, Phil would get arrested. We’d grab him, he’d have drugs on him. We would know he just came from his house. And so, I could write a search warrant based on that for his house and go back that way. So, I had my choice of those three.
Yeardley: [00:39:59] Okay, just to restate your three options. One, out Steve as a snitch, which you don’t want to do because that’s bad for everybody. Two, perform a controlled buy where Steve is doing the buying from Phil. And three, organize a buy with Steve and intercept Phil on his way to that buy. You already have warrants for all three.
Justin: [00:40:24] That’s right.
Yeardley: [00:40:25] Got it.
Justin: [00:40:26] So, finally, Steve comes through, and this is days later. Finally, he goes, “Hey, I’ve got it all set up. I’m going to go buy from Phil.” Okay. And so, we meet. We do the search like any other controlled buy. I give him money to buy an ounce of heroin. I give him my $1,250, and we send him on his way to the meet location. We have detectives set up in various locations to watch him make his way to where this meet is supposed to be, and then watch Phil come from his trailer to the meet. As predicted, Steve walks across the bridge. I remember watching him because my role was to handle him, keep eyes on him while other detectives were waiting for Phil, and we’re going to try to grab him as he came to us.
Dan: [00:41:07] Because Steve’s got your money.
Justin: [00:41:08] Yeah. So, I’m focused on him and I remember he’s walking across a bridge, and he’s playing with a fidget spinner the whole way. You can tell he doesn’t want to do what he’s doing, but at the same time, he knows he’s got to do something to try to help himself out. He’s conflicted. He’s about to set up the guy that he buys drugs from that keeps him, one in business, and two on heroin.
Yeardley: [00:41:28] If you arrest Phil before he gets to Steve, doesn’t he then know that Steve set him up?
Justin: [00:41:33] He can suspect that how our interaction goes with him dictates what he thinks. We’re pretty good at making people believe that we know more or have been there longer. In this case, I had the advantage of Phil knew that Steve didn’t know where he lived. He knew he was close in the area and we were able to figure out where that was. And so, if we can get it close to the house and had been watching his house, in his mind, there’s no way Steve could have been part of that. And so, we have that piece and that’s our angle in that regard to keep Steve insulated from this.
Dave: [00:42:06] Right. We’ve been watching you for days or weeks, and we were just waiting for you to leave the house.
Yeardley: [00:42:10] I see. So, Steve really didn’t know where Phil lived. You guys figured that out.
Justin: [00:42:15] We did.
Yeardley: [00:42:15] Got it. So, you arrest Phil and he’s got the ounce or more on him?
Justin: [00:42:21] So, Phil comes out and is taken into custody and is surprised by this whole thing.
Yeardley: [00:42:26] Is he hostile?
Justin: [00:42:27] No, he’s cooperative. He is surprised as an understatement, the way it’s relayed to me. Again, I’m still watching Steve, and part of this and part for Steve’s own good, he doesn’t know that this has happened that we’ve taken Phil into custody. And so, I’m still in contact with Steve and he’s like, “Guy’s not here.” I’m playing into it like, “Well, where is he? Are you jerking us around? Are you wasting our time?” “No, he should be here. It’s never been like this before.” And ultimately, I tell Steve, “Hey, we’re done waiting after 20 minutes, 30 minutes.” I know he’s not coming, but Steve still doesn’t. And so, I meet back with Steve, recover the money and say, “Hey, we’ll try this again.”
Yeardley: [00:43:02] And why don’t you tell him that you’re going to do what you do to Phil?
Justin: [00:43:06] A couple of reasons. At this, point one, I don’t trust Steve and I don’t want him talking about Phil being arrested by the cops unless he knows at this point, the better. And in the same vein, for Phil’s sake, I ultimately want to give him the same opportunity I gave Steve. And so, if Steve starts telling everyone in the world, “Hey, Phil just got arrested,” it could limit what Phil could do work wise as an informant himself to move up the ladder and get potentially his guy.
Dan: [00:43:33] Just way cleaner. Way cleaner.
Yeardley: [00:43:35] I see. Okay.
Justin: [00:43:36] So, I send Steve home, and he’s apologizing, “I’m sorry. It’s never been like this. I’ll figure out what’s going on.”
Yeardley: [00:43:40] You’re like, “Give me my money back.”
Justin: [00:43:42] That’s exactly my thought. “Get out of here. I got things to do. I just can’t tell you that I have those things to do.” So, I send him home and meet with the other detectives that now have Phil in custody. And Phil, I introduce myself and he’s cooperative from the very beginning, admits to being a heroin addict. There’s drugs in the cigarette box that he had in his pocket. We found those, says, “Yeah, I was heading to deliver those to a guy.” We talk about him selling drugs. From the very beginning, he’s pretty open about it and straightforward. “Yeah, I have an addiction. My girlfriend is addicted. I sell drugs to support us.”
Yeardley: [00:44:14] How old?
Justin: [00:44:15] Phil’s in his mid-30s. So, he’s a little bit older than this group. So, he’s past that first phase. We have Jeff, who’s still fully functioning as a member of society, working, taking care of a kid part time, all the things he needs to do and dealing with this habit. Then the next phase of this are the folks that we deal with at Steve’s house, where their lives are ravished by relatively recent addiction. That’s all they think about. It’s new. They don’t know how to manage it. And then we get to Phil. Phil’s had this addiction for a decade or more. It’s old hat to him. He knows how to manage it if it can be managed and he does the best he can with it. His girlfriend has a matching heroin problem, but she still works a full-time job and has legitimate income. But they’ve settled into what Phil has accepted to be, his life for the next till he dies.
Yeardley: [00:45:01] Right. So, you have Phil in custody?
Justin: [00:45:05] We do. In talking with him, he’s honest from the beginning. We don’t get into how much he’s selling exactly. He acknowledges that he sells a lot of heroin, but we’re not talking numbers and stuff because at this point, I still have these three draft versions of search warrants. My ultimate goal is to get back into Phil’s house or trailer and to search it, because if you’re able to deliver an ounce, there’s probably more where that came from. And so, we’re talking about this, and Phil agrees, “Yeah, come back over and I’ll show you where it’s at.” Again, it’s cooperative from the moment they identify themselves, “Hey, police.”
Yeardley: [00:45:38] Does that seem suspicious to you?
Justin: [00:45:40] It’s unusual, but not uncommon. It doesn’t raise the hair on the back of your neck. You’re still skeptical.
Dave: [00:45:45] When they do that. You say, “Uh-oh, well, he’s taking us back to the house because it’s not there.” “You can search my house fine, because buried out in the backyard.”
Justin: [00:45:53] Right. But he takes us back, invites us in, we meet his girlfriend, and he goes, “It’s behind the mirror in the bathroom,” even, without question. And so, Detective Kyle and I make our way to this bathroom, and behind the mirror in the bathroom is a large ziplock bag with a softball sized chunk of heroin in it. Ended up being between a quarter and a half pound of heroin, which is a lot.
Yeardley: [00:46:16] How much is that worth on the street?
Justin: [00:46:20] Broken down into the gram level, like what Steve was selling, it’s worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Yeardley: [00:46:26] Oh, okay.
Justin: [00:46:27] So, it’s a lot of heroin. Detective Kyle that was with me had been working narcotics for years and years longer than I had. At the time, it was more heroin than either of us had ever seen.
Yeardley: [00:46:37] Oh, wow.
Justin: [00:46:38] Both of us were surprised because it doesn’t fit the location we’re at. We’re in a trailer. None of the drug dealer signs are here.
Yeardley: [00:46:45] There’s none of the affluence that you sometimes see with drug dealers.
Justin: [00:46:48] Exactly. And so, we find it and start talking with Phil about, “That’s a lot of heroin”. He goes, “Yeah, I have a big problem, and I sell it to support it.” And so, he lets us into his cell phones. He has his own personal phone. It’s got nothing of interest in it, but then he has, what he called, a work phone. We go through that and it turns out Phil is selling ounces of heroin at a time to several people in the community, other smaller drug dealers including Steve. What’s interesting, I go back and I look at his conversation with Steve and the whole four-day or five-day period that I’m trying to get Steve going to make this happen, every one of those days, Steve had met with Phil and carried on his normal business the way he had been like nothing happened.
[00:47:30] You knew it, but there’s nothing you can do about it without catching them in the act or making something happen. And so, it’s like it confirmed that Steve’s playing both sides, we call it.
Dan: [00:47:38] They’re going to do the bare minimum to keep you satisfied.
Yeardley: [00:47:41] Sure.
Dan: [00:47:41] The bare minimum.
Justin: [00:47:42] And so, Phil and I start talking, and we have the conversation about, “Well, who’s your guy?”
Yeardley: [00:47:47] Like, who’s your supplier, Phil?
Justin: [00:47:49] Correct. And he goes, “Well, I have a couple.” He was originally from north of our city and he says, “I know somebody there.” And then, “I’ve got a number for a guy out of a city six hours away, which is where I get most of my stuff, and I can get whatever amount you want from him.” I’m thinking, “Well, he’s sitting on a half-pound. I bet he can.”
Dave: [00:48:07] You got to play within the boundaries of reality with these guys. So, if he’s used to ordering a pound at a time and then you ask for 15 pounds, the guy’s going to be like, “I know you don’t have enough money to cover that. I’m not going to front it to you. Did the detective tell you to ask for 15 pounds?”
Yeardley: [00:48:24] Right. And where does this heroin originate? Where is it coming from?
Justin: [00:48:28] It’s coming into the country via Mexico. Same with methamphetamine. They come in other ways in smaller amounts, but the vast majority of all the meth and heroin here are all coming across the border via Mexico. If you look at some of the models and distribution stuff that the DEA has put together, it looks like a shipping map for any legitimate company, they have hubs and distribution centers. It’s an organized business. It’s odd that we get a half pound of heroin here in our small town that ultimately came from a city that was six hours farther north. It passed us initially and then came back down.
[00:49:04] But it’s because the city north of us is so much bigger and there’s a bigger client base, customer base for this product that it starts there and then it’s better for them to bring it back down six hours down the highway to our small town.
Yeardley: [00:49:16] That’s crazy.
Justin: [00:49:16] It gets distributed from there to the half-pound guys, and then down to the ounce guys, and then down to the gram guys, and finally, the end users. It’s a business. It’s just an illegal one.
Yeardley: [00:49:26] Right. Just that.
Justin: [00:49:27] Yeah.
Yeardley: [00:49:28] So, he says, “I can get you whatever you want.”
Justin: [00:49:31] Which they always say. And so, we have a conversation about that. And so, we talk about what’s normal with Phil, “What do you normally get from this guy?” And he goes, “Well, I usually get a pound, sometimes more. A couple of times, I’ve gotten a full kilo, 2.2 pounds of heroin. It comes up packaged in kilos, typically heroin does.” And so, he goes, “I can order a full kilo, if you want.”
Yeardley: [00:49:50] So, how much would a kilo be worth on the street, roughly?
Justin: [00:49:53] So they’re price breaks. You buy in bulk like any item, you get a break. But if you break a kilo down into user amounts or we go back to the gram that started this whole case that Jeff bought during the controlled buy grams range, but $100 or thereabouts is an average price for a gram of heroin. There’s 1,000 grams in a kilo. And so, we’re talking $100,000, if you broke it down into the gram level. You can get grams a little bit more, you can get $200 grams. Some of it depends on the quality of the drug and how potent it is. And so, if it’s a hot batch like they call it, people will pay more for it because it’s a better product. And so, this kilo, you’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars for a kilo of heroin.
Yeardley: [00:50:34] That’s unbelievable.
Dave: [00:50:35] Is this guy getting fronted his product because he’s earned some trust and some credit with the bigger dealer?
Justin: [00:50:42] He had several thousand dollars. Phil did. When we arrested him, and we found that and seized it as evidence, but nowhere near the money he would need to buy this next amount. And so, his relationship, as he explained it to me with his supplier was he would sell what he had before, have that money, and then if he wanted more or less, his supplier was more than willing to front him the difference. And so, he’d have money to cover a half pound had he gone through selling all of his stuff. But then if he wanted an extra half pound, his supplier, “Yeah, sure.” Because he knows he’s good for it and he’ll pay for it the next time. And so, he’s always a step behind.
Yeardley: [00:51:18] Oh, is in debt.
Justin: [00:51:19] To some extent. Yeah. So, he’s got a problem in that regard too, because he owes his supplier tens of thousands of dollars for what I just took.
Yeardley: [00:51:27] Right, for what you just confiscated.
Justin: [00:51:29] Yeah. He doesn’t have the money nor does he have a way to make that money back, because he doesn’t have any product. So, we talk with Phil. Phil is as opposite as Steve as you can get. He wants to help. He wants out. He’s a lot like Jeff. He realizes his lifestyle, he has kind of accepted it, but knows it’s not good for him or anybody else. And so, he offers, “Hey, I can call him. How about a full kilo?” “Sounds good.” And he makes a phone call a day or two later. He had to fit it in with his natural cycle of business, because Phil would buy in bulk and then split it up and sell it in smaller chunks. He doesn’t buy every day because of the logistics behind it.
[00:52:03] Traveling from the city north of us, driving down here and meeting a hotel, there’s a lot more moving pieces, and the stakes are higher, more drugs, more money. But Phil makes this phone call, gives us the phone number. We do some research on it. There’s some connection between this number he’s calling and some other drug cases throughout the nation. At this point, we’ve included our local DEA office. In this case, it’s coming from a different state, so it’s crossing state lines and we’re into the realm where the amount of drugs we’re talking rises to the interest level of the federal court system and the federal prosecutors. And so, they’re interested, so they’re helping us at this point with some of the research, and checking phone numbers, and doing some research involving that to try to identify who Phil’s supplier is.
[00:52:47] Phil knows him as Oscar, but Phil’s never checked his ID. We don’t know if Oscar is his real name. That’s just what he knows him as. We have a phone number and the phone numbers are a good source of information for us because there’s a lot of research we can do, and the DEA is able to help us out with as far as obtaining information based on that. So, he makes that phone call.
Yeardley: [00:53:04] Are you guys listening in?
Justin: [00:53:05] We’re there with him. He’s on speaker.
Yeardley: [00:53:07] That’s not a red flag, “Hey, Oscar, you’re on speakerphone.”
Dave: [00:53:10] You don’t typically give him the business heads up. By the way, you’re on speaker.
Yeardley: [00:53:15] But you can tell.
Dan: [00:53:16] I’m guessing he’s doing the flat phone hold out in front of his face.
Justin: [00:53:19] Yep.
Yeardley: [00:53:19] You can tell less.
Justin: [00:53:20] And he calls, and we’re quiet, we’re sitting there. English is clearly his second language, and so it’s a broken conversation with Phil, but they’re able to conduct business and agree that Oscar will have a kilo of heroin brought down to our city, and it should be there. It was a two-day turnaround time. And so, they end their phone call, and okay, well, we’ll see what happens. More often than not, these things fall apart somewhere, somehow. Something doesn’t go right. There’re so many moving pieces, so much timing. Even though we’re now in upper-level drug dealers, Oscar’s a professional drug dealer. He’s not an addict that is supporting a habit. He’s here to make money selling drugs.
[00:54:01] So, he’s paranoid in a different sense. It’s not because of the drugs they use, but it’s because of the business and what they have to lose both financially and potentially criminally if they get caught. And so, they are a different animal.
Yeardley: [00:54:15] Is Oscar known to the DEA?
Justin: [00:54:17] He is. He’s got priors for drug-related offenses.
Yeardley: [00:54:20] Is he a violent criminal?
Justin: [00:54:21] Nothing violent that we know about. No arrests for any kind of violent activity. He’s flagged in the state that he lives in as a potential drug trafficker, and any information should be forwarded to their local DEA office. He’s on the radar, which obviously piques their interest even more because it’s somebody that’s known to them. He fits in a piece and a bigger puzzle that they’re working on at the international level at some point, because he’s only a few steps away from the drugs that are coming across the border. And so, they’re in to help us.
[00:54:50] We make the plan. The arrangement is just like they always do. They meet at a local gumpy hotel, get a room. He exchanges the money he has for the drugs they bring down, and they separate, and that’s it. That’s how simple it is. But there’s so many pieces to that. Oscar comes down and sees a car he thinks is suspicious. He’ll turn around and go back. He doesn’t answer the phone or call him right back. Any little thing that’s outside of what’s normal will spook these guys, and they’ll just abort, and may not ever call Phil again. They get any indication that Phil’s setting them up for something, and they cut them off, change their numbers, and poof, they’re gone.
Justin: [00:55:35] So, fortunately for us in this case, nothing weird happens. We set up at this hotel. At this point, it’s a handful of detectives from my small town, but now we’ve got assistance from DEA agents that are also there. We’re there and waiting, and sure enough, Oscar shows up.
Yeardley: [00:55:51] What kind of car is he driving?
Justin: [00:55:53] It was a rental car.
Yeardley: [00:55:54] A rental car?
Justin: [00:55:55] Yeah, it was a rental car out of the state he’s from. And so, it helps insulate his name or anything like that. We later did research, and it wasn’t rented by anyone named Oscar. It was rented by somebody else, and then Oscar was driving it, and so it becomes this source of untraceable transportation and further insulates their operation. And so, he shows up. Part of their arrangements, Phil would go to the hotel, get a room, and then let Oscar know what room he’s in. That’s exactly what happened. Phil gets a room, tells Oscar, Oscar shows up, and this is where it’s the unknown, and we have to be ready for anything because they’ll send multiple cars where Oscar comes down and meets, but the drugs are with somebody else in a different car.
[00:56:36] We and Phil have no way to know that exactly. Our big concern is we have to know the drugs are there before we can expose ourselves or make any kind of move on Oscar. And so, the plan we’d come up with for Phil is he’d be up there, and as a good businessman, Phil is, he’s not going to have $36,000 in the room with him. He doesn’t have that money. We don’t have that money. That money doesn’t exist and Oscar can’t know that.
Dave: [00:57:02] Right. So, you can contrast Steve’s method of business versus Phil’s. The reason we end up dealing with Steve is because he’s brought all this attention from the community, from his neighbors, who say there’s nonstop foot traffic, and they’re calling into the tip line saying, “Take care of this problem for us.” It’s because Steve does business out of his house. Phil is not going to have that issue because there’s not going to be foot traffic coming to his house. He does it all off site. Smarter businessman.
Yeardley: [00:57:33] Right, that’s so interesting. But going back to Phil in the hotel room, Justin, you’re saying, he doesn’t have the money for Oscar on him anyway. Even if he did, it wouldn’t be that uncommon for him to stash such a large sum of money elsewhere.
Justin: [00:57:51] Correct. So, in an attempt to prevent robbery from Phil’s perspective, it’s not uncommon for that money, like the drugs maybe, to be somewhere else. And so, that’s the way we set this up where Phil’s waiting. When Oscar gets there, Oscar comes in. We see him come in. He’s carrying a duffel bag. And so, we assume drugs are here, but again, we don’t know for sure. They have an interaction. Phil comes out of the hotel room, following the plan that he tells Oscar, “Okay, looks good. I’ll go get the money.” So, he comes out, actually comes to the car I’m waiting in, and Phil goes, “Yep, it’s all there.” Meaning, the kilo of heroin’s there. And so, we go, “Okay.” We go up to the hotel room, knock on the door, Oscar answers the door, thinking it’s Phil, I assume, who doesn’t have a key or is locked out, opens the door, and there’s police detectives and DEA agents there and has this like, it’s the problem look on his face.
Yeardley: [00:58:42] Oh, my God.
Justin: [00:58:43] So we go in there, and the duffel bag is sitting on the bed, and it’s open, and you can see a brick of heroin in it wrapped in cellophane, like, it’s movie-type heroin at this point.
Yeardley: [00:58:51] Yeah.
Dave: [00:58:52] They get the drugs right.
Yeardley: [00:58:53] [laughs]
Justin: [00:58:55] Yeah. It’s this giant brick of brown substance. I’ve never seen that much in my career. The DEA guys had on a couple of their trafficking cases, but nothing local like this. It’s sitting there. Oscar plays the I don’t speak English game, even though we know that he coordinated with Phil enough in English to bring a kilo of heroin down.
Dan: [00:59:15] Most of these DEA agents speak the language that Oscar speaks.
Justin: [00:59:19] Yeah.
Dave: [00:59:20] Do you guys open up your knives and then dig out some of the drugs and do the taste test?
Justin: [00:59:24] We do that with the cocaine, but we skip that on the heroin stuff. No, we don’t do that, for obvious reasons. It’s there. One of the agents present speak fluently Oscar’s language and catches him off guard by conversing with him, and now Oscar doesn’t have anything to hide behind. He ultimately gives us permission, even though we know the drugs are in the bag, can see it. To get into his bag, we seize the drugs, arrest Oscar, and Oscar is, he’s a professional. He works for somebody that’s an even bigger professional, and he’s not saying anything. He’ll take his punishment and move on, and he’s not going to turn on his guy. Part of it’s a cultural thing. The other piece of it is he still has family out of the country that he’s worried about. He won’t specifically say that, but we know that based on some research, and so all of that weighs into it. He’s not talking.
Dan: [01:00:10] You’re up in the level where if you talk, you’re endangering people around you.
Yeardley: [01:00:14] Right. They might kill your family.
Dan: [01:00:16] Yeah. And once you get to prison, if you’re going there, then you got a big target on your back.
Yeardley: [01:00:21] I see. So, shit.
Justin: [01:00:25] Yeah. So, Oscar’s arrested, taken to our local county jail. It’s a Friday night that this happens. Though Oscar’s known by DEA, has travel flags regarding drug activity, we ultimately determine he’s in the country illegally. He’s held at our jail through the weekend. Before he can even be arraigned or have a court date that following week on Monday, he’s released from our jail.
Yeardley: [01:00:50] What?
Justin: [01:00:51] Yeah.
Dave: [01:00:51] With a court date and a promise, “You’re going to come back to court,” right?
Justin: [01:00:55] Exactly.
Yeardley: [01:00:55] No.
Justin: [01:00:56] Yeah. Right. I’ll see you there.
Yeardley: [01:00:59] Wait. Oh, my God.
Dave: [01:01:00] Like we’ve said before, the jail staff, our county jail staff doesn’t make that decision. It’s a decision by the courts that work out of the jail. So, not throwing our local sheriff’s office under the bus here. It’s somebody found that Oscar didn’t rise to the level of people that we needed to worry about. They’re not going to be a public safety risk, and they deem them appropriate to release because we need to hold on to all these others.
Dan: [01:01:28] So, does this have anything to do with immigration not being notified, when Oscar was in the jail?
Justin: [01:01:34] The immigration stuff came into play. This was a little bit before that whole dynamic became such a hot button topic, but it was one of those things that it didn’t help. Oscar was in custody. The fact that he was dealing drugs and brought a significant quantity of heroin down here is what landed him in jail. The fact that he was in our country illegally wasn’t a consideration as to whether or not he stays in custody, because due to the political climate and the way the rules are at the time, that’s not something that our local county level courts and jail took into account. And so, the plan was for him to stay in jail and ultimately the DEA was going to put a federal hold on him, and transition the case to the federal level. But we’re dealing with a weekend here that has to happen.
[01:02:21] Business hours, Monday through Friday, their prosecutors need to be involved in that. And so, that was the ultimate plan that first thing Monday, it was going to become a federal case. He was going to stay. They can deal with his immigration status and all of that stuff, but he was already out of jail.
Yeardley: [01:02:34] Did you ever catch up to him again?
Justin: [01:02:36] Not that we know.
Yeardley: [01:02:37] Oh, my God. But it seems like how much work went into actually finally obtaining Oscar. Like, Oscar’s smart. He’s a professional businessman in his drug trade. So, as you’re saying, he’s incredibly cautious. If there’s one thing out of place, he doesn’t show up or he never calls Phil again. You finally get your hands on him, now he’s in the wind and you’ve never seen him again.
Dave: [01:03:02] Clearly a flight risk.
Yeardley: [01:03:04] Right. Even if he was in this country legally, he’s clearly a flight risk. He’s at such a high level. There are so many risks for him, for his family, for his own life. If he’s in prison, there’s a target on his back, as Dan was saying. There is no world he’s going to stick around.
Dan: [01:03:22] I’m just trying to think of the look on his face when they’re like, “Hey, you got to sign some papers, but you’re out of here, man.” And he’s like, “Wait, what?”
Yeardley: [01:03:30] “Yeah, you got a court date in 30 days.” Oh, my fucking God. I want to, oh, dude.
Dan: [01:03:36] “You’re not fucking with me, right? I can leave.”
Yeardley: [01:03:38] Oh, my heart hurts.
Justin: [01:03:39] Then you get out of jail and realize, “I got to tell my boss I don’t have his money.”
Dan: [01:03:42] Or, his drugs.
Justin: [01:03:43] Or, his drugs. I don’t know what happened with Oscar. Gets out and we’ve lost track of him. If I had to guess, he probably left the country for a period of time. And again, conjecture on my point, I bet he’s back with a different name, doing the exact same thing.
Yeardley: [01:03:57] Right. Wow. Justin, I wanted it to have a better ending.
Dave: [01:04:03] Well, it is a happy ending. You guys got drugs off the street. Good job.
Justin: [01:04:06] It’s a lot of drugs.[laughter]
Yeardley: [01:04:07] You said you got a kilo.
Dave: [01:04:09] It’s so frustrating.
Yeardley: [01:04:10] I mean, wow. So, Justin, I really want to hear what happened to everyone else in this story. Like, what about Jeff, the one who came to you in the very beginning, wanting to kick his heroin habit. What happened to him? Was he able to do it?
Justin: [01:04:25] So, Jeff still struggled after this. He still maintained a job, ended up getting himself into a treatment program. I’ve lost contact with him a little bit. And so, the last I knew, it’s been a year or two, but Jeff was battling towards recovery and was taking the steps he needed to take to get off heroin and live his life addiction free.
Yeardley: [01:04:43] Okay, that’s great. And Steve? What about Steve? I mean, I want to root for Steve.
Justin: [01:04:49] Steve couldn’t pull it together. He continued to use drugs, sell drugs, though at a smaller scale. He, by his own doing, created a situation where he couldn’t obtain the quantities that he used to be able to get. And so, he got arrested for several drug charges stemming from warrants where he wouldn’t go to court. And so, he’d have a warrant, he’d get arrested, have drugs on him. He had a DUI. He was under the influence of heroin and basically passed out at a stoplight and got arrested, had drugs there. And so, all of his charges were pulled together, and he was charged and ultimately sentenced to prison.
[01:05:20] He got some consideration for the work he did for me towards making the case on Phil, but he never was able to ride the ship, and so he ultimately ended up with a several year prison sentence over all of his crimes.
Yeardley: [01:05:31] Is he still in prison?
Justin: [01:05:33] He is. I think it’s a summer, he’ll be out. So, it’s coming up. It wasn’t lengthy, but it was enough of a timeout that hopefully it gives him the sobriety he needs to come out and be done with that.
Yeardley: [01:05:41] Yes, I hope so. And last, Phil. What happened to Phil?
Justin: [01:05:46] So, Phil the end of all of this, his legal problems and the criminal charges pending against him haven’t been prosecuted. He’s avoided prosecution at this point. They’re still within that statute of limitations conceivably. But because of his cooperation and what he was able to lead to us, the prosecutors recognize the work he’s done. We got a guy that was a way bigger fish than him. He did a few other cases for me and a few other operations and investigations for us. And so, by upholding his end of the arrangement, he was able to avoid any kind of legal repercussions.
[01:06:19] I still talk with Phil. He’s clean. He’s not selling drugs. He owns his own business now. I’ve stopped in and seen him at his business. Every time we talk, he credits him getting arrested that day as changing his life. His girlfriend’s clean. You can tell, you look at what Phil looked like when I first met him versus now. He’s well taken care of, doesn’t have that odor that we’ve talked about, and owns his own business.
Yeardley: [01:06:43] Oh, Justin, that’s the best, best ending.
Justin: [01:06:46] There’s your good ending.
Yeardley: [01:06:46] Yeah, there’s the good ending. Wow. Thank you so much for coming.
Dan: [01:06:51] We appreciate it.
Dave: [01:06:51] Thank you, sir.
Justin: [01:06:52] Oh, you’re welcome. It’s awesome to be able to share stories with folks and shed some insight into what we do.
Yeardley: [01:06:56] Amazing.
[01:06:59] Small Town Dicks is produced by Gary Scott and Yeardley Smith, and coproduced by Detectives Dan and Dave. This episode was edited by Soren Begin, Gary Scott, and me, Yeardley Smith. Our associate producers are Erin Gaynor and the Real Nick Smitty. Our music is composed by John Forest. Our editors extraordinaire are Logan Heftel and Soren Begin, and our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
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Yeardley: [01:07:54] That’s right. Your subscription also makes it possible for us to keep going to small towns across the country-
Dan: [01:08:01] -in search of the finest-
Dave: [01:08:02] -rare-
Dan: [01:08:03] -true crime cases told-
Dave: [01:08:05] -as always, by the detectives who investigated them. So, thanks for listening, Small Town Fam.
Yeardley: [01:08:10] Nobody’s better than you.
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