Wednesday, August 09, 2006

That Voodoo that You Do So Well

This is the ninth in a series of posts inspired by a federal drug conspiracy case targeting a middle aged housewife and three of her children.

Dexter Harmon had been in the federal prison system for two years when Jerry Stutes and Brett Grayson paid a call. Several of his former associates had snitched on Dexter and Dexter had snitched on the people up the ladder from him—particularly the kingpin of kingpins, John Timothy Cotton of Houston. This testimony was part of the massive Operation Rap Crack which nailed fifty-two defendants prior to Tim Cotton’s three-week trial in 2004 that resulted in a life sentence.

Dexter Harmon could honestly claim that he knew Danny and Edward. The two young men had been celebrated high school athletes when the Carrier Club was at its prime. Danny Davis’s picture was in the paper on a weekly basis in 1994 and anyone who followed high school athletics knew him by sight.

Harmon told Grayson and Stutes that Danny Davis was a bigger drug dealer than his brother Edward. This came as a shocking revelation. Jerry Stutes hadn’t even brought a picture of Danny Davis with him to Yazoo City; but he promised to rectify that oversight.

The Tim Cotton operation reputedly shipped crack cocaine from Houston to towns in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Louisiana. Operating out of Rayne, a town just south of Church Point, Dexter Harmon was Tim Cotton’s central supplier in western Louisiana. At Cotton’s trial, Harmon testified that he had traveled extensively throughout the United States and had made several money laundering runs to the Dominican Republic, once with hundreds of thousands of dollars stuffed inside a Nissan Maxima.

Big time dealers like Dexter Harmon get most of their money in small bills from street level dealers making dozens of nickel-and-dime deals a day. Crack rocks sell for between five and twenty dollars, money which can’t be banked in volume without raising suspicions. Dexter took a plea when he realized the government had phone records showing he had been in constant contact with his associates in Houston and receipts showing he had repeatedly wired vast sums via Western Union.

After Tim Cotton’s trial the government tried to entice media interest by publicizing the fact that Dexter Harmon, working on Tim Cotton’s orders, had paid a Voodoo priestess in the Dominican Republic half a million dollars to place a hex on the United States government.

A small coterie of mid-level dealers from the Rayne area procured their drugs from Harmon; most of these guys had been regulars at the Carrier Club 88 in the early 90s. As soon as the feds took their leave, Dexter Harmon fired off a letter to one of his former associates, Cleveland “Gotti” Benoit, a drug dealer who had once performed in Dexter Harmon’s rap group. The “Gotti” label was probably stolen from Irv Gotti, the head of Rap label Murder Inc. before he was busted by the feds on tax evasion and narcotics charges.

The link between Hip Hop icons and the drug culture was as obvious and intentional. Many rappers portrayed themselves as desperate crack slingers on the run from the cops. Sometimes art mimicked reality; more often the gangsta posturing was just a cheap marketing ploy. But the result was that any black male associated with rap music was suspect—even if he had just cranked up a TuPac tune on his system. Even the title “Operation Rap Crack” suggests an intimate association between black music and drug crime. Stevie Charlot had once toured Europe and the United States as a drummer with Beau Jocque and the Zydeco Hi-Rollers before the band leader died of a heart attack and Stevie succumbed to a crack addiction.

The day before Stevie Charlot allegedly bought crack from Ann and Edward Colomb, Cleveland “Gotti” Benoit wrote his defense attorney begging for an opportunity to rat on somebody. His plea bargain was dependant on his willingness to roll over on Dexter Harmon and his kingpin buddies, but when these guys copped pleas Benoit was out of luck. “If nothing happens to me and I have to do the rest of my sentence,” he lamented to his attorney, “I’ll be the only one [from the Rayne area] who didn’t benefit from helping the government.”

The government’s snitch system is predicated on the draconian mandatory minimum sentences Congress has attached to federal drug sentences and the fact that parole has been abolished from the federal system. When you give a man like Cleveland Benoit twenty years without parole he gets desperate. He's supposed to. Short days after receiving Harmon’s letter, Benoit fired off a missive to Brett Grayson. “Threw a few of my sources (sic)” Gotti had learned that Grayson was investigating “the Cologne brothers.”

On May 13, 2002, Benoit received a visit from Jerry Stutes. Dexter Harmon’s ex-flunky had little trouble picking Edward and Danny out of a photo array; they were the only ones featured in head-and-shoulder shots. Benoit told the investigator that he had served as Harmon’s back-up man whenever he ran short of drugs. Since Benoit got his drugs from Harmon this was an odd arrangement. Dexter ran out of drugs a lot—Benoit reported weekly transactions of approximately $7,000.

Marcus Ledet learned about the Colomb investigation while washing dishes with Cleveland Benoit at the Beaumont Low federal prison. On April 26, 2002, an enthusiastic Ledet contacted Brett Grayson. “I was told you were investigating the Culone brothers from Church Point, Louisiana,” the letter began, “on charges following their past and future.”

The repeated misspelling of the Colomb name probably originated with Dexter Harmon. Edward Colomb went by the surname “Henry” in the mid-1990s which means the “Colomb” name had to be supplied by Grayson and Stutes.

By the time a grand jury convened in May of 2002, Stutes and Grayson had interviewed most of Dexter Harmon’s former associates from the Rayne area. Before long, Danny and Edward Culone-Cologne had been tied to 250 kilos of crack cocaine with a street value of $65 million.

But the government had a problem: there were no phone logs, no money wires, and no clear social connection between grown men like Dexter Harmon and high school kids like Danny and Edward who hadn’t started shaving when they were supposedly selling millions of dollars of crack every week.

Brett Grayson might have asked himself how Ann Colomb’s boys could have done over three million crack deals by themselves—that’s a thousand deals every day. Although the indictment referred to “unindicted co-conspirators” no names were ever mentioned. The problems deepen when you consider the post-high school career of Danny Davis.