The Sunset Lounge had just finished serving its last drinks late one night in June 2001 when Officer James Megathlin parked his patrol car around the corner. At Henrietta Avenue and Eighth Street, the Sunset is dead center in West Palm Beach's downtown ghetto. Clubgoers began spilling out, mixing on the street with dealers, pimps, and hookers. It was ladies night, and Hoopty cars from the '70s cruised by with men making one last attempt at a hookup. Megathlin began ordering the crowd to get lost when he spied a better target, a man the cops said was West Palm's most wanted and dangerous drug kingpin. He goes by "Eighty-Six."
Eighty-Six was cruising his green Ford F-250 pickup slowly through the crowd, but Megathlin didn't try to pull him over where it would make a scene. In this part of town, Eighty-Six gets more respect than a West Palm cop. This is the neighborhood, after all, where a cop who shot a gun-toting drug dealer in 1994 was then stoned by an angry crowd. Megathlin wisely jumped back into his patrol car, called for backup, and waited until Eighty-Six was well clear of the Sunset before he pulled him over. Megathlin asked for his license, which displayed the name Elroy Phillips, 37 years old. It's a name he used at the DMV or to get a credit card, but few in town have ever heard it. He's Eighty-Six, or maybe "Six" if you know him back from his days in the Miami suburb of Little River. Two more cops who had been helping clear the crowd at the Sunset rolled up to help Megathlin. The three ordered Eighty-Six to get out of his giant-sized pickup, the one with "Trojan P" on the license plate. Carefully, Megathlin tried to slap handcuffs on Eighty-Six's wrist.
The arrest that night had really been coming for 17 years, ever since Eighty-Six moved to West Palm. Cops say he was one of a bunch of former Boulder Boys gang members who left the competition of Miami for uncharted territory in Palm Beach County. Cops say he immediately started peddling dime bags on street corners and moonlighted as a tough-guy enforcer. He could induce fear by the look of his fence-post-thick arms and 250 pounds of muscle on a frame no taller than five-foot-nine. He was most famous, though, for that massive head of his, outlined by a pinstripe of hair along his chin bone and a broad nose that appeared pancaked by a right hook or two. The cops say he eventually became the west side's biggest dealer, but that's still up for debate. If you ask Eighty-Six, he'll tell you it's about something else entirely: It's about the fact that the cops can't believe a black man in the ghetto can make money without dealing drugs.
More articles on Elroy Phillips:
After a Decade in Prison, Man Proves His Innocence -- Only to See Inaction From Courts, June 16, 2011
Don't Believe Elroy Phillips Is Innocent? Read the Evidence He Collected Yourself, August 3, 2011
Elroy Phillips Dug Up Evidence From Prison, but He Still Might Not Get a Chance to Prove His Innocence, August 4, 2011
Elroy Phillips, in Jail on a Charge He Says He Can Prove Is Bogus, Will Get Day in Court, September 21, 2011
"In This Place, Everybody Is Hopeless," Says Prisoner With Evidence to Prove He's Not Guilty, August 3, 2011
So on June 8, 2001, Officer Megathlin gingerly tried to slap handcuffs on Eighty-Six's wrists as they stood next to the F-250. But as the cop made his move, Eighty-Six saw his chance. He bolted, his tree-trunk frame cutting across lawns, dodging palm trees and mailboxes like a halfback. As he ran, Eighty-Six says, he heard the cops shouting for him to remove his hands from his pockets or they'd shoot. He pulled out his left hand, and with it came a wad of cash -- $1,600 in small bills floating under the streetlights. He says he's not so dumb as to drop a wad of dough like that, but the cops say it was his way of trying to throw them off. The money didn't stop the officers, who chased Eighty-Six up the sloping hill of Sapodilla Avenue, back toward the ghetto and the Sunset Lounge. Finally, Eighty-Six tripped in a spot of sugar sand and hit the ground. "Don't shoot me!" he bellowed, fighting with the cops. "I know you want to shoot me. Please don't shoot me!" His fight ended with a burst of pepper spray to the face, and in short order, Eighty-Six was at the county jail. The cops had in their custody a man who they said represented the city's biggest victory in the war on drugs in years -- or perhaps in its history.
But the arrest and eventual conviction of Elroy "Eighty-Six" Phillips would come to stand for something far less clear-cut. It would suggest the hopelessness of the government's war on drugs and the often-questionable way the feds go about putting suspected dealers behind bars. Eighty-Six would end up facing decades in federal prison with little actual evidence against him, according to his defense attorney. And the evidence the feds did offer would be pieced together from lost police reports, the word of felons trying to save themselves from prison, and the testimony of a disgruntled ex-girlfriend paid almost $10,000 for her cooperation. "The whole case," says his court-appointed attorney, Randee Golder, "was built on people blaming Elroy for crimes they committed themselves." Worst of all, a federal judge handed Eighty-Six a 30-year prison sentence despite a jury's acquitting him of most of the charges. He'll spend much of the second half of his life behind bars mainly for possession of a couple of boxes of bullets and less than one gram of coke -- about a night's worth for an addict. But Eighty-Six's sentence was comparable to the kind of time you're supposed to do if you're a top-echelon supplier.
Eighty-Six agreed to sit down with New Times for this article, but authorities where he's being held, at the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami, allowed him to speak only by mail or phone. In an August 27 letter, Eighty-Six claimed the cops pinned the drug operation on him because he refused to rat out others. "This story is bigger than me," he wrote, "and I will be exonerated."
Back in the neighborhood where he supposedly pushed drugs, off Tamarind Avenue just north of downtown, no one's surprised by his fate. Tanya Grimes, the mother of his daughter, knows the cops have wanted Eighty-Six for years. He could be an asshole, she admits, so they wanted him behind bars. "They was after him for the whole time he's been up here," she says one afternoon, eating a burger under a ficus tree in front of a rundown apartment complex. "They were gonna put his ass in jail no matter what, and they finally did it. That's all it is."
The Veterans Administration hospital in Palm Beach County has a sprawling campus stretching over 69 manicured acres. It's lined with symmetrical oak trees, strips of neatly trimmed ixora bushes, and rows of royal palms. In September 2000, the VA hired new landscapers to take care of its property. The company was Trojan P, owned by none other than Elroy "Eighty-Six" Phillips.
The contract with the VA required Eighty-Six to spend almost every day there, and he often rode mowers or pushed trimmers himself. With the lucrative contract, he hired a crew of a half dozen men and secured a small-business loan. He bought industrial-sized riding mowers, a massive trailer to haul his equipment, and the green F-250. After learning of Eighty-Six's conviction, the VA wouldn't release a copy of the contract it had with him without a lengthy records request process. On his taxes, Eighty-Six claimed to make $45,000 a year, almost twice the median income of black West Palm residents.
Investigators say Eighty-Six ran the business on the side while building his drug empire. West Palm Beach police agent Brian Kapper suspects Trojan P was a front for drug money. "The best way to cover money," Kapper says, "is with some small business that you can use to make your money legitimate." Kapper has spent five years on the city's elite Crime Apprehension Team, learning the street names of dealers and mapping their turf. Kapper says Eighty-Six was one of the city's most violent dealers, and the agent blames Eighty-Six for the shooting two years ago of a crackhead who went by "Pops," although there's no evidence to support that. Even the government's informants say Eighty-Six mourned Pops at his funeral. Still, Kapper says Eighty-Six represented the new wave of Miami-bred dealers murdering others for street corners.
But the reality of Eighty-Six's riding mowers every day seems to contradict the government's portrayal of him as a cocaine kingpin. Those who defend him say he didn't have time to do much else but cut grass and trim bushes at the VA. It isn't hard to find skeptics in his old neighborhood who say the government was looking for someone to string up as a spoil in the war on drugs.
On a recent afternoon on Eighth Street in the ghetto, Sam Newby sat in a ragged lawn chair in the sunshine. Newby says he's known Eighty-Six since he moved up from Miami. Eighty-Six has a reputation in town as being a tough guy, a loudmouth who wouldn't shut up perhaps, and that's what got the cops' attention. "They railroaded him," Newby says. "He made a lot of people mad because of who he was, but the truth is, he never called no shots on nobody."
Eighty-Six's neighbor at the townhouse on 35th Street says he had a bad reputation for that mouth of his. "All the women were afraid of him," said Thomas, who wouldn't give his last name. Neighbors often heard Eighty-Six shouting at girlfriends or his crew from the lawn business. "He was very intimidating," Thomas said. "I don't know nothing about him dealing drugs, but he was sure intimidating."
That boisterous personality made him an ideal target for the cops, says Tanya Grimes, his ex-girlfriend. She says Eighty-Six often argued with cops who told him to move along when he was standing outside the Sunset Lounge. "They wanted him to kiss their ass," she says. "They want everyone to kiss their ass. He wouldn't do it, and they went after him." The cops, she says, were also angry that Eighty-Six had beaten them in court. He spent only a couple of years in prison on an attempted-murder charge for shooting a guy in 1994. Eighty-Six claimed self-defense and got his sentence reduced on appeal. "The cops, they don't like to be beaten," Grimes says. "They don't forget things like that."
If Eighty-Six was a druglord, he didn't live like it. He bought his two-bedroom townhouse for $32,500 in 1999, and he paid about $250 a month for the mortgage. He collected classic Cadillacs, owning three of them over the past few years, one burgundy, one white, and the other gold. But even those weren't worth more than a few thousand dollars. The government claims he made $2,000 a day off his drug business at a minimum, but it isn't clear where that money went.
Even the government's claim that Eighty-Six was a Miami gang member doesn't seem to make sense, since he grew up in a suburban section of Miami. Little River wasn't the kind of place to find gang members, Eighty-Six will tell you. "I wasn't no gang member," he says. "Where I grew up, there wasn't no gangs."
After his arrest, he claimed to be broke, and the government didn't challenge it, having no leads pointing them to the drug money. Instead, the judge appointed Golder to represent him for free. Golder says the case against Eighty-Six was simple: West Palm cops identified him as a target with no proof against him, then put the federal agents on his trail. "He wasn't a very nice guy, and they wanted him behind bars," she says. "But not being a very nice guy is not a crime."
Back on February 13, 2000, DEA agent Rob Smith and a paid informant strode up an alley running parallel to Eighth Street. Weeds spread over the cracked asphalt, and trash collected under overgrown bushes. Halfway up the alley, gangly ficus bushes opened up to a courtyard surrounded by a ragged chain-link fence. Just inside sat James Yearby, but everyone knew him as "Pumpkin." They say on the streets that he came up from Miami just a few months earlier to add some muscle to the local drug business. The 39-year-old had done time for two murders.
Just as he did for drug customers seven days a week, Pumpkin stuck his fingers through the chain-link fence ready to take some cash. If this was a typical deal, he would then go to a dresser sitting out in the courtyard, its wood frame swollen from rains. He'd pull out thumbnail-sized ziplock bags with crack and stick them through the fence. But this day, the DEA's confidential informant told Pumpkin they had come for something more. They wanted a G-bag, or $1,000 worth of crack. Pumpkin slid open the gate, and they followed him toward room number two of a rundown apartment building the color of lemonade.
As they walked up to the door, a girl who looked like she ought to be a cheerleader somewhere approached Pumpkin. The 22-year-old had a silky complexion the color of cappuccino and short-cropped hair sticking out at fashionable angles from the side of her head. Known as "Little Red," Stephanie Ann White told Pumpkin she didn't want to go inside. She didn't want to be there if a deal was going down. Pumpkin told her to get her ass in the apartment.
"There it is," Pumpkin told the DEA agent and his paid informant, plopping ten baggies onto a coffee table. "One thousand worth of crack is in them bags." Then he turned to Little Red and, according to court documents, revealed the name of the man who supplied him with all his drugs. "I need more stuff," he said. "Take the money to Eighty-Six and hurry back."
The exchange was quick and simple, but the information gained that day was enough to begin a two-year investigation that cost the government untold hundreds of thousands of dollars. Starting only with the name Eighty-Six, city police officials requested help from the DEA to break up the syndicate. The agency sent its Mobile Enforcement Team, made up of a dozen agents and intelligence specialists. In August 2000, the DEA rented a condominium in North Palm Beach to use as the investigation's temporary headquarters. West Palm provided narcotics officers to give them the lay of the local drug operations, and the DEA brought what seemed like an unlimited supply of money, paying for high-tech surveillance equipment and cash to give informants.
This invasion by the DEA's team came thanks to Congress, which in 1995 provided the funding for 19 Mobile Enforcement Teams stationed across the country. The feds hoped the teams could help local police, who have long complained that there's little they can do to stop the flow of drugs. Every year, the Miami-based team parachutes into three or four Florida cities at the request of local police chiefs. The group was responsible for the bust of a dozen dealers in Delray Beach two years ago, and in 1998, the team nabbed Rickey Brownlee, an Opa-locka heroin dealer so notorious that locals called him "The Mayor." The agents start by buying small bags from street dealers; then they arrest the low-level operators in the hope that they'll rat out their bosses. Unlike their TV counterparts, drug dealers typically have no loyalty, says Jim Shedd, a DEA special agent in Miami. Once the small dealers talk, the agents begin raids. They work at night, busting into crackhouses just before dawn. "We like to hit them in the morning," Shedd says, "when they're still sleeping in their beds."
From that simple transaction in February 2000, the DEA had enough to charge Pumpkin and Little Red. But their goal was to go after the supplier. Knowing Little Red was the one bringing the re-ups, the DEA followed the white Cadillac she drove back to a townhouse on 35th Street owned by Eighty-Six. He claims he wasn't even living there at the time but was renting it out to a friend. But the feds believed all that was left was to catch Eighty-Six in the act.
Early on the night of April 6, 2001, a confidential informant went to the fence behind the apartment building at 625 Eighth Street. Accompanying him was Michael Ghent, an undercover narcotics agent with the City of West Palm. Kapper, his partner, sat across the street watching the whole thing go down. They expected to see Pumpkin standing out by his dresser, doling out crack to passing addicts. It was a Friday, already one of the busiest days in the drug trade, but it was also the beginning of the month, when many customers have just cashed government checks. On a night like that, he could sell two or three times his normal distribution of 200 rocks. By morning, the alley would be littered with tiny ziplocks and crack pipes. On this stretch of Eighth Street, at least a half dozen bystanders have been shot in recent years in gunbattles started mostly over drugs.
The cops figured Pumpkin would be too busy that night to ask questions about why Ghent was there. But as they came upon the chain-link fence, Ghent later testified, they found Eighty-Six himself offering them drugs. Ghent asked for a 50-pack, and according to his testimony, Eighty-Six came back from the apartment with five green baggies, each holding a beige chunk of crack.
That single transaction could have sealed the government's case, but instead it almost sank it. Somehow, the DEA's team of experts and the West Palm narcotics agents either forgot to fill out a report on the night's work or lost it among the stacks of paperwork kept on the case. Also, only Ghent and another West Palm officer watching nearby witnessed the transaction, according to their testimony. Absent that day was the DEA and its expensive recording equipment.
Still, the cops had another way to get to Eighty-Six: those who worked for him. They wanted someone on the inside, someone with knowledge of what happened at that 35th Street townhouse. Their target was Little Red.
Back on a summer day in 2000, Eighty-Six borrowed a couple of jet skis to take to the Lake Worth Lagoon. He brought along Little Red and Pumpkin. Eighty-Six jumped on one by himself, so Pumpkin hopped on the other steered by Little Red.
They cruised the coastline on the jet skis until Pumpkin told Little Red he wanted to cool off in the water. She stopped, and Pumpkin jumped in, bobbing under his life jacket. Just to see what Pumpkin would do, Little Red sped off. "He started screaming and hollering," Little Red recalled later. "He thought he was gonna drown."
Eighty-Six spotted Pumpkin flailing his arms, and thinking he was going under, he sped over to pick him up. That's when Little Red thought she might take the joke up a notch. She hit the throttle on her jet ski and aimed it at Eighty-Six. She struck the two of them just as Pumpkin was getting on the back, sending both of them sprawling into the water and the jet skis nearly on top of them. Explaining the incident in court, Little Red said she knew Pumpkin couldn't swim, "but I didn't know he was that scared."
Little Red, an immature girl with an apparent streak of malice, would soon become the government's star witness. In the Eighty-Six case, most testimony came from felons facing long prison sentences themselves unless they fingered someone else. Little Red didn't have much of a record, just a conviction for driving without a license. But then, she hadn't been on the streets long.
Now in federal prison, Little Red declined to talk for this article, but her story is told in the court file, along with transcripts of testimony describing her relationship with Eighty-Six. Little Red has the kind of life's story they tell you in health class about what happens to bad girls. She says she learned about drugs from the coke parties her mom would throw when Little Red was a kid. She dropped out of high school when she got pregnant the first time at 15 and left home two years later. Her second child was born just after she turned 18. She worked in a pharmacy and as a waitress trying to support them. But when the stress got too much, she says, she turned to one of her mother's friends. He didn't recognize her when she asked for a dime bag of cocaine, and soon she was a regular. She lost her apartment not long after, her mom took her kids, and she found herself sleeping on couches wherever the party was. Before her 21st birthday, she was a mother of two, a crackhead, and homeless.
She met Eighty-Six in September 1999 outside the Sunset Lounge and moved in with him a few months later. That lasted a year until a nasty breakup in April 2001. Little Red tried to put her past behind her and moved into her mom's Riviera Beach home. She took a job at Burger King. She was fired, however, on her first day.
So in April 2001, the DEA's Mobile Enforcement Team was finishing up its investigation into Eighty-Six and went searching for Little Red, jobless, broke, and strung out on coke. And the DEA had a sweet deal for her that was impossible to turn down.
The DEA woke Eighty-Six out of bed at exactly 5:20 a.m. on April 11, 2001.
"What the fuck do you cracker cops want?" he shouted down from the second-floor window of his 35th Street townhouse, according to court documents.
The agents, in their full SWAT-team-style regalia, shouted back that they were there for Little Red. They had a federal warrant for her and demanded to know if she was there.
"None of your fucking business," Eighty-Six barked. "Go ahead and break the door down, you cracker motherfuckers, and you're all going to die! I wired the door."
The DEA waited 20 minutes for Eighty-Six to open up. Meanwhile, the agents say they heard the upstairs toilet flushing continually. Finally, ex-girlfriend Tanya Grimes showed up. Tanya talked him into opening the door, and the agents rushed in, finding Eighty-Six kneeling in his living room, his hands on his head. He was soaked in sweat. "Go ahead, you cracker cops. Go ahead and shoot me," Eighty-Six shouted. "I know that's what you want to do."
Eighty-Six was alone in the townhouse; no Little Red, who had gone to live with her mother. Upstairs, a black bag lying near a safe was empty, and the bathroom floor was soaked. Agents claim they found white powder on the safe, but they failed to take a sample to test if it was cocaine.
They found their main target later that day when Eighty-Six told the agents that they could find Little Red at her mother's house. After her arrest, the government's goal was to put pressure on her until she told them that Eighty-Six ran the Eighth Street drug operation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Janice LeClainche began the interrogation by telling Little Red what she wanted for Eighty-Six. According to court documents, the prosecutor didn't hide her hate. "I want him to burn in hell," LeClainche said.
It didn't take long for Little Red to talk. The government promised her a short sentence and money to help her family relocate. The U.S. Attorney's Office gave her $4,000, the DEA chipped in $5,000, and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives added $600 for a total just shy of ten grand.
Little Red's statement helped investigators get an arrest warrant for Eighty-Six, and in December 2002, he went to trial on charges of running a cocaine ring that distributed enough coke to make the entire city of West Palm high. In addition, agents who searched his townhouse after his arrest found two boxes of bullets, possession of which is illegal for a convicted felon. Just in case the drug charges weren't enough, the government also tacked on eight gun-related charges that would ensure that Eighty-Six would remain in prison for a long time. But the case would rest on the government's informants, a cadre of murderers and drug pushers who needed to act believable before the jurors. That wouldn't prove so easy.
In court, Little Red described her part in the operation as Eighty-Six's bag man. According to what she told the jury, every month or so, Eighty-Six would drive to Miami to pick up a massive bag of powdered cocaine. At the 35th Street townhouse, he'd convert it into crack by mixing in water and baking soda. He'd heat the goopy stew in a pan over the stove. Left to dry, the "cookie" hardened and was then sliced into fingernail-sized pieces worth $10 each on the streets. She bought green ziplocks at corner stores to put the rocks in. She liked green. It's the color of money.
Little Red said she'd take over a "bomb" -- 200 rocks in a travel bag -- before Pumpkin began his day at 6 every night. She'd make perhaps one or two more trips later that night for re-ups if the disability checks had just come in. LeClainche, the federal prosecutor, took Little Red methodically through the process. "If you did not sell the full [two] hundred, what would you do?"
"With the rest of the crack?" Little Red responded. "I would take it back with me to Eighty-Six."
"You did not smoke crack?" LeClainche asked.
"Your drug of choice?"
The government called to the stand others who testified that Eighty-Six was the leader of the drug ring. Pumpkin was one of them and, like the rest, stood to gain a significant reduction in the sentence he faced if he testified. Pumpkin and the others didn't have as much to offer because it was Little Red who always brought the coke. None of the others saw Eighty-Six with the drugs. Pumpkin, a two-time murderer, could have faced life in prison. Instead, he got 11 years.
It was Little Red who got the best deal. She not only walked away with the government's $9,600 but the feds also promised she'd spend only two years in prison on charges that could have put her behind bars for nine years. LeClainche had her explain the deal to jurors so that the defense wouldn't use it against her, but the jurors had no idea the deal for Little Red and the others would get even better later on.
Eighty-Six's attorney, Golder, attacked the credibility of the convicted drug dealers and of the cops, whom she accused of fabricating facts. There was no police report generated after Eighty-Six allegedly sold $50 in crack to an undercover cop back in August 2001. But on the stand, West Palm officers brought an unsigned police report that previously had not appeared in the case file. Golder claimed the cops created the story in hopes of strengthening a weak case. The claim that Eighty-Six sold them drugs directly didn't make sense. Every witness who accused Eighty-Six of heading the operation said he never sold drugs himself. In addition, absent that day were the DEA agents and their high-tech recording and surveillance equipment. Eighty-Six says the cops fabricated the story at the last minute. "Not one of those things that cop said happened really happened, I tell you," Eighty-Six says from prison. "They made that up, and they know it."
After a three-week trial, LeClainche sent jurors into deliberations to consider 21 separate criminal charges that could have put Eighty-Six behind bars for the rest of his life. Most serious was a charge that he conspired to distribute 11 pounds of coke worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The jury, however, surprised investigators and prosecutors. The panel found Eighty-Six guilty of only three drug charges stemming from the lost-police-report incident and from a minuscule amount of coke found in his truck the night he was arrested. The jury found him guilty of possessing exactly 0.77 grams of coke -- less than the weight of a paper clip. The jurors also convicted him for those two boxes of bullets that agents found in his townhouse. But the verdict seemed like a failure for the two-year investigation, for West Palm police, and for the DEA's crack Mobile Enforcement Team.
Then on August 19 of this year, U.S. District Judge Joan A. Lenard took drastic measures to ensure that the investigation didn't have a bad ending. Lenard is a former Dade County prosecutor and Broward County judge appointed to the federal bench eight years ago. Eighty-Six found himself in front of a judge many lawyers think very little of; on the Dade County Bar Association's most recent survey ranking federal judges in 1999, more than one quarter of the lawyers who responded ranked Lenard as unqualified. Only two federal judges scored worse on the survey. Lenard virtually ignored the jury's verdict and gave Eighty-Six a sentence of three decades in federal prison for charges that would barely make it to trial in state court. "When we get to the point in this country that a jury's verdict doesn't mean anything," Golder says, "then we're in trouble."
Speaking by phone from prison, Eighty-Six says he became the main target because he was the only one arrested who didn't blame others. He claims West Palm agents Kapper and Ghent made up the August 2001 sale. "They got all the cops to come in and say I'm the bad guy so that I'd be the snitch," he says. "They done it with everybody else. The only reason I got 30 years is because I wouldn't snitch on everybody else. That's how they done me."
Six days after the judge sent Eighty-Six to prison, West Palm police called the city's top politicians to their Rosemary Avenue headquarters for an unrelated photo op. In a conference room across from the front desk, television cameras set up in front of city commissioners, Mayor Lois Frankel, and Police Chief Ric Bradshaw. They stood next to two billboards filled with booking mugs. The pundits came to applaud a police sting called "Operation Street Sweep" that accounted for 74 arrests in the city's open-air drug markets. Those arrested included two crooks nabbed twice because they got out of jail so fast.
But after the politicians submitted to their on-camera interviews and filed out of the room, police Capt. Dennis Crispo admitted that the busts wouldn't do much to the drug market. In fact, Crispo came clean that even the arrest of Eighty-Six didn't do a damn thing to slow the flow of coke. "Unfortunately, they fill in rather rapidly," Crispo admitted. "Eighty-Six, now he was a bad ass, so at least we got that dangerous element off the streets."
The conviction of Eighty-Six, either a victory in the war on drugs or an example of a failing campaign, won't be remembered long. After appealing his sentence, Eighty-Six is waiting to hear if the higher court will consider his case. Besides his bleak future, there's no other benefit to the government's war against him. Even those who supposedly ran the business with him will be back on the streets soon. After her testimony, prosecutors agreed to let Little Red out of prison. She completed just six months of her two-year sentence. Not long after, she came up positive for cocaine during a pee test required for probation, landing her back in prison for three months. It's not clear what happened to the $9,600 the feds gave her, which was supposedly to help her relocate; she was still living in Palm Beach County when she was arrested for violating her probation. Prosecutors filed paperwork in August to have Pumpkin's sentence reduced. He's awaiting a ruling by a federal judge, who could allow him to walk in exchange for his testimony.
As for the drug hole on Eighth Street where Eighty-Six allegedly ran his 200-rock-a-day business, police say it's back to being simply a rundown apartment complex. There's a "for rent" sign outside now for an apartment above the one where police say Eighty-Six sold his rocks. You'd think there might be an opening in town too for a new druglord, but West Palm agent Kapper admits that's already been filled. "All we're gonna do at best is slow it down," he says. "By the time we put someone away, somebody's already taken over. We're not going to do anything about that."
A week after Eighty-Six's conviction, the harshness of his sentence would be plainly highlighted. In Miami, a federal judge imposed sentence that day against Fabio Ochoa, who in the late 1990s was shipping up to 30 tons of coke to the United States every month. The U.S. Attorney's Office called it South Florida's "most significant narcotics prosecution." His sentence: 365 months -- just five months more than Eighty-Six faces.
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