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Big Dope

I've interviewed several dopers who were proclaimed triumphantly in headlines and breathlessly on television to be masterminds of international narcotics smuggling. They weren't. I interview these guys in Spanish, which usually is their second language. Their first is Otomí or Nahuatl, which are dialects of Aztec, or Quechua or Aymara, which are dialects of Inca.

Invariably these masterminds turn out to be mules hired on a one-time basis to haul dope from Miami or the Rio Grande valley to Jacksonville for a fee of $3,000-$5,000, half down, half C.O.D. All they know about the drug biz is that some guy named Pedro or Juancho gave them the down stroke and a burner phone and told them to drive a rusted heap to our fair city and await a call.

Hola, Jacksonville!

The dope they carry is not insignificant. In one case, it was 60 kilos of methamphetamine "de primera," which means 100 percent, fry-your-neurons pure. Sixty bricks are enough to explode the heads of every tweaker from the Jesse Street 'jects to the Georgia line. The feds grab these guys periodically, usually with some Jacksonville Sheriff's Office blue suits along to do chores. The resulting soundbite, with smiling lawmen and law ladies flanking the dope, has become a media staple that appears reliably each year, like Christmas and Halloween.

The perfidy of the FBI, DEA and police in trumpeting such seizures is not small. It gives the impression that the drug business has been disrupted, when it hasn't. By my calculation, the quantity of weed, pills, crystal, crack and black tar that it takes to buzz the 10 percent of Jacksonville that wants buzzing would fill a 40-foot shipping container — every day. The loss of 60 keys is retail shrinkage, like a few hams and a six-pack walking out the back door of a Walmart.

The FBI has been a publicity whore ever since J. Edgar Hoover got in cahoots with Hollywood to produce "G Men" with James Cagney. In the '60s TV series "The F.B.I.," the …   More


Big Crooks Crush

I like professional criminals. By these, I mean guys who get up with the birds every morning and sally forth into the sunshine to rob, steal, deal or defraud $100,000 or more per year from willing (at the time) customers and unwilling victims. They're a cheerful lot, smart, busy and industrious.

I always tell them that, with their brains and work habits, they could get rich the slow way in honest enterprise. They laugh and, with the patience one employs with the foolish, explain that honest money just doesn't taste as sweet and it doesn't come as fast.

Because I speak to these guys while working with their attorneys and can't rat or testify, they're happy to chat. One ran a check-kiting scheme through which he stole $3 million from Winn-Dixie and Walmart. The technique was so simple that I briefly pondered a move to the dark side. Alas, one of the skills required was the ability to effortlessly seduce the young women who work at check-cashing shops, which will never work for a guy like me who has, as they say, a face made for radio.

Another guy was a "mechanic" (expert car thief) who stole luxury cars to order and shipped them to South America and the Middle East in containers whose hinky paperwork slid through the greased fingers of our fine port employees.

Dope distributors — "dealers" are expendable sales staff — are always on the big crook list. The best achieve the Dope Trifecta, which is to get in the dope business, get rich and get out, without being imprisoned or killed. The exit technique is to call associates and report being busted in some faraway place like Alaska or Samoa, and that you'll be gone for a long time. The associates will then steal the business and forget about you, which is the idea.

My personal favorite was a Cuban guy who figured that the way to rob American banks was to steal by remote control from Montevideo, Uruguay. He set up a café with free Internet, then sat in a back room, skimming customers' …   More


Practice a More Perfect Law

Cops, prosecutors and defense attorneys need wealthy and well-represented defendants for the same reason that surgical residents need indigent patients — for training. The doctors get the practice they need because there's no shortage of poor with end-stage diseases requiring heroic surgery and medicine.

Not so with criminal defendants who are rich and well-represented, the latter defined as people who are not wealthy but can be vigorously defended by corporate, government and union attorneys when arrested. To paraphrase St. Mark, "Ye have the poor always with you; but the rich and well-defended ye have not always."

Sometimes, ye have none.

It's a problem. Without vigorous challenges from moneyed defendants, the criminal justice system gets sloppier than a barfly conjugating verbs.

Prosecutors scarcely bother to prepare cases since, most of the time, they win. When a big case occurs, they can't bring on their A-game because they don't have one. In the murder trial of George Zimmerman, for example, state attorneys started off bad and got worse. They were overwhelmed by a $200,000 defense, multiple attorneys, oceans of motions and vigorous appeals. They couldn't argue the facts; they couldn't argue the law, so they fed emotional pabulum to the jury and got hammered.

Lack of wealthy defendants makes defense attorneys equally flaccid. With primarily poor clients, private attorneys plead defendants rather than go to trial. Most charge modest fees, which are all that can be had, then give modest efforts in return.

In Florida, judges will not allow a defense attorney to resign a case for non-payment. This means attorneys only work up to the fees paid because, like most people, they work as they're compensated. In my experience, many don't even request to see evidence and witness testimony against their clients because, if they saw it, they might have to do something about it, never to be paid for same. As for public defenders, don't get me started …   More


I Agree with Obama about Guns (Sort of)

‘Don't you ever have anything nice to say about President Obama?' ask my adored but sometimes deluded relatives.

"Of course I do," I reply. "I like his elegant wife and his pleasant daughters, and I love, love, love those fuzzy dogs."

That's how things stood until recently, when I found myself agreeing with the president on not one but two proposals for gun control. My editor, when she discovered this, nearly had an infarct, but not to worry. I always share my nitroglycerin. A gentleman should know how to make a lady's heart flutter, even when circulation has stopped.

The first proposal is an executive order to ban the importation of military weapons sold or donated to allies. In actuality, these exported weapons are not a source of illegal guns used in crime. Most are more than 50 years old. Take it from me that America's badboys don't want rusty antiques. They want the newest, baddest gats they can get, preferably with their mother's name engraved on one side and skulls and pole dancers etched on the other.

Nonetheless, why should foreign governments sell military weapons to American citizens? If our allies don't want the guns, they can sell them elsewhere or toss them into the crusher. This is a no-brainer.

The second proposal is to require that trustees and beneficiaries of gun trusts, which are used to acquire Title II weapons, send photographs and fingerprints to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

This is esoteric, so let me explain. Title II weapons comprise machine guns, silencers, short-barreled rifles, short shotguns, and trick weapons such as pen guns, cell phone guns, walking cane guns, etc. All these require federal, not state, firearms permits. Often these weapons are held by trusts to minimize taxes and fees upon transfer of the weapon to beneficiaries of the trust and to heirs upon the death of the original owner.

Heretofore, the principals could exempt themselves from providing ID and …   More


Arresting Millionaires

The way to stop people from shooting and killing each other in the Section 8 hellholes that infect Jacksonville like hot carbuncles dripping pus and blood is to arrest millionaires.

First, some background. Section 8 is part of the Housing Act of 1937, as amended, and establishes a subsidy that pays most of the rent for low-income tenants in private apartments. The money is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and administered through a local housing authority. Ours is called something like the Jacksonville Department of Happy Neighborhoods, Contented Families and Cheerful Children. I'll call it Jax HUD because that's what the cops call it.

Most of the people on the leases are low-income women. Most of the actual residents are stone criminals. A Zone 1 cop told me he's been busting bad guys down in the 'jects on Jesse Street for years and he has never arrested anyone who actually belonged there.

I, as a director of a condominium located on the dividing line between civilization and free fire, have a long and unhappy experience with Section 8 tenants. One was a whore pimped by her mother; another a coke dealer zonked on his own merch. The third was an industrious salesman of Chinese machine guns and armor-piercing ammo. Their charm, hygiene and manners I leave to your imagination.

How do Section 8 apartments become hoodlum hotels? Sometimes the chicks move in their thug lovers. Sometimes badboys muscle in and inform the women that henceforth the ladies will supply sex and food along with the crib or catch a bullet right here, right now. If the girls get tookey, they get beaten, usually with the business end of a Glock, then tossed out on their keisters.

Housing subsidies and food stamps are the mother's milk of crime because they make criminal enterprise profitable. Here's an example. If you've got an expensive heroin monkey on your back, you've got to turn tricks or burgle houses day and night to stay high. But as long …   More


Dunn's Done

Watching a man cheerfully and unwittingly confess to first-degree murder is like watching a circus clown leave the ring, then walk to a guillotine, stick his noggin under the lunette, and drop the blade. It’s fascinating, in the way that bullfights and beheadings are fascinating.

Michael David Dunn, 45, foredoomed himself by an indirect confession, made on video and without presence of counsel, the day after he shot Jordan Davis, 17, at a Southside Boulevard convenience store.

Here’s how it went down: On Nov. 23, 2012 — Black Friday — Dunn, in town for a wedding, drove into the convenience store. Across the parking lot was a Dodge Durango, from which four teenaged boys boomed a Chief Keefe rap about bitches and snitches and acted annoying in that special manner reserved for youth.

Dunn asked them to turn down the music. He stated that one of the kids shouted, “You’re dead, bitch!” He said he thought he saw a shotgun.

Dunn opened the glove box, grabbed a Taurus nine, racked in a round and fired — bang, bang, bang, bang. The Durango drove away. Dunn fired again, four more.

“As they were fleeing?” asked the detective.

“Yeah,” Dunn replied.

That’s a confession; that’s murder one; that’s game over.

The reason? Under Florida’s self-defense laws, you cannot — repeat not — pursue, and shoot, an attacker who is fleeing. When an attacker flees, you no longer are in danger of “imminent death or great bodily harm,” the statutory requirement for self-defense.

The shotgun? When the kids pulled away in the Durango and realized Davis was dead or dying, they stopped several hundred yards away and returned to the store. Cops arrived within minutes, searched for the shotgun, and found nothing. Even in my neighborhood, where guns have wings, the jits can’t grab a boo-yaa that fast.

The detective conducting the interrogation is masterful. Unlike TV cops, he doesn’t bully or shout. He’s trained, and he’s …   More


Crazy Cop Cars

They got little cars

That go beep, beep, beep

They got little voices

Goin' peep, peep, peep

— Randy Newman, "Short People"

When I see those dinky Chevys cops are driving these days, it makes me want to mount a stool at the biker bar on Talleyrand and weep into my beer. That the gray-haired Harley hoodlums at every table can outrun police just ain't right!

The current cop vehicle is the Chevrolet "Caprice," a word that means a sudden, possibly insane, notion. Whoever notioned these downsized, popo putt-putts should be arrested. Gas-sippers are perfect rides for Grammy and Gramps, but for cops?


Back in the day, everybody drove Ford Crown Vics, cars so powerful, and so ugly, only cab companies and cops could love them. Just the sound of those monster V-8s winding up could bring law and order to places where gouging out eyes and biting off ears were the preferred indoor/outdoor sports.

How can cops be Road Warriors, or Warrior Princesses, in cars that make no noise, for heaven's sake? Where's the respect?

Where's the space? For cops to be cops, they need stuff — briefcases, Kevlar vests, leg irons, batons, spare Tasers, shotguns, etc.

Cops also need thug storage. Imagine if Caprice-equipped cops had to arrest some 350-pound fatback? They'd have to jam that porker into the cruiser with a crowbar. Once an XXXL fanny hits the cushions, the shocks will pop and the springs will be sprung before the cops can offload the weight at the Jax Jail.

It's embarrassing, but other cop rides are even weirder. Let's review:

The Armored Personnel Carrier: Due to Uncle Sugar's generosity, every one-blinker hamlet in America has one of these diesel behemoths. They are, truly, the gift of a baby elephant. Filling the tank and changing the oil may throw some of these burgs into Chapter 9.

Jacksonville's APC rumbles around the city now and then, but I've never understood how police actually use the thing. Most APCs are …   More


Threat Assessment

You should be afraid, very afraid, when you enter the Duval County Courthouse. Security there fails to meet even minimum national standards, according to experts on the subject. This means that, when you enter the courthouse, you might be:

• Shot or stabbed by someone who exploits holes in entry security and brings weapons through metal detectors.

• Blown to bits by truck bombs that are driven into the building or by improvised shrapnel explosives placed in trash cans and hides.

• Shot by a sniper from the unpatrolled parking building.

It shouldn’t be this way. The 2013 fiscal year budget for court protection is $12,615,821. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office employs 280 personnel at the courthouse. In addition, it contracts with G4S Security, an international company with offices in 10 Florida cities, to provide private security staff for 1,820 hours per week. This equates to 45 people working 40 hours per week. Calls to G4S to obtain details about security guard training and compensation were not returned.

In phone calls and emails with one spokesperson from the mayor’s office and two from JSO, all declined to comment on the topic of courthouse security beyond providing budget and staffing figures.

Violent incidents in courthouses are up 670 percent between 2005 and 2011, according to the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), which compiles statistics and has published the national best practices for courthouse security. Shootings, stabbings, arson, assaults and bombings are increasing.

On June 23, an unknown assailant fired two shots into the home of Judge Timothy Corrigan. It’s possible the assailant attacked the judge at home precisely because, as a federal judge, he presides over trials in the U.S. District Courthouse on Hogan Street, which has extremely tight security. Had Corrigan been in the Duval County Courthouse, the attacker might have gotten lucky, and his honor might now be decomposing …   More


Hills of Pills

What happened to the dope business?

As you roll around my turf in Police Zone I, the hardbodies who used to lean on light poles and sell heroin and crack on the up-and-up, and cock on the down-low, are nowhere to be seen. The jits (dope kiddies) who manned the lookouts and staffed the street corners — the two-legged squirrels of urban America — are getting scarce.

Are law and order bursting out like azaleas in spring? Should I rename my column "Happy Chat" and move it to The Florida Times-Union?


Jails and prisons, as always, are stuffed with dopers. Recently, I interviewed a defendant busted for sales and distribution. Like all junkies going cold turkey, this guy jittered around the room, his eyeballs twitching faster than olives in a drunk's martini. Oozing that jailhouse stank of sweat, narcotics, nicotine and fear, he whimpered for drugs like a spanked puppy.

The drug he craved, however, was not heroin or cocaine, but oxycodone. "Oxys," trade name Oxycontin, and hydrocodone, trade names Vicodin and Lortab, are semi-synthetic opioids that are similar chemically to morphine, codeine and heroin. They are No. 4 on the top 10 list of abused drugs, behind old faves alcohol, tobacco and marijuana, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This prisoner was 6 feet of tough guy. Even a few years ago, he would have considered pills to be mommy drugs, something to help ladies cruise through afternoons and enjoy intrigues with Mr. Palooka and Mr. Pocket Rocket while the kiddies were at school and hubby was stoking The Machine.

Things have changed. First, these pills could drop a charging rhino. Oxys and hydros are only a molecule away from heroin. Forget Valium and Xanax. These newbies really pack a punch. There's no initial rush, like you get with the needle, but they last all day. In junkie-land, that's better living through chemistry.

Second, incompetent and crooked doctors have spread like a foul …   More


Bullyboys and Bad Guys

There's something about whiskey, cocaine chloride and coitus that make young men, on a Saturday night, want to run out and fire their AKs into the skies. No doubt their young ladies are suitably delighted. Still, it's a pain, at my advanced age, to interrupt readings of the classics of literature and history in order to plop my fanny and my shih tzu down on the floor tiles until those crazy jits (dope kids) run out of ammo.

The Zone I (Springfield and Panama Park) cops know all about this, of course. They tell me that once gunfire erupts, they can't get rolling before the cheerful hoodlums have scampered back to their party pads and slammed the door. So, between cops and shooters, it's a stalemate.

It should be checkmate.

Florida has a stop-and-frisk law. It allows police to surge a high-crime area, frisk the bad boys and grab the guns, dope and cash, up close and personal. When concentrated on hot spots, this works. Using stop-and-frisk, New York City police helped transform Times Square from an XXX-rated pornhole into a dazzling center of commerce and entertainment that looks like Shanghai reimagined by Walt Disney.

Could stop-and-frisk work in Jacksonville? Possibly.

To stop and frisk, police will have to stop passively patrolling and responding to calls. They'll have to bounce out of their wheels and onto their shoes to hunt, stalk and cuff bad guys. Time-servers can't do this job. It requires knuckleheads; i.e., real police.

This is extremely dangerous. You're asking cops to tackle guys who will kill you for disturbing their hairstyle. At present, our officers are not properly equipped. They wear bullet-resistant vests, but those will only stop handgun rounds up to 9 mm. Big bullets, such as .50 caliber, and high-velocity rifle rounds, will go right through them. They need composite ceramic armor fore and aft to clean out hellholes like Moncrief, East Springfield and the Wild Westside.

These plates aren't cheap, about one large bill per …   More