Introduction to Busting Drug DealErs
Law enforcement must be in our family DNA. While researching the origins of my family, I learned of a maternal ancestor who immigrated from Yorkshire, England, to America in 1638, and in 1652 became a constable of police in Hartford, Connecticut. My father, a first generation American, carried a badge throughout a forty-one career with the US Customs Service. My brother served as a sheriff’s deputy, and later as a police sergeant before his twenty- year retirement.
If a law enforcement gene exists, I think I probably inherited it. My own near thirty-year law enforcement career began as a federal air marshal. I then became a Special Agent with the US Customs Office of Investigations, and subsequently spent more than twenty-seven years as a Special Agent with the US Drug Enforcement Administration most readers will know as the DEA.
I started thinking about becoming some kind of cop after reading The FBI Story by Don Whitehead when I was in the seventh grade. By the time I was in high school, my dad was liaising with FBI and US Secret Service agents and hosting Customs agents from the Texas- Mexico border at home for Sunday dinners. I listened raptly to the border rats’ stories of investigating and busting drug smugglers and imagined how exciting their lives must be.
Decades ago, when I first started thinking about writing a book, I wanted to write a novel. I thought I might write a riveting fictional adventure story based on real-life events. You know, take a “truth is stranger than fiction” approach. After all, who’d believe some of the stuff? Cop stories are crazy. Like soldiers and doctors, cops see and experience events the average citizen wouldn’t believe.
I started giving the idea quasi-serious consideration in the mid-1980s when I was living and working as a DEA Special Agent in Bogota, Colombia. We were chasing Pablo Escobar and Carlos Lehder around the country, blowing up coke labs, and trying to figure out how to take down the Ochoas and the Medellin and Cali cocaine cartels.
I thought maybe I could combine some of my personal experiences with stories from other agents, add a little imagination, and create a best seller. The book would be about an intrepid DEA agent fighting the international war on drugs. I’d create my protagonist as the James Bond of narcotics law enforcement. As in the movies and television shows I’d watched as a kid, the hero would get both the bad guys and the girls. He’d be a bit of a renegade with a smart mouth, a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, and an ever-ready wisecrack.
After two years in Colombia, followed by three in Lahore, Pakistan, and three more in Puerto Rico, I transferred to New Delhi, India, in late 1991. By then, I had developed some new ideas and started writing them down. In the years after returning to the United States in 1998, I continued toying with the idea of writing a book, torn whether to write a novel loosely based on true experiences, or perhaps a memoir of my experiences. I’ve decided on the latter. There was no need to make anything up.
My story is about how a middle-class kid without a college degree, fueled by a burning desire to become a federal agent, realizes his dream. Although making some bad personal choices and bone-headed decisions along the way, I ultimately achieved a career in federal law enforcement that was beyond my childhood dreams.
Details of the experiences and events related in this book are taken from a combination of my personal diaries and copies of official reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Act that corroborate my detailed personal notes and recollections.
Keeping the diaries is a story in itself. As a new DEA agent in 1973, I found myself testifying at the federal trial of a dealer I arrested on felony drug distribution charges after he’d made multiple sales to me. Attacking my credibility, his defense attorney accused me of having offered the doper a deal to reduce the charges. I hadn’t. The attorney insisted. He provided a date and time of day that my alleged proffer occurred and asked, “If you weren’t offering my client a deal, where were you, and what were you doing at the time?”
He picked a date several months earlier, and I had no idea what I was doing, or where I was at the time in question. Fortunately, the jury saw through the ploy and convicted the defendant on all charges. But I was embarrassed. On the way back to the office, I stopped at a stationery store and bought a diary. I’ve been keeping daily accounts of my activities ever since.
There are pros and cons about documenting one’s life, however. One night, while overseas in South Asia, drinking beer with a US Ambassador with whom I was serving, and one of his Foreign Service Officers, the three of us were sitting at a hotel bar discussing the day’s meetings before retiring to our rooms.
“Don’t say or do anything around Fredericks you don’t want memorialized,” the Ambassador warned the FSO out of the corner of his mouth. He grinned at me, and continued, “He’s always taking notes.”
Defensively, I told them the courtroom story and the reason for buying my first diary.
One of the most respected senior ambassadors in the foreign service, and one of the smartest men I ever knew, he quietly listened to my story. “I was taught that it’s better not to remember the details,” he replied.
As he said it, I thought back to the Iran-Contra hearings in which multiple witnesses called to testify about the shadowy world of guns, politics, and attempts of government subversion used phrases like “I don’t recall” or “I don’t remember.” And much more recently than Iran-Contra, high-level or ranking politicians sitting in their own personal hot seats testifying before congressional committees have repeated the same or similar phrases. Right or wrong, I’ve always been a note taker and a memorializer of events. Hopefully, it turns out to be worth more than just covering my ass over the years.
Throughout my law enforcement career, I had the opportunity to travel the world and meet many amazing people along the way. Several of those folks put up with a lot of my personal baggage and became my friends. I owe my career, my experiences, my successes, and my achievements, including receipt of DEA’s highest award, the Administrator’s Award of Honor, to more people than I can list. I take sole responsibility for my embarrassments and failures.
I’ve changed many names to protect the privacy of people and their families in these early stories from my career. Others have willingly allowed use of their true names. Thank you all for your patience, your support, and your friendship throughout the best career I could have ever imagined. I can’t think of anything I would have rather done than be a DEA Special Agent.
And I was paid to do it.