Day 1: From the Emerald Triangle to the Sunflower State
The inside story of Lawrence’s cross-country drug pipeline
• April 13, 2004: Los and Roosevelt Dahda are convicted of federal drug and weapons charges.
• Sept. 19, 2005: Los is released from prison.
• August 2008: William F. Garcia tells Lawrence police Los is dealing drugs in the city.
• Nov. 29, 2010: Roosevelt is released from prison.
• October 2011: An informant leads police to a marijuana supplier tied to Los.
• Jan. 4, 2012: Federal judge signs a wiretap order for Los’ cell phone.
• June 11, 2012: Federal prosecutors in Kansas City, Kan., name the Dahda brothers and 22 other people in a criminal complaint.
• June 13, 2012: Police arrest the Dahdas and numerous others in Douglas and Johnson counties.
• July 11, 2012: Federal prosecutors indict 19 more defendants in the case.
• Nov. 9, 2012: U.S. Marshals make several arrests in California.
• March 16, 2013: Twenty-nine of 43 defendants are convicted of drug trafficking and related charges. Others await trial.
Police decoded many terms used by those involved in the case who avoided using incriminating words such as marijuana, pounds or even money. Here are a few of those codes:
• “Hit me”: A request that someone call back on a prepaid cellphone.
• “Short stops”: Drug deliveries and pickups.
• “Scratch”: Money.
• “Box of parts”: Used to describe money left at a home.
• “Pop the top”: Referenced opening up a secret compartment in a truck that was hiding drugs or money.
• “Wheels”: High-grade marijuana.
• “Work” and “hours”: Drugs to be distributed.
• “Rack”: $1,000.
• “Oil filters,” “cases,” “brochures” “phones” “gears” and “pamphlets”: drugs.
• Los Rovell Dahda, 31, Lawrence: Born Erick Wallace, he is charged with being a principal organizer of a drug distribution ring in Lawrence, along with his twin brother. He allegedly worked with other area dealers to buy hundreds of pounds of marijuana from growers in Northern California and distribute them locally. He has not been convicted in this case and remains in federal custody as he awaits a trial scheduled for summer 2014.
• Roosevelt Rico Dahda, 31, Lawrence: Born Derick Wallace, he was released from prison in 2010 after serving almost seven years for drug and weapons crimes. Prosecutors say he went into the drug business again with his twin brother shortly thereafter. He is accused of managing drug deliveries in Lawrence and shipments of cash to California, but has not been convicted in the case. He remains in federal custody and is also scheduled for trial in summer 2014.
• Nathan Jose Wallace, 28, Topeka: Nathan Wallace once called it “highly offensive” to be associated with his brother Los, but pleaded guilty in March to helping his older brothers distribute marijuana in Kansas City, Lawrence and Topeka. With no criminal record, attorneys say, Wallace may be eligible for a reduced sentence.
• Sadie Jolynn Brown, 25, Lawrence: Prosecutors accuse Brown of making cash and drug deliveries for the Dahda brothers, and of helping them manage their inventory. She was referred to as the “secretary” by Los, according to court documents. She remains in federal custody but has not been convicted in the case.
• Justin Cherif Pickel, 33, of San Lorenzo, Calif., and Lawrence: A roommate and associate of Roosevelt in Lawrence and also known as “Frenchie,” prosecutors say he transported drugs and cash to and from California before moving west to set up an indoor marijuana-growing operation for the twins. When law enforcement officers raided his home on June 13, 2012, they seized 100 marijuana plants, according to court documents. Pickel was free on a $100,000 bond and has not been convicted in the case. His attorney in this case did not respond to requests for comment.
• Amos Moses Hurst, 32, of Eureka, Calif., and Lawrence: Hurst, allegedly an associate of Roosevelt Dahda and also known as “Clown,” was accused of traveling to California for the Dahda brothers to deliver money and collect marijuana. Law enforcement sought Hurst for months after the June 2012 indictments, eventually arresting him in Carbon County, Wyoming, in February. Charged as a conspirator in the drug case, he remains in federal custody awaiting trial. His attorney did not comment on the case.
(Editor’s note: This is the first part of a four-part series on the case. Click here for Day Two.)
A routine domestic disturbance call on a summer night in 2008 set in motion the biggest drug bust in Lawrence history.
Faced with a charge of illegally possessing a firearm, an ex-con involved in the domestic case began talking to investigators about a drug dealer he worked for.
Four years later, on the morning of June 13, 2012, SWAT-style police units swarmed the city, grabbing dozens of people from their homes and businesses and from off the street. Within hours, it was clear the city was witnessing the crescendo of a major federal drug investigation.
Federal investigators, after years of wiretaps, covert surveillance and tips from confidential informants, raided local businesses and seized scores of guns, acres of land and millions of dollars in drug money. Prosecutors eventually indicted 43 people for trafficking in marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine.
A major pipeline of marijuana, worth its weight in gold, running from the so-called “Emerald Triangle” region of Northern California to Kansas, had been exposed after operating quietly for years in and around neighborhoods and schools in Lawrence and Johnson County.
Some of the indicted were well-known in Lawrence, either as legitimate business owners or as ex-cons already convicted of drug trafficking.
Among them: a former Kansas University swimming star and local swim coach turned high-grade marijuana broker; a tanning salon operator and her carpet-cleaning businessman fiance; a pair of tough-guy twins with local gang ties; a low-level drug dealer accused of beating a woman in a wheelchair over a debt; and a Johnson County entrepreneur living quietly in Olathe doing business under the alias “Spiderman.”
Just to name a few.
Since the June arrests, details have trickled in from the federal courts as some of the defendants pleaded guilty and as others work through the system. But they all ended up in handcuffs because of that 2008 call to police and the gun that officers found at a house on Lauren Street in North Lawrence.
A routine police call
The police officers who knocked on William Garcia’s door on a warm August night in 2008 weren’t looking for guns or drugs, necessarily. They were called to the house in the 700 block of Lauren Street for a report of domestic violence between Garcia and his wife.
But in the course of arresting Garcia, they found his pistol, which meant big trouble for the convicted felon. Garcia, 35, had spent time in Kansas prisons for aggravated battery and burglary, and his possession of a gun was a federal offense. He’d only been out of prison for a little more than a year, and was potentially facing another two-year sentence.
Garcia started talking, hoping he could make a deal with prosecutors to lighten his sentence.
The gun? It was protection for himself and his family, he told Lawrence Police Detective Mike McAtee. Garcia admitted he was a drug dealer and told the detective he’d just bought 10 pounds of marijuana and nine ounces of cocaine from a local supplier: Los Rovell Dahda.
That name certainly rang a bell with McAtee.
McAtee knew Los Dahda and his brother, Roosevelt, from way back, when the twins went by their birth names of Erick and Derick Wallace. They legally changed their names in 2001, but it’s unclear why.
Both as Wallaces and Dahdas, the twin brothers found themselves in trouble again and again over the years, as McAtee knew.
In 1997, the detective worked a stabbing case: a huge fight involving several high school students. Three teenagers were badly wounded with a knife. Los Dahda — then Erick Wallace, 16 — was beaten up in the melee.
Six years later, Los escaped a series of felony drug charges when his case was one of 10 thrown out by the courts after a Lawrence police officer was fired.
But the Dahda brothers’ freedom wouldn’t last long.
The twins made news headlines in 2004 when Los Dahda pulled a sawed-off shotgun on police during another arrest. The brothers were accused of selling marijuana and cocaine and the IRS seized their bank accounts, looking for $121,120 in alleged drug proceeds from each brother. The tax agents found less than $300 in the accounts.
“They’ve been bad actors here for a while,” David Cobb, a Lawrence police captain who has since retired, said in a 2004 Journal-World story covering the arrests. “Once you have guns and drugs together, it’s time to say, ‘OK, we’re done with you.'”
This time, the brothers went to federal prison, Los for 20 months on a gun charge and Roosevelt for nearly seven years on a combination of gun and drug charges.
While the twins were making a name for themselves in crime, their younger brother, Nathan Jose Wallace, apparently avoided getting mixed up with his brothers. A few years after high school, he filed a defamation suit against the city of Lawrence for confusing him with his brother Erick, now Los Dahda.
But Nathan eventually followed his brothers into trouble, and he was part of the drug dealing that William Garcia told Detective McAtee about in 2008. By then, Los had been out of prison for about three years. He’d been busy, as investigators would learn.
Ultimately, Garcia decided not to cooperate with police. He and Los had been living the gang life and dealing drugs together for years, he told the detectives. Unwilling to testify against his friend, he instead accepted the gun charge and a 27-month prison term.
But for the Dahda twins, it was, in a way, too late. McAtee and the Lawrence Police Department’s Drug Enforcement Unit had already reopened a file on the brothers, and they’d be ready when something else shook loose.
In trouble again
Los Dahda’s name came up again for Lawrence detectives in 2011, in conversations with a confidential informant who was laying out the details of a local marijuana wholesaling outfit, according to court documents.
While picking up pounds of marijuana from a Lawrence carpet-cleaning business owned by his main supplier, the informant had seen the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Los pick up his own vacuum-sealed bags from the wooden crates hidden in the business, and act as an enforcer for the carpet cleaner in a business dispute, he told police.
By this time, Roosevelt was a free man after his seven-year prison stint, and, naturally, the twins teamed up again. Younger brother Nathan dropped his lawsuit against the city and started hanging around with his ex-convict siblings.
Los and Roosevelt had stuck together ever since leaving their father in Wichita and moving to Lawrence with their mother as teenagers. After high school, they both graduated as plumbers from the Flint Hills Job Corps Center in Manhattan. Los put the training to good use, according to those who know him, spending his days working as a pipefitter on the construction site of the Bowersock Mills and Power Co. hydroelectric plant on the north bank of the Kansas River.
He claimed to be working there in 2011 when Lawrence detectives, suspecting he was back in the dope business, zeroed in on him and made a federal case out of it.
The Dahda brothers were no strangers to handcuffs and drug-trafficking charges, but they were in deeper waters than ever before when the Drug Enforcement Administration came to Lawrence in 2011.
Several times that year, local drug enforcement units in Douglas and Johnson counties had raided the homes of minor suspects in the case. They didn’t find significant stashes of drugs, but they did gather enough information — with the help of confidential informants — to involve federal agents in a wiretap case focused on the Dahda brothers and their partners.
Investigators believed Los had started wholesaling marijuana by the pound shortly after leaving prison six years before, later bringing Roosevelt and Nathan into the business. The group kept as much as 70 pounds of marijuana on hand at times and made hundreds of thousands of dollars a year distributing drugs to local dealers. A pound bought in California for about $2,000 more than doubled in value when distributed in Lawrence through a clandestine sales network.
Los was the first to have his phone tapped by federal agents. The next was Lawrence woman Sadie Brown, 25. She was known as Los Dahda’s “secretary” and allegedly kept the books for the brothers and their criminal enterprise. Roosevelt’s phone was tapped soon after, and the investigation’s tentacles spread each time they made a call or sent a text. One of the drug dealers convicted in the case inadvertently implicated the Kansas University basketball team when, according to prosecutors, numbers belonging to players were found in his phone after his arrest.
More wiretaps followed, leading the investigation to Johnson County, Kansas City and California. A team of local detectives working with the DEA and the Internal Revenue Service were listening from January 2012 through the spring and summer.
Those recordings, along with months of covert surveillance, opened up for agents the daily details of the twins’ lives, along with many of their associates who unwittingly called them up to discuss business.
Racks, wheels and castles
The investigators listening in on the Dahdas’ conversations had to sort through a thicket of slang and code words. The brothers and their associates spoke of “wheels,” “gears” and “work” in reference to drugs. A “rack” meant a thousand dollars, and a “box of parts” was cash delivered to someone’s home.
The wiretaps recorded lighter moments in the brothers’ lives, as well, according to court documents. When Roosevelt teased Brown about her boyfriend, the agents were in on the joke. When Roosevelt and associate Amos “Clown” Hurst were pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy near Bakersfield, Calif., with a load of cash hidden in a false compartment of a truck, agents heard them laugh about it later. Roosevelt joked that he had, for some reason, put on a phony Southern drawl to talk his way out of trouble.
Hurst mocked him for the ruse. “Uh, bro, you got country as hell,” he said during a recorded call.
The brothers carried enough inventory to withstand the occasional bust. When Justin Pickel, an alleged conspirator in the case, lost 38 pounds of marijuana in a traffic stop on his way back from California, Los Dahda was only mildly concerned, according to the government’s wiretap evidence.
“We just lost half of what we worked for,” he told his brother on the phone. “So you know we’ll run like a conservative status.”
On the trail
The agents weren’t just listening. They also were watching. Agents tailed the brothers when they met with alleged marijuana suppliers in California. They followed Brown as she allegedly picked up money and delivered drugs to homes around Lawrence. And agents recorded Los Dahda arranging a drug deal at Gran-Daddy’s BBQ in Lawrence, which prosecutors say the brothers secretly owned. The legal owner of the restaurant, according to state records, did not return calls seeking comment on the case.
Perhaps the most unusual place the brothers led federal agents to was a decommissioned fire station in Kansas City, Mo.
With all those drugs and all that cash, the twins were security-conscious. Before their 2004 federal convictions, Roosevelt referred to his home on Willow Cove in southeast Lawrence — where police found a .40-caliber handgun and a bag of shotgun shells — as his “fortress for democracy.”
This time around, Los had bought them a real fortress. With the help of a security-systems professional who was also indicted in the case, the brothers outfitted the long-closed Kansas City Fire Department Station 12 — purchased for $99,000 — with a 250-pound cement door and surveillance cameras. The brothers called the building “The Castle” and claimed it as a personal residence, though no one lived there. Instead, prosecutors say it was a giant safe for drugs and cash.
Apart from “The Castle,” the brothers were expanding other aspects of their operation in the spring of 2012, according to investigators. But their plans soon fell apart, and those closest to the brothers went down with them.
While in the past Los may have worked with other local drug distributors to ship marijuana in from California, he and Roosevelt began creating their own supply chain, making contacts with drug suppliers in California who would also be dragged into the federal case.
Many of those arrested along with the Dahdas have been convicted since the June arrests, including younger brother Nathan Wallace. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy in March, providing a written confession that could send him to prison for 10 years. Those familiar with the case say that, with little or no criminal record, he could see a lighter sentence. He is free, awaiting sentencing, on a $25,000 bond.
“I was aware Los and Roosevelt were selling marijuana and I knowingly became involved in their sales by doing what they asked me to do, whether it be driving marijuana from Kansas City to Lawrence or from Lawrence to Topeka,” Nathan Wallace wrote about his brothers in his confession. He knew it was risky and that he could go to jail. “I did it anyway,” he wrote.
The older brothers, Los and Roosevelt Dahda, wait in 6-by-6 foot cells in a federal prison in Leavenworth. They have prior federal convictions and face much tougher prospects in court than many of the defendants, with 20-year minimum sentences if convicted.
Along with the wiretapping, seized drugs and other court records, prosecutors also have a steady stream of potential witnesses — 29 who’ve already pleaded guilty — and promises in court documents to testify in any upcoming criminal proceedings.
The twins are expected to go to trial in the summer of 2014. Their lawyers would not comment on the case.
Tomorrow: The local drug conspiracy was made possible by a steady stream of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine flowing from a region in northern California known as “The Emerald Triangle.”
Editor’s note: Part one of this series, printed on Sunday, May 26, incorrectly pictured and identified a Topeka man and former basketball player as one of the defendants in the criminal case described in this series. The person who pleaded guilty in the case, the brother of Los and Roosevelt Dahda, is Nathan Jose Wallace. The Journal-World apologizes for the error.