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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Review - The Mafia in Milwaukee: Murder in the Heartland

I purchased this book several weeks ago authored by Gavin Schmitt and here is my review.


After learning many years ago that some of the people I dealt with back in Milwaukee in the 1970’s were mob “connected”, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past many years trying to learn about the history of the Italian mob in Milwaukee.


Gavin Schmitt has spent decades researching the history and has been a valuable resource in my own education. After learning that his second book had been published, I immediately ordered a copy and finished reading it this week.


The book covers in great detail the events from the early 1900’s up until Frank P. Balistrieri was anointed the head of the Milwaukee mob in 1961. There is a chapter on John Alioto, Balistrieri’s father-in-law who was the boss preceding Frank from 1952 to 1961. If you grew up in Milwaukee, you will read many familiar names from back in the day, it’s a very well researched book that provides a lot of detail and little known historical facts.


As written in the book’s description on Amazon:
"From the time Vito Guardalabene arrived from Italy in the early 1900s, until the days the Mob controlled the Teamsters union, Milwaukee was a city of murder and mayhem. Gavin Schmitt relies on previously unseen police reports, FBI investigative notes, coroner's records, newspaper articles, family lore and more to bring to light an era of Milwaukee's history that has been largely undocumented and shrouded in myth. No stone is left unturned, no body is left buried."


"Milwaukee's Sicilian underworld is something few people speak about in polite company, and even fewer people speak about with any authority. Everyone in Milwaukee has a friend of a friend who knows something, but they only have one piece of a giant puzzle. The secret society known as the Milwaukee Mafia has done an excellent job of keeping its murders, members and mishaps out of books. Until now."


There is a lot of investigative detail in the book, names, addresses, dates and times. I found it easy to picture the locations in my mind as I was familiar with a lot of the areas  and locations mentioned. The murders of John Di’Trapani and Jack Enea are covered in detail.


All in all, this is a good book for people interested in Milwaukee Mob History and I highly recommend it. Just be aware, the book only covers the time period up until 1961, when Balistrieri took power. I’m hoping that Gavin will look to publish another book covering the Balistrieri years up until the present!
Also, Gavin has another book titled “Milwaukee Mafia (Images of America) consisting of about 125 pages of fascinating photos and captions of the early mob days in beer town. Click this Link for a previous post that I wrote about it.




Saturday, May 23, 2015

My Trucking Life or Death?...Decision

thetruckersreport.com
What would you have done?


With all the racially charged theatrics going on in the country these last few months, it made me think of a split second decision I had to make back in the early 1990’s. I was on an over the road trip from Wisconsin to Texas and back with my now ex-wife with riding along. It was a good multi-stop mileage run that went to Dallas, south to San Antonio, east to Houston before the return to Wisconsin. I would grab this run whenever I got the chance because it paid very well.


After completing my stops in Dallas, I pre-tripped the tractor and trailer, discovering a flat tire on the trailer in the process. It was early-afternoon and we were near the central, urban and rundown area of the city. I looked in my truck shop directory and found the nearest facility, which I decided to drive over and get the tire repaired. I was not familiar with the area and after exiting the freeway, noticed that the neighborhood was very seedy with vacant buildings and dilapidated houses.


We entered the truck shop yard without incident and had the tire repaired. Eager to get back on the road and out of the city before the afternoon rush, I didn't waste any time. I thought the way back to the freeway was simple, but, I made a wrong turn. That’s when our day went bad.


I found myself in a residential neighborhood that was full of porch sitters and gang-banger types. The speed limit was 25 mph and I proceeded down the street, intending to turn left at the next corner and work my way back to the freeway. As we approached the intersection,there was a gang of approximately 12 or 15 teenagers standing around the corner. As I slowed for the turn, I was very observant, watching them watch us. One of them started yelling something at the others and raised his fist, they all stepped quickly off the curb directly in front of the truck facing me.


The ONLY thing that I thought was that if I stopped the truck, we would be robbed, beaten or killed. In that "it's us or them" moment, I grabbed the gear lever, downshifted and mashed the throttle wide open as I pulled on the air horn. The bangers scattered in all directions with one tripping over another as he fell. One guy barely made it out of the way, I turned the steering wheel to avoid him, but there was no way I was going to lift off the throttle. I then started grabbing gears, assuming one or more of them had a gun.


I kept going straight to the next corner before turning as my wife screamed at me “You could have killed somebody!”. I was dumbfounded and yelled back “What did you want me to do, stop?. We could have been killed!” She didn't answer and I don’t remember that we ever discussed it further.


I grew up in the “inner core” of Milwaukee in the 1950’s and 60’s and I remember the evil that permeates in those gangs. My ex-wife lived 15 years in Salt Lake City and spent many more living in northern Wisconsin and was away from all that. She had never lived in an area where you had to constantly be vigilant, keep your home locked up and fortified and watch your back. When that gang of youths came off that corner, it seemed my instinct automatically kicked in. It wasn't the first time my life was threatened, in my younger years in Milwaukee, I was robbed twice and involved in a knock-down brawl with a neighborhood thug at work earlier in my life. Those are stories for another day, maybe.

What would you have done? My life could have completely changed that day if I had hit one of them. It would have been one lone white guy and his wife’s word against the whole neighborhood. On the other hand, my wife and I could have been robbed, beaten or killed. I’m so sick of these race baiters like Jackson and Sharpton that keep stoking the fires for their own personal gain. They never have solutions, except to throw more taxpayer money at the problem, which has never worked.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

TrailerCam, You've got to be kidding, right?

truckinginfo.com
TrailerCam Helps Drivers Back Into Loading Docks

Does anyone think this would help anyone without backing proper skills? So you see where the back of the trailer is headed, you still have to know which way to turn the steering wheel! I can just see these "drivers" staring at the monitor and running over a bunch of stuff with the tractor! How about making sure they have the skills and training to back before they are turned loose on the public roads?

Article thanks to truckinginfo.com. Links provided:

Convoy Technologies

March, 2015  The TrailerCam wireless video monitoring system is a ruggedized, portable wireless camera and transmitter designed to help large truck and trailer combinations back up into a loading dock or other difficult situations.
The TrailerCam comes with a magnetic mount for attaching to the trailer and sends video to a 7-inch LCD color monitor in the cab. It is built into a durable housing designed to withstand harsh environments and weather conditions officially rated as IP67. The unit measures 5.5 inches x 3.8 inches x 3.2 inches and comes with a rechargeable battery.
It transmits video wirelessly to the receiver for distances of at least 90 feet without latency or interference. The camera also has infrared LEDs to permit night vision up to 36 feet. Audio capabilities are also available.
The TrailerCam is designed to integrate with most in-cab monitors through a Convoy Technologies “receiver adapter” though a plug-and-play 7-inch monitor with integrated digital receiver is also offered for vehicles without an in-cab display. The monitor operates on 9 volts DC to 30 volts DC. It features colored LEDs which indicate when a connection is paired between the camera and receiver and when the connection is lost.
The TrailerCam costs $749.00 each and comes in quantities of 1-10.
http://www.truckinginfo.com/product/detail/2015/03/trailercam-helps-drivers-back-into-loading-docks.aspx?utm_campaign=Headline-News-20150317&utm_source=Email&utm_medium=Enewsletter&btm_ea=ZGJyaWRnZXJob3RAaG90bWFpbC5jb20=


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mainline Street - Laramie

wbhm.org

What does it take for heroin to grab hold in the small, remote towns of America? Consider the case of Laramie, Wyoming. Five years ago, it had no heroin problem whatsoever. Now there's a bustling trade. How does this happen? How does heroin become a business? Well, like any business, it starts with one man and an entrepreneurial dream



In depth article thanks to gq.com and By Sean Flynn. Links provided:

January 2015
About five years ago, on a westbound bus rolling across the high and empty plains in the middle of the country, a young woman got so disturbingly wasted that the driver put her off in the little city of Laramie, Wyoming.
The local police locked her in a cell, at which point she began to pull from her vagina several tiny packages that, between them, contained approximately two grams of heroin.
"We were shocked," says Josh Merseal, a young prosecutor in Albany County, where Laramie is located. "We were like, heroin? We'd never seen it before."
Nor would the authorities in Laramie see heroin for several years after that. The girl from the bus was a passing transient, yes, and in some sense an anomaly, but she was also a kind of omen. By the time Merseal told me about her last August, there were so many busts, he was having trouble keeping track: Since 2013, he told me, Albany County had prosecuted ten…no, wait, eleven…heroin cases involving fifty, or fiftyish, let's say, defendants. The Laramie police chief, meanwhile, says heroin is "the most prominent hard drug out there" in his small city of 31,814. A federal prosecutor in Cheyenne, fifty miles east, declares flatly: "It's in every part of the state."
Heroin is a dreary national trend, resurgent everywhere—in big cities, of course, but also in small towns and the middle of nowhere and even southern Wyoming. It doesn't simply appear, though, like fairy dust. Someone has to bring it to those small cities and far-flung places. Someone has to supply the demand. Merseal remembers that guy, too.
"Before Ory," he says, "our major drug cases were mostly meth and weed busts, getting people to buy nickel bags. After Ory? It's everything."
···
cityose.com
Ory would be Ory Joe Johnson, about whom, in fairness, a few things must be said at the outset. Ory did not introduce heroin or any other drug to Laramie, let alone to the state of Wyoming. He has never loitered on playgrounds or in alleys, tempting children and the naive. He is not associated, directly at least, with a murderous cartel, nor is he a kingpin in any remotely plausible sense of the word.
Ory, rather, is an industrious and entrepreneurial man of 37 who was born and raised in Torrington, a smudge of a village near the Nebraska state line, where his father was the town veterinarian. He was a popular kid, amiable and bright, president of his class in grade school, student-body president his junior year in high school. He hunted and fished, and he wrestled and played baseball for his school, mastered the piano, and was so good with a trombone—marching band, jazz band—that a college back east offered him a scholarship. He turned it down because he didn't want to be a musician. Ory thought, for a while, that he might want to be a dentist, like his best friend's father.
One Saturday in the summer of 1996, when Ory was 19 years old, he spent the day drinking beer out at Springer Reservoir, a lake south of Torrington. He drove home drunk and fell asleep on a dirt road about a mile from home. His Suburban hit a bridge railing at highway speed, crushed the front end, broke Ory's nose and jaw and collarbone, bruised a lung and his liver, shattered his right ankle. A judge gave him two years' probation for misdemeanor DUI, and a doctor gave him Vicodin for everything else. When he ran out of pills, he always got some more, and it didn't seem to matter how often he ran out.
Step one to becoming a small-town drug dealer: Develop a medically prescribed, and thus completely legal, addiction to opiates. This is disturbingly common among both buyers and suppliers.


Not long after, crank was replaced by true crystal methamphetamine, a product of much higher quality that came in actual clear crystalline form. Ory cut another layer out of the supply chain and started buying in Colorado, first in Greeley, then in Denver.
Not surprisingly, and for several blindingly obvious reasons—Ory lists them as "young, didn't know what I was doing, high out of my mind"—he started getting in trouble with the law. Not for drugs, exactly, but because of drugs. Like most middle-management jobs, Wyoming meth supplier isn't particularly lucrative, especially if one is supporting his own multi-gram habit. Ory started writing checks off his big brother's account, $7 here, $250 there, a few thousand all told. A judge sent him to rehab, which didn't do any good, and gave him probation twice, which he violated more than twice. He got stopped with a cooler full of psilocybin mushrooms in his car (and helpfully told the officer who stopped him that he'd eaten "a little piece" because it helped him drive better), and he wrote more bad checks, and he cut off his ankle monitor and walked away from a halfway house, which, somewhat to Ory's astonishment, the authorities considered escape. His probation was revoked on May 2, 2002, and he was sent to the prison in Rawlins for two to five years with credit for 322 days he'd spent in county jails all the times he'd gotten arrested.
Thus ended, for almost a decade, Ory Joe Johnson's career as a small-town drug dealer.
···
Ory was released from prison on March 17, 2005, scrubbed clean of methamphetamine, rehabilitated. He moved to Laramie, where his mother had settled after his parents divorced, and got a job pouring concrete. He learned the trade, and then he learned the business—how to invoice and balance the books and read plans and bid jobs. "I got out, didn't make any mistakes, didn't do anything wrong," he says. "And by the end of 2006, I was starting my own company."
Over the next five years, Ory built a comfortable legal life for himself. Johnson Concrete LLC poured streets and curbs and sidewalks, a couple of new fire stations, the rec center over in Baggs. He usually had eight men working for him, double that on the big jobs, and he made enough money to pay cash for a new Dodge pickup and a trailer for his horses and buy a house just outside the city limits. He learned to hunt with a bow, because convicted felons can't have firearms and Ory was following the rules. Every autumn, he guided sheep and elk hunts out of Cody, and he flew to South Africa to shoot a zebra, a kudu, an impala, a warthog, a jackal, and a slinky, spiral-horned antelope with yellow legs called a nyala. In August 2011, the government of Tajikistan gave him a permit to kill a Marco Polo sheep (cost: $38,000), considered the finest trophy in Central Asia.
"Things were good," Ory says. He was a respected businessman. "I would've been friends with him," says Josh Merseal, the prosecutor. "I would've drank a beer in a bar with him, no problem."
And then things weren't so good. There was no single catastrophe. When Ory tries to explain it now, he mentions that a friend died in the fall of 2011 and that he broke up with a woman he was seeing in Minneapolis, and maybe he was burnt-out at work, and… Well, none of that really explains it.
Here's what happened: In February 2012, he met four young women from the local university. He was still a young man himself, 34 years old, single, and with money to spend, seeing as how Johnson Concrete was grossing up to a half million annually. Anyway, he met those women one night and ended up back at their apartment, or one of their apartments, and there was a whole bunch of cocaine. Ory did a line.
And he decided to be a drug dealer again.
"It was weird," he says. "Not weird—I knew it would happen. But I was accepting of it."
He kept hanging out with college girls, and he kept snorting coke. Within a few days, he'd made new connections in Denver and started driving south with cash and back north with cocaine. "A bunch," he says. "I mean, more than I ever should have been. Ounces a day."
"Ory didn't fuck around," his lawyer, Tom Fleener, says. "He worked very, very hard and built a very successful cement business. And when he went back to dealing drugs, he worked very, very hard. It's all or nothing with him."
The problem with that, of course, is that one tends to attract attention in a small town. Users and petty dealers, people a level or three below Ory, get arrested with some regularity. Some of them talk, and so by spring, Ory's name had come up often enough that Fleener got wind of it.
"Tom called me into his office, just out of the blue, and said, 'You've got to stop selling cocaine,' " Ory says. He feigned innocence, protested weakly. Fleener continued: "You need to quit doing it. I don't think they're gonna arrest you. They don't have much on you. It's all hearsay."
"Okay, cool," Ory said. "Thanks." Then he left.
And he quit selling cocaine. About a week later, one of his connections said she was going to Denver to pick up some crystal meth. "And I thought, 'Well, why not?' It's a completely different scene, you know, than all these coke people." He gave her $1,400, she brought back an ounce that night, and he sold it all before sunrise, $250 an eight ball, two grand total. "I was like, Wow, that's easy," Ory says. "But I probably paid too much."
So Ory let Johnson Concrete wither and went back into the methamphetamine business full-time, usually buying in Denver, sometimes hauling fourteen hours to Phoenix, where it was cheaper and purer.
Fleener, for the record, notes that Ory missed the point of their conversation. "I didn't tell him to stop selling coke and start selling meth," he says. "I told him to stop selling drugs, that he's gonna get caught, that he oughta get out of town. I wish he'd taken my advice."
···
Now, what about the heroin?
That was serendipity. In the mid summer of 2012, Ory says, he started dating a girl who'd come to Laramie by way of California with a boyfriend that she got rid of and a heroin problem that she did not get rid of. She was buying retail, $30 for a day's worth of Mexican black tar packaged in a tiny black balloon.
Ory had never seen heroin before or even known anyone who used it. Before he went to prison the first time, there was no market for heroin, because no one wanted it. "I was in Torrington, Cheyenne, Wheatland, Laramie," he says. "I was selling drugs in all those places and never heard about it."
That's not to say there's never been any heroin in Wyoming. The reason Ory and Josh Merseal never saw it is because they're young and heroin is cyclical, unlike, say, marijuana or cocaine. Two generations ago, the occasional veteran would bring back a habit he picked up in Vietnam, and a handful of civilians would dabble in one drug and then another until they finally stabbed a needle in a vein. But heroin generally was considered skid-row junk, the opiate of a downtrodden waiting to OD. "They were considered the shit of the dopers," says John Powell, the former police chief in Cheyenne. When he started, the junkies moped on the south side of the city, so pitiable that the police pretty much left them alone. "There's a hierarchy in drugs," Powell says, "and they were at the bottom, almost like, if you get there, you deserve to die."
As a recreational drug, heroin would make a brief rally every decade or so—every generation has to relearn the same lesson—but it would always lose traction. Too many kids would overdose, or they'd get hooked on it and graduate from snorting to smoking to mainlining, and everyone around them would realize that it was depressing and gross and get scared away.
Within the past decade, though, that began to change. The numbers are relatively tiny (more people are huffing glue), but the wave of coverage following a high-profile overdose, like that of Philip Seymour Hoffman in February 2014, can make it seem like an epidemic. The numbers are nonetheless startling: In the most widely cited federal survey, the number of people who reported using heroin in the past month more than doubled between 2007 and 2012, to 335,000. Confirmed heroin overdoses nationally more than tripled between 2006 and 2012. Across the southern half of Wyoming, where Ory and only a quarter-million other people live, there were at least eighteen fatal overdoses (up from zero) between January 2010 and June 2014. As for non-fatal overdoses, Steve Woodson, the director of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, says his office has no idea.


Critical to the shift is the rise, corporate-backed and medically sanctioned, of prescription opiates. Pills such as OxyContin and Percocet are incredibly effective both therapeutically and recreationally. They're also addictive and, on the street, expensive. "All of a sudden," says Stuart S. Healy III, a federal prosecutor in Cheyenne, "these pill junkies are saying, 'We need something different. We need something cheaper.' "
That connection, pills to heroin, is a constant. "Every individual who's cooperated with us on heroin cases," says Woodson, "or who's overdosed on heroin that we've investigated, when we look into their background, 100 percent started with pills. One hundred percent."
Ory, whose own drug problems started with a legitimate prescription, knew little about his new girlfriend's drug of choice—only that it amazed him: "I would open it up and it'd look like gunpowder, the color." He watched as the girl rolled up a bill and gently puffed on the powder. "Poof!" Ory says. "It turned black and melted and became sticky!" He still seems amazed.
Ory started paying for his girlfriend's drugs. "But just from experience, I knew I wasn't going to buy any heroin for this girl at thirty bucks a balloon to last her for a day," he says. "I wasn't going to spend that money. I was thinking, I need to make that money work for me."
He called the guy in Colorado he was getting Ecstasy from, asked if he had a line on heroin, which he did, because midlevel suppliers are rarely drug-specific. Ory says he bought twenty-five grams, pre-packed for retail sale, for $1,000. That works out to $40 a gram. On the street in Laramie, heroin sells for $30 a point—one-tenth of a gram. So from bulk purchase in Colorado to end user, that's a markup of 750 percent.
But Ory wasn't selling to users. He says he kept five grams for his girlfriend to smoke and unloaded the rest at $70 a gram to a woman who had a team of street dealers selling to college kids. He could have done better, but he still pocketed $400 for a couple of hours of driving.
He made a few more heroin runs to Colorado. Ory carried a can of bear spray with him (bears can be a problem in Wyoming), but he was never intimidated, never worried he'd get swindled or robbed or hurt: "If you can show up to the plate and be ready to play ball with thousands of dollars, with $1,500, $3,000, now you're stepping into a different line of people," he says. "Their livelihood depends on guys that come to the plate that are clean-cut, white, drive a nice vehicle with actual insurance and taillights that work. And that are going to be there every few days with four or five thousand dollars each time. Those type of people aren't going to rip you off. Their livelihood depends on you being able to sell their product."
All told, Ory figures he bought a little more than a hundred grams of heroin over the course of three months. He sold a few balloons on the side, but mostly he supplied the woman who supplied the dealers who hooked up the college kids. He never held on to it for long. "It kind of spooked me how fast that stuff would disappear, how fast it would sell," he says. "And it wasn't much that I really wanted to be a part of. I mean, I did, but it was just scary." Mostly it was watching his girlfriend, a functioning addict—fine if she had some dope, horribly sick as soon as she didn't. "But if she could have just a little bit—poof!—then she's healthy again."
It wouldn't last, of course. Ory's entire drug-dealing career was probably doomed from the beginning, considering it was conceived with a head full of coke. He sniffed through two grams a day until June, when he switched to meth, a gram of which he smoked, snorted, or ate every day. He seems to believe he tolerated that habit pretty well. But court records note, "His personality is entirely different when he is using drugs," and he "becomes paranoid and angry, especially when using methamphetamine." In May, he was accused of punching a girlfriend in the face (which he denies, and the charge was later dismissed) and, in July, of shoving another one into a wall (which he also denies but nonetheless pleaded guilty to). Paranoid, angry, and abusive is no way to run a business.
On November 29, 2012, Ory allegedly banged up his last girlfriend, the one with the heroin habit, accused her of stealing his drugs, dragged her across the kitchen, and tossed her out the door. Ory denies this as well, but the sheriff believed her and got a warrant to arrest him.
Seven days later, in the early-morning dark of December 5, Ory went to a trailer park to deliver ninety-three Ecstasy pills. The guy who was supposed to be buying didn't have any cash. Since extending credit is ill-advised in the retail drug trade, Ory left. He walked back to his truck with the horse trailer on the hitch. He noticed, a block and a half down North Cedar, an SUV from the sheriff's department, lights off and parked on the wrong side of the street under a burnt-out streetlight. He did not believe the presence of deputies was coincidental. In his pocket was a plastic sandwich bag containing the Ecstasy, five grams of crystal meth, three grams of cocaine, and a tiny amount—seventeen-hundredths of a gram—of heroin.
He watched the deputies watching him as he came around the back of his truck. "When I got sight of them, I jumped up, and I threw that bag in the horse trailer," he says. "I shouldn't have. I should have just thrown it somewhere. But I throw it in there, get in my truck, start it, and drive—and a block later I'm pulled over."
Ory went to jail that night. Not for drugs, but on the warrant for allegedly beating his girlfriend. In his truck, the deputies found a half-dozen cell phones and $816, neatly organized. "Like, if I had five twenties," Ory says, "I'd fold them in half. If I have ten tens, I'll fold them in half in hundred-dollar increments. A $100 bill, I'd fold it in half so you can just count quick if you have a substantial amount of cash. They said, 'These are characteristics of a drug dealer.' " That was enough reason to let a German shepherd named Luger sniff around. The dog missed the drugs in the trailer, probably because of the horse stink, but stopped—"went into odor"—at the driver's-side door of the cab. In the seatback pocket, in a green ziplock bag, were three tiny balloons of heroin, not quite three-tenths of a gram between them. That was enough for a search warrant, and then the cops found everything else.
He caught a break on the cocaine: misdemeanor possession. But the state popped him with two felonies each: possession and possession with intent to distribute, for the meth, the heroin, and the Ecstasy. "And they moved the assault charge"—what he was stopped for in the first place—"to a felony," he says. "A hundred and twenty-six years I was facing at that point."
···
Ory was released on $85,000 bond and the condition that he enroll in a Narconon program in Oklahoma, which he did. He graduated on April 23, 2013. The judge had told him he'd have to live with his mother in Laramie after that, but his mother had rules, and besides, the best the state was offering if he pleaded out was a minimum of forty years.
"I got really scared," Ory says. He decided to run. A buddy picked him up in Oklahoma and drove him to a little city north of New Orleans. Ory had sold his house since his arrest, and once the check cleared, $24,000, he was going to drive to Phoenix and buy more methamphetamine than he'd ever bought at one time. Ory was going to take that meth east, to Atlanta, where he figured he could double, maybe even triple, his money. Then he would leave the country.
A fugitive warrant was issued for him on April 30. Two days later, on his way to Phoenix, Ory used the computer in the business center at a Days Inn in Winnie, Texas, and managed to creep out the desk clerk enough—how is unclear—that she called the local sheriff. Ory saw the cruiser roll up, and he bolted out the back, vaulted a fence, ran through some fields. His shoes got sucked off by a patch of mud, and he snagged his shirt on a barbed-wire fence, but he stayed out all night, and the deputies didn't find him. In the morning, he went back to the hotel, shoeless and shirtless, looking like a guy who'd run from the cops all night. The morning clerk called the sheriff.
A deputy found him behind the wheel of his friend's Dodge pickup. Ory stopped, and the deputy opened the door, but then he stepped on the gas. The door whacked the deputy on the knee—the authorities consider that assault—as Ory tore out of the parking lot. Deputies chased him ten miles out into the country, until he came to a locked fence. Ory abandoned the Dodge and ran. He hid in a swamp—he didn't know about the alligators—until he heard the hounds and knew he was screwed and probably hypothermic, too. He surrendered.
Ory gave them a fake name, said he was his older brother, because he knew his Social Security number and address. But he'd forgotten about the passport in his pocket—which he needed to get out of the country—until he was handcuffed in the back of a cruiser and couldn't reach it to toss out the window. "I was done," he says. He shrugs. "You know."
He got sent back to Wyoming and sat in jail for a few months while his case was sorted out. As it happened, federal prosecutors were looking at Ory, too. In most circumstances, that would be a terrible thing. But Fleener is a former federal public defender, knows the system, understands the feds' peculiar rules. "The feds getting involved in Ory's case was the best thing that ever happened to him," Fleener says.
Two elements worked in his favor. The first was geographic. For a small-town supplier, especially when that small town is in a vast, empty state, the threshold for federal curiosity is far lower. Investigators had figured out by deciphering Ory's GPS, calculating toll records, and cobbling together statements from his associates that he'd brought about four ounces of methamphetamine into Wyoming every four to six days. "In L.A. or Miami, that wouldn't hit the federal radar," says Healy, the federal prosecutor. "But when a guy brings five, six pounds into Laramie? That's gonna cross our radar. That's a lot of weight in a little bit of time. Ory Johnson was a problem."
The second was statutory. Under federal sentencing guidelines, five grams of meth, about $500 worth, mandates a minimum five years. That same sentence requires a hundred grams of heroin—twenty times the weight and, given heroin's potency, about 200 times the typical usage amount. In other words, Ory wasn't caught with enough heroin to be worth the feds' time.
Fleener eventually worked a deal for Ory to plead guilty to a methamphetamine charge in federal court and one felony (also methamphetamine) and three misdemeanors (battery of a household member and possession of cocaine and heroin) in state court. He got five years from the feds and four to five from Wyoming, to be served concurrently.
Ory is doing his time in a medium-security facility in his hometown, Torrington, that is quite possibly the nicest prison in America, bright and clean, sunlight pouring through a small atrium at the entrance, golden fields rolling to the horizon. Ory seems comfortable.
"There was a lady in Wheatland that I used to go and stay with when I was 20, 21 years old and I was selling a lot of meth," he tells me at one point. "She looked at me and she said, 'Ory'—it was the question again—'Ory, why are you doing this? You're smart. You come from a good family. What are you doing?' I didn't have an answer. And she goes, 'You never see an old drug dealer.' "
Ory thinks about that often, all these years later, when he's in prison for the second time. The obvious question, of course, is why he didn't take Fleener's advice, why he didn't just quit selling drugs and go back to pouring concrete. Why trade a respectable life, one reclaimed with honest sweat from the wreckage of his younger self, for a position as a black-market middle manager? For all the folded cash changing hands, Ory made a much better living in the legitimate world.
Ory has several explanations, the first of which is simple and rote: "the power of addiction." Not to drugs—though Ory clearly has a problem—but to being a low-grade outlaw, to cutting deals in the shadows, to knowing that one nosy state trooper or chattering meth head could end it all. "All of it, the whole thing," he says. "It's exciting. It's a rush. You feel alive. I mean, the power of addiction is incredible.
"In this world, everybody's missing something in their lives, and that's why they're doing drugs. It's taking the place of something they're missing, something they've lost, something that makes them feel inadequate. So everybody's looking for acceptance, looking to be something, wanting to feel." A pause. "Myself included."
That is almost identical to an assessment of Ory filed as part of a pre-sentencing report last year. It noted that Ory used a lot of superlatives when talking about himself—he wanted to have the biggest concrete company in Laramie, he supplied the best dope, he has a near-genius IQ. "The attitude is one of overwhelming arrogance," the report noted, "but the Probation Officer suspects the underlying motivation is deep-seated insecurity which he attempts to overcome through his personal exploits."
That's closer to the truth (though "overwhelmingly arrogant" seems a bit harsh). A cement contractor is required—feels needed—when someone wants a slab poured or Elm Street resurfaced. But a man who provides a steady supply of high-quality dope (Ory told me several times, as a point of professional pride, that he never cut his drugs) at a not-outrageous price is always in demand. He's always needed, often desperately so.
From that needy perspective, it's not a bad gig. Except for the part where you eventually, almost inevitably, go to prison. "I told the judge this last time, I said, 'I deserve every day I'm going to do, every day you're going to give me,' " he says. "But I'm fortunate that I'm going to have enough of my life back that I can start over again and be able to get out and be successful. Successful in life, whoever judges that."
Sean Flynn is a GQ correspondent.
http://www.gq.com/news-politics/201501/ory-joe-johnson-wyoming-heroin?currentPage=1