The Real Rick Ross

An Esquire interview with the man who popularized crack cocaine in America.

Back in the day, Ross would offer the same deal with crack cocaine — to start you out, he’d give you $100 worth for free and you could sell it for $300. Between 1982 and 1989, federal prosecutors estimated, Ross bought and resold three tons of cocaine. In 1980 dollars, his gross earnings were said to be in excess of $900 million — with a profit of nearly $300 million. Converted roughly to present-day dollars: $2.5 billion and $850 million, respectively. As his distribution empire grew to include forty-two cities, the price he paid per kilo of powder cocaine dropped from as much as $60,000 to as low as $10,000. This was partially due to his exponentially increasing network of distributors, as Crips and Bloods struck out across the country to franchise the trade, spreading their gang culture with it… and partially due to his sweetheart connection with a Nicaraguan national who would later be said to have ties to both the CIA and the contra rebels supported during the 1980s by the Reagan administration. (Later this same connect — Oscar Danilo Blandón — would be hired by the DEA as an informant; it was he who would bring Ross into the deal that led to his life sentence.)

Fueled by the findings of an investigation by San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb in 1996, many would come to believe that the CIA had actually created the crack epidemic in America by allowing (or turning a blind eye to) massive shipments of cocaine into the country, the profits from which went to arming rebels fighting a Latin American regime disfavored by our government. Webb also theorized that much of the contra coke (cultivated in Colombia) ended up in the hands of Freeway Rick Ross.

Webb’s revelations were aggressively attacked by the country’s major newspapers, in reports heavy with unnamed government sources. Webb left the paper in disgrace; he was later found dead with two bullets in his head, an apparent suicide. An earlier inquiry led by then-senator John Kerry supported the substance of Webb’s allegations, as did a 1998 report by the CIA’s inspector general. Even many of those who vilified Webb now acknowledge that much of what he reported was true. A minority of the citizenry still believes there was genocidal intent in the CIA’s actions — that the coke was deliberately funneled toward black ghettos as a way of decimating a troublesome population.

The Real Rick Ross

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