The illegal drugs trade is a lucrative business worldwide that is worth hundreds of billions dollars. The value of the global illegal drugs market is difficult to estimate but estimates given the range from $350 to 500 billion dollars. The US is the single largest illegal drug market estimated at $50 billion (Abt Associates, 2001). Globally, the value of the illegal drug market was estimated at $13 billion at the production level, $94 billion at the wholesale level excluding seizures and $322 billion at the retail level after subtracting seizures and other losses as of 2003 (Abt Associates 2001). These figures demonstrate that the illegal drug market is extremely high-income. Being that the business is illegal, the production, sale and distribution is controlled by cartels. These cartels are lethal, armed and dangerous. They can go to any extent to protect their interests.
The US market is dominated by several criminal drug cartels that have direct connections with their Mexican counterparts from where the drugs come from. They are sophisticated in their organization in order to escape the authorities such as the FBI, Drug Enforcement Authority (DEA), border patrols and the police. The Black Mafia Family was one of such cartels that operated for fifteen years starting from Detroit, Michigan and extending further to eleven states. This paper is going to evaluate the emergence, growth and eventual decline of the Black Mafia Family cartel. The paper will look into who started, who and how joined along the way, how the group adopted technology to escape the authorities and what the authorities did to catch up with the members of the group.
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Why individuals join the organized crime entity
The Black Mafia Family (BMF) is listed to have had 500 employees working in 11 states. That is not a small group by any means. It is therefore important to evaluate the group carried out its recruitment and what were the motivating factors of those who joined?
Promising a good pay. A good payment is the dream of every person. The BMF promised those who would join a good pay. This was tempting especially to young people who were stepping into life. It is evident that most of the members were relatively young. The lure of quick easy money and of riches became a snare to many, and, since what the BMF was promising, it was irresistible. The lifestyle that the crew of Big Meech lived was worth tens of thousands dollars.
Free cars. Being a member of the BMF was also a ticket to access a range of luxurious cars. There were Bentleys, a limousine, BMW, Chrysler and much more to choose from. One would literally drive the car of his dream. The members were free to go with the vehicles to their residences and to go out to social places with them. A car became a status symbol for the BMF and as such it as coveted.
Better food. Food is the basic need for all human beings. Some allow only the basic food required sustaining life, but nobody would turn down the opportunity of eating good food. It is this basic need that BMF took advantage of. The members of the BMF, especially Meech, were also good at flouting their wealth by providing patrons with drinks and food for free.
The other motivating factor is fellowship and brotherhood. The BMF amplified this concept. Its name in itself speaks volumes. It is literally a family of black mafias. Members confess they felt very at home with BMF because it operated like a family and every member felt appreciated. They would share houses, cars and, more surprisingly, girls. The need for belonging and acceptance runs deep among the black community due to perceived discrimination, and BMF took advantage of this to recruit people.
Criminal activity. Some could have been encouraged to join the Family due to their propensity to criminal activity. And the BMF offered them such opportunity and even pay them for that. BMF became increasingly violet and this could obviously have attracted people who had a criminal past to come and fill the position of a ruthless killer and hitman.
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The history of the illegal activities engaged in by the BMF
Over the course of its existence, BMF carried a lot of illegal activities. They were mainly cocaine trafficking and distribution, money laundering, non-payment of taxes, forgery of official documents, murder and assassinations.
Cocaine selling was the group’s main activity and the rest fell under that to aid the main activity. Money laundering was secondary because that money was from the drugs sale. Similarly, non-payment of taxes came into the picture when Big Meech claimed that he was making $20000 from BMF entertainment, yet the company had not been incorporated. This was with the help of a government official in Tennessee. Similarly, murder and assassinations were carried out to weed out government informants, competitors and those who in one or another way seemed to be a threat to the cocaine business. Therefore the main criminal activity was cocaine selling.
The criminal gang had also a hip-hop recording and promotion section that was started towards the demise of the group. As it was revealed later, the hip-hop component of the empire was a clever way of masking drug trafficking and selling, which was the mainstay of the company.
The Black Mafia Family is a cocaine distribution empire that was started and run by two brothers Terry and Demetrius Flenory. Demetrius Flenory alias Big Meech and Terry Flenory alias Southwest T rose to prominence from the desolate slums of Detroit and became one of the most feared drug kingpins in America with an empire spanning eleven states. The Flenory brothers started dealing with drugs in their high days. They were selling the small amount of cocaine on the streets. Within a decade in the business, their empire consisted of a fleet of Bentleys, Ferraris and Maybachs, a workforce of 500 men in six states and an estimated turnover of $250 million (Shalhoup, 2011). With time, they grew their business moving into other states as part of the expansion and changing their operation base from Detroit to Atlanta, Georgia with Terry moving to Los Angeles, California. Atlanta became the headquarters of the group that housed the storage facilities and the groups’ top echelon.
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Atlanta was definitely a good choice for BMF. Its rich drug market and easier connectivity both within the city and other cities in the American South via a web of highways made it attractive to BMF. Prior to the 1990s the cocaine trade in Atlanta was dominated by a cartel called Miami Boys Mara (Shalhoup, 2010). In the early 1990s, however, the feds dismantled the Miami Boys and there appeared an opportunity for brothers to grab a new large market. Meech and Terry did not let it slip away from them and they embraced it and became the new Atlanta ruling class (Shalhoup, 2011). Instead of entering the market forcefully like the violent Miami Boys, Meech and Terry choose to be gentle and businesslike; they met with the major Atlanta cocaine dealers and offered them the lowest price that they could get anywhere: $17,000 a kilo (Shalhoup, 2010). This was the acceptable price as the Flenory had the direct connection with Mexican drug dealers. They choose leaner margins, and this did help them to undercut competitors and to gain control of the market within a short period of time (Shalhoup, 2011).
Atlanta became sweeten-up for Meech in the late 1990s due to its rise as a center for hip-hop industry. New talent was cropping up rapidly with rappers flooding the streets with mixtapes. The tapes were made in CD compilations which were available for playing in clubs and radio stations almost immediately. They were also on sale on street corners, online and in underground music stores; and that was without the interference of any major record label. The new mix tapes culture brought some vitality to hip hop. Artists competed for fans and feuded with each other through music which kept fans hooked
But as the city underwent a metamorphosis, several pockets of poverty remained. The biggest of them was the west area of Bankhead Highway. Much of the poverty in the eastern part of the city was centered in Boulevard. To operate smoothly, the Flenory brothers needed both the rich neighborhoods and the poor ones. The top brass lived in the influential parts of the city while the poorer areas, Bluff and Boulevard, formed the market where the distributors were located. These were the people on the ground on which the Flenory brothers’ business depended upon.
With time rumors started spreading. One incident happened in 1996 that would mark the first time Meech rubbed shoulders with Atlanta authorities. Meech was arrested at Magic city for assaulting a fellow patron by throwing a bottle at him which hurt him on the neck. He used Ronald Ivory as his name as it was in his Georgia’s driving license. Magic City is an upmarket strip club in Atlanta where wealthy blacks went for entertainment and to show off. It is more famous for black strippers than for anything else. Meech was also known to attend strip clubs. The Magic City incident assault charge was dropped after a month.
In 1998 he was arrested in Atlanta when police raided a house suspecting him in drugs possession. This time he gave his name as Rico Seville – a name he had used earlier in Michigan. The raid was not successful and he was soon released. By comparing fingerprints, police would later learn that Rico Seville and Ronald Ivory is one and the same person. DEA helped to draw a further connection that established Rico, Ronald and Demetrius Flenory to be one and the same person. Realizing he could have been placed on the radar Meech went underground and for the next few years, he was absent from Atlanta social scene.
In the year 2000, Meech was arrested in Los Angeles for driving while intoxicated. He gave his name as Aundrez Carothers; same as he used on his California driver’s license. Following his release, police established a link using fingerprints between Meech and Carothers. In 2001an informant informed agents in Atlanta that Meech was regularly transporting cocaine in a white van from Los Angeles to Detroit where he left half of the load before proceeding to Atlanta to deliver the other half. Another informant told DEA that Meech was a vengeful killer who had threatened with death to anybody who would cooperate with authority against him. This drew more attention on him and investigations were stepped up.
In 2003 Meech returned to Atlanta social scenes with a bang. This time he had a large crew that escorted him and guarded him like a VIP. He was back at Magic City in a big way and it became routine for him to be there every Monday. He and his crew openly displayed their wealth by moving around with bundles of dollars that they so often threw up in the air for anybody who cared to collect. The crews were dressed in a peculiar way so one wouldn’t have needed an introduction to pick from the cloud. Meech’s crew wore black T-shirts that could easily be distinguished by the three letters “BMF”, an abbreviation for Black Mafia Family, printed on them. This is the first time the name and the initials were used on a public.
The Black Mafia Family popularized the initials BMF by which they became identified throughout the states. The parties they held were the other identification characteristic. With time the letters were not only on the T-shirts but were tattooed on the members’ bodies in some cases and also spelled out with diamonds on platinum chains hanging on the necks of gangsters. As the group grew richer, the diamond letters hanging on the chains continued growing bigger and bigger as a sign of increased wealth and influence. The brazen display of wealth surprised many and attracted more surveillance from feds and DEA. The group also lost its businesslike approach to issues and became increasingly violent. They did not shy away from showing off their sophisticated weaponry whether in the clubs or in their houses.
The group went a notch higher placing an advertisement in Atlanta proclaiming that the world belongs to them. The billboards posted on I-75 beamed: “The World is BMFs”. True to their statement, the Drug world in Georgia and in eleven other states was under their control. They had mutated into a violent and dreaded, but yet equally lucrative drug distribution organization. But with all that publicity and investigation having been ongoing for several years, the world had not been BMF’s for long.
The group became violent and ruthless, and several murders were associated with the group members. One of the killings happened when they made their way into a house where rapper Gucci Mane was hanging out with a stripper. Gucci wanted the stripper to train in a song that he had released to that she dances to its tunes while on stage as a way of promoting it. There was a simmering rivalry between Gucci and Young Jeezy over a track called “Icy”, which Gucci had written and Young Jeezy added a few verses to it. When the song became a hit, Gucci and Jeezy picked up a quarrel over the rights for this song. Jeezy responded to the spat with a song titled “dis song,” “Stay Strapped” that promised to pay US $10,000 for Gucci’s diamond-encrusted necklace.
Jeezy was not among the five men stormed the stripper’s house but had relations with at least one of them. In the ensuing struggle, one of the invaders hit Gucci with brass knuckles while another guy whipped his friend with a pistol. One of the invading men drew out a gun but Gucci drew his faster firing at Pookie Loc. The five men stormed outside with Pookie Loc running in a different direction from the rest. Ahead of him, he spotted a cop car which made him scamper to the woods nearby where he stumbled and fell. Three days later DeKalb County Police got a call informing them that four men had appeared at Columbia Middle school to carry a search in the woods. The men were listed as Shannon Lundy, Demetrius Ellerbee and Young Jeezy. Luke informed police he had been shooting a video in West End when he heard a shooting incidence on Springside Run. He informed the police that he knew Poc Loc and had a female friend who lived there. A search was done for him and shortly they found Pookie Loc dressed in black with flies swarming over him. He was dead.
To get a background of the case, Young Jeezy claimed he was not involved in any way in the raid on Springside. Police did not name him as a suspect. The only arrest related to the incident was the arrest of Gucci Mane, who was taken later to court for killing Pokie Loc. The charges were however dropped. Though the events of that day are disputed, the bottom-line of it all was an involvement of the Black Mafia Family.
In the wee hours of November 11, 2003, Anthony Jones, P. Diddy’s former bodyguard, and his friend Lamont Girdy were shot dead in a gunfight behind the Club Chaos in Buckhead. The suspect in the case, who had shot himself, turned out to be a big catch. However, the prosecution needed at least a witness. And there was none. There was a woman who called 911 shortly after police arrived at the crime scene. She described what had happened at the parking lot. She saw a man, she knew as Meechie, fire a bunch of rounds. The woman even went to the police headquarters to report on the incidence. Meech was taken to court to answer murder charges. The police never called the woman to testify or even mention her name. Three weeks after, Meech was given a bond, because of prosecutor’s difficulty in securing evidence against the accused. Though he did walk away, he walked away from a tainted man.
Five months later, an RV was stopped on I-44, heading towards St. Louis for drifting across the interstate fog line. This action was taken by Deputy Carmello Crivello of Phelps County, Mo. He asked the driver named Jabari Hayes a few questions about his origin, the routes he has taken and his intended destination. After being asked if there were any contraband goods, Jabari panicked and started shaking prompting the Crivello to be suspicious. Jabari wouldn’t mention that he had been stopped three weeks earlier by DEA just outside St Louis and in his 1999 Lincoln Town car was found $ 600,000. Between St. Louis and Phelps, Missouri cops had stopped Christopher Triplett, alias Pig, and Calvin Sparks, alias Playboy, and found in their car 9kg of cocaine. In this incidence, Jabari’s car was found with 100kg of cocaine worth $9 million.
A series of wiretaps later, police highway patrols, house searches and associates own confessions led to the indictment of many of the group members including the Flenorys brothers who were the kingpins.
How have changes in technology, political conditions, social conditions, and economic conditions enabled and/or hindered the entity’s ability to engage in these activities?
The BMF operated with much success because of taking an advantage of factors in their environment that favored then. Technologically they were able to modify the automobile to export cocaine without getting caught. They owned several expensive vehicles whose interior was modified to create compartments where drugs and bundles of cash were hidden with some degree of success. In one such incidence, bundles of cash and a cache of firearms remained hidden under the car seat for more than two years, yet the vehicle changed hands thrice within that period. In Atlanta’s superb network of highways, the BFM crew took advantage of to drive at lightning speed to escape the cops. By his own confession, Big Meech would never stop for the cops but he made sure he increased the speed to levels the cops cannot keep up.
For quite a while, the BFM took advantage of the fact that the authorities in Atlanta did not take them as a serious threat. This gave the group an indeed opportunity to thrive. By the time authorities turned spotlight fully on the group in 2003, the group had made a significant fortune. They also took advantage of the government official in Tennessee who helped them in acquiring licenses under different names.
The BMF benefited a lot from the hip-hop industry, which they used to mask their main business. The emergence of hip-hop in Atlanta did not only help in rebranding BMF as an entertainment company but it also gave the group a ready market among the hip-hop stars and fans. However, an increased advertisement by the group attracted the attention of the authorities which was like committing suicide on the group’s part.
Economically speaking, the BMF came in the 1990s when the economy was roaring. This means disposable incomes were high and thus the market for cocaine. Furthermore, their entry in Atlanta coincided with the demise of the Miami Boys which means the competition was not stiff. The BMF had direct connections with Mexican drug lords which enabled them to get the drugs at the cheaper price than others. This enabled them to price below those of competitors thus undercutting them. Their extravagance spending, however, did not go unnoticed and authorities alarmed by the source of such wealth placed the group under surveillance eventually dismantling it.
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Ways that the police used to dismantle the cartel
The police forces were helped in nailing down the group by several factors. Among them was a groups violent nature that lead them to commit other offences like murder and assault which then the police was following up.
Police were also keen in using informants either from the general public or a member of the criminal gang who had been caught on the wrong side of the law. Such a member was asked to volunteer information about the group in exchange for a lenient punishment.
Extensive use of finger prints is another technique used by the investigators to nail the culprits. This was even more important for people like Big Meech who had several alias names. Police used the fingerprints to establish that all the different names belonged to the same person.
Furthermore, police used wiretapping to investigate BMF activities and to predict their next moves. This was by far the most successful of all the methods used by the police. Some group members like Meech seem to had been aware of the power of wiretapping and therefore he did not call or took a call from somebody. Others like Terry assumed that by talking in codes the police will not be able to break down, but they did with much ease.
Searches in the houses also helped the police in building the case.
The police outwitted the group by releasing the members after arrest without preferring any charges against them. This was deceptive to the members because they went on talking about it without knowing the police were wiretapping them. In some cases, the same suspect, caught more than once, was still released. In doing this, the police were able to gather more information about the group eventually nailing them.
Current Status of the group and the Future Prospects
On October 28, 2005, 30 BMF associates were named indicted by the Department of Justice, including a luxury car dealer in Orlando. DEA seized $3 million in currency and assets and 2.5 kilograms of cocaine. The charges brought against them included conspiracy, money laundering and drug possession. Previously 17 BMF members had been arrested for $11 million dollars and 600kg of cocaine. The members were hauled in court and were handed different sentences while others have ongoing cases. Big Meech and Terry were sentenced to 25 years in prison each. Authorities believe there are still members of the group who are on the run.
Although the Black Mafia Family has been pronounced dead in the past, authorities were still making arrests of the group members as late as 2011. There are some members outside, though they do not have access to the same network or the same amount of money. In 2010 Ernst Dennis, 37 and Jonathan Manigault, 26 were spotted outside Fairfiel Inn with two luxury vehicles valued at $130,000 (Rhonda, 2011). Dennis was on Atlanta Police Department’s list of the 10 most Wanted and was said to have a history of associating with BMF apart from being very violent. That goes to show the authorities ought to remain vigilant to ensure the remnant left does not regroup.
With the fatality the group suffered, it would be practically impossible to regain its strength ever. However, the remnant of the group will continue to pose a threat to the public for some time into the foreseeable future. Authorities, therefore, must remain vigilant.