For the past two days I have attended Congressional hearings on the Drug Enforcement Agency‘s (DEA) Investigation of Rap-A-Lot Records. While the hearings were called by Republican members of the House Committee on Government in an effort to provide evidence or to imply through innuendo that Rep. Maxine Waters and even Vice-President Al Gore intervened to slow or end a DEA investigation of James Prince, the head of Rap-A-Lot records, some of the most striking information revealed in the hearings was the extent to which the federal government had placed federal informants in not just Rap-A-Lot Records but throughout Houston’s 5th Ward section.
The federal government, with the help of the Houston Police Department, infiltrated Houston’s Fifth ward in a manner that can only be classified as military in nature. For at least 8 years, the DEA and Houston Police Department worked aggressively to form an intelligence network that would result in the conviction of James Prince and the shutting down of Rap-A-Lot records. It was also revealed in the hearings that the DEA has over 300 DEA agents in Houston alone and when combined with the Houston Police Department task force currently has over 400 people working the city in the “War on Drugs” effort.
Depending upon whose testimony you rely upon the DEA investigation of Rap-A Lot records began in early 1992 and possibly 1988 when two large cocaine busts were made. The DEA claims that since that time 20 arrests were made in connection with the investigation, with convictions ranging from drug use and sales to murder.
But in over 8 years the investigation never produced proof that the intended target, James Prince, formerly known as James Smith, was guilty of any suspected crimes.
During the hearings, DEA Special Agent In Charge Of The Houston Field Office, Ernest L. Howard spoke of the great effort and energy expended to attract and groom informants from Houston’s inner cities to be of help in the investigation. Agent Howard explained how difficult it was to “infiltrate the 5th Ward” and that the investigation made “no progress from 1992-1997” until the government began to have success in its efforts to recruit informants in the 5th Ward and inside of the Rap-A-Lot organization.
And Agent Howard left little doubt that the government was looking to use its informants and its intelligence network to build a case that would not only lead to the arrest of James Prince but would which would also shut Rap-A-Lot down, as a business enterprise.
And the manner in which the DEA hoped to do this was made clear during the investigation: the government hoped to get James Prince in jail and to shut the legitimate business activities of Rap-A-Lot records down under the Racketeering In Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) which allows the government to associate entire organizations/businesses with the criminal activities of its members.
RICO is the ultimate guilt-by-association statute in the federal government’s arsenal, which allows it to link the activities of executives with those of employees and individuals with that of corporations.
“The only way that we were going to get the target (James Prince) of this investigation was through a conspiracy”, Agent Howard stated during the hearings.
Agent Howard then offered that there were two individuals affiliated with Rap-A-Lot records which they hoped to arrest and/or turn into informants who would be “key to proving a conspiracy”.
A letter was also released during the hearings written by James B. Nims, Group Supervisor in the DEA, to Rep. Dan Burton (R-In), chairman of the Committee on Government Reform which revealed that multi-platinum artist, Scarface, was a significant target of the DEA investigation and that the DEA was working to get Scarface to turn against James Prince.
In the letter Nims writes to Burton:
“In regards to the US Attorney’s Office, we could not convince them to indict Brad Jordan, AKA “Scarface”, even though I strongly believe we had him tied in solidly on a federal drug conspiracy charge. This was devastating to the case as we felt that Brad Jordan could have provided us with important leads and information regarding Mr. Smith.”
Many close to the investigation say that an indictment against Scarface never occurred because the evidence against him was so weak and that the DEA was willing to do almost anything to pressure Scarface in an effort to get him to become an informant.
The reason that Rep. Maxine Waters was the focus of committee hearings was because of the fact that Rep. Waters wrote a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno in August of 1999, after Prince sought her help, fearing that his life was in danger due to the DEA /Houston Police Department investigation.
Rep. Waters wrote the letter which reflected her commitment to issues of civil rights violations, unlawful search and seizures, racial profiling and police brutality.
Prince especially believed that one of the officers on the case, Jack Schumacher, was harassing him and Rap-A-Lot in a manner that could have led to Prince’s death.
Rep. Waters asked Reno to give the matter her full consideration and attention. Republicans believed that Rep. Maxine Waters’ letter to Reno resulted in the investigation against Rap-A-Lot ending.
The reason that Al Gore’s name entered the hearings was because in March of 2000 Gore visited a popular Houston church, Brookhollow Baptist Church, where James Prince is a member. Prince is said to have given the church over $1 million in donations.
Three days after the Gore visit, agent Schumacher was given a desk job. Republicans sought to determine whether there was any connection between the Gore visit and the decision to move Schumacher.
In one of the hearings more bizarre moments Schumacher stated that he heard that Prince had made an illegal donation of $200,000 to the Gore campaign.
When pressed by Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) Schumacher admitted that the information regarding Gore and Prince was unsubstantiated. Schumacher told the committee, “It is third-hand information that has not been corroborated”. Schumacher said that he received the information from a source that he had never had contact with before.
Yesterday, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) who represents Houston, questioned Schumacher and Agent Howard regarding the allegations and innuendo that Vice-President Gore and Rep. Maxine Waters interfered with the DEA investigation.
The questioning revealed that there was no evidence that supported the claims.
In total, the investigation brought the power of the DEA, IRS and Houston Police Department against a Hip-Hop label.
Some say that the information that came out of the investigation that revealed how the government recruited informants in Houston’s inner cities reminds them of the tactics used by former FBI head J.Edgar Hoover who in 1968 established the “Ghetto Listening Post” in inner cities across the country – an effort that resulted in the recruitment of 3,248 informants.
The DEA Rap-A-Lot investigation is full of lessons for the Hip-Hop community.
Friday, December 08, 2000