Jeff Buck thought he’d seen it all. Twenty years working undercover in the netherworld of drugs had left him grateful to assume the quiet job of police chief in the small town of Reminderville, Ohio. That is, until a simple domestic assault case turns out to have links to the murder of a drug runner in upstate New York and a syndicate smuggling billions of dollars in drugs across the U.S.-Canada border.
Buck uncovers a complex chain linking the Hells Angels to the Russian Mafia in a plot to use Native American tribal land to smuggle their deadly wares into the United States. Enjoy this excerpt of Takedown by Jeff Buck with Jon Land and Lindsay Preston.
Youngstown, Ohio; 1995
Right around the time that Hells Angel bomb killed Daniel Desrochers, a single incident made me wonder if my time as an undercover drug officer was coming to end. Incidents like this were what led me to give up the life I loved to spend the rest of it free of the kind of criminals who had left an eleven-year-old boy to die in a hospital bed two days after his brain was pierced by shrapnel.
I’d been working undercover for more than a decade already in 1995, an eternity in a world of deception, betrayal, loneliness, and constant danger. This particular case started with a guy named Mitchell. Mitchell was a runner that the Geauga County, Ohio, drug task force (DTF) had been watching for a year. They knew he was an underling for Terry Kincade, one of the most powerful drug guys in the entire Midwest. They knew that Kincade was impossible to find, let alone touch. Mitchell was his mope and a bad one at that, picked up by a simple beat cop for doing sixty-five in a forty-miles-per-hour zone. What idiot speeds when he’s carrying ten ounces of marijuana? It didn’t take long for me to get wind that Mitchell had been picked up. This was the task force’s chance to finally get to Terry Kincade, one of our primary targets. But things had to happen fast. I had to convince Mitchell to become an informant before Kincade got word that Mitchell was late for wherever he’d been headed.
Mitchell, pathetic mope that he was, was shaking and near tears when I arrived. He was so relieved I put freedom on the table as an option that he’d have turned in his own mother to avoid a stretch behind bars. He agreed to become an informant and get me into Kincade’s inner circle and, as a result, was back on the street an hour later to continue his run. We tagged the drugs he’d been carrying into evidence, then provided him with the money he needed to continue his run and maintain his credibility with Kincade. Six months later, with Mitchell’s help, I’d immersed myself in Kincade’s criminal organization under the undercover alias I went by, Jimmy Morgan.
That’s where the patience kicked in. Most ordinary narcs would’ve had Mitchell lead them to Kincade, set up some sort of deal, and pop him immediately. Not me. I wanted to build a case a first. I was more a strategist than a cowboy and played a case the way a skilled gambler played poker. It was about not grabbing a guy like Kincade until you had everything you could possibly get on him. If you want to take down a drug dealer and make it hurt, you take his drugs, his money, his house, and his toys. If you don’t get everything, the dealer will get out of jail and open up shop again. Business as usual. My philosophy when it came to a drug bust was simple: If it floats, flies, or drives we seize it. Pulling this off, though, required time and research, as well as detailed search-and-seizure warrants. I was willing to do whatever it took to make the strongest possible case, the best way to assure my climb up this particular drug-dealing food chain, toppling links as I went. Patience.
When I was finally ready to take down Kincade, I had agents at all of Kincade’s banks, and tow trucks ready to take his speedboat, Porsche, Lexus, Mercedes, two Jet Skis, three snowmobiles, turboprop plane, and bulldozer. I could never figure out why he had a bulldozer, but what the hell, I’d take that too. Hit the bastard everywhere to make it hurt as much as possible.
Everyone was in place for the final takedown. Detective Joe Motz from Reminderville was taking charge of the group of officers waiting for my command. I’d spent my undercover years as Jimmy Morgan and became Jimmy again that day, picking up three kilos of cocaine. Those three kilos would cost $75,000, and in a well-organized sting I, in the guise of Jimmy, would present Kincade with a suitcase packed with that amount in hundred-dollar bills. Unfortunately, the task force couldn’t pull together all the cash, so my suitcase was $30,000 short. Thirty thousand dollars! That left no room for error. The officers sitting outside couldn’t afford to waste any time moving on my position when I yelled out the signal phrase, “You ready to count?”
Mitchell and I pulled up to Terry Kincade’s house, where Kincade and his three drug soldiers were waiting for us inside the barn out back. I got out of the car and pulled out the suitcase short thirty grand in cash, helping to make Mitchell even more of a wreck.
Guys like Kincade could smell a setup plain as skunk odor. I needed Mitchell to pull it together and fast.
“You’re going to get us both killed!” I told him. “Stay cool. We’ll be out of there before you can blink an eye.”
Mitchell just looked at me.
“I’ve kept you safe and out of jail so far, haven’t I? Do you trust me?… Come on.”
Mitchell finally nodded. He was sweating badly and I was glad he’d at least chosen a dark shirt to better disguise it.
“We’re going in,” I whispered into the hidden microphone that was wired to the police van out front. “Stand by. Shouldn’t be more than five minutes.”
I walked into the barn just behind Mitchell. Kincade was rubbing the head of his thoroughbred racehorse. The kindness he was showing to his horse made him seem human, almost. Kincade had been running drugs for a good twenty years. His trips to Miami to find the goods had wrinkled and cratered his face thanks to too much sun. The dark hairs that hadn’t fallen out of his head were lacquered to his scalp. A chewed cigar hung from his dry thin lips. His three soldiers, clearly armed, stood back in the shadows like statues, not radiating any particular menace for now.
“How ya doing, Jimmy?” Kincade asked.
“I’m good. You?” I replied.
“Just fine. You wanna see the product?”
“Sure do,” I said, walking toward a fold-out card table set up in the middle of the barn under the watchful eye of Kincade’s soldiers.
Kincade had already begun pulling out the tightly packed bricks of white powder and laying them out for my inspection. I picked a few up, pretending to check the weight.
“Looks good,” I said, following up with the takedown signal. “You ready to count?”
My prosecutor, who’d accompanied us on the bust, was driving the takedown van and I waited for the welcome sound of the tires of the van and the other squad vehicles crunching gravel en route to the barn. The expected sixty seconds passed, but it didn’t come.
What the fuck was going on?
I felt my stomach drop. Drug dealers don’t like to chat and hang out. I’d stall as best I could, but before too much longer I was going to have to open that suitcase, at which point Kincade would know something was amiss as soon as he realized I was short.
“That my money?” Kincade asked, pointing to the suitcase.
But I moved his gaze away from the case to the thoroughbred instead. “Hey, that’s a nice-looking horse you have over there.”
“He’s a good moneymaker. Hand me the suitcase.”
There was no way I could stall any further. The officers outside were going to have to figure out something.
“You ready to count?” I asked him, uttering the takedown signal again.
I still couldn’t hear cars approaching. Shit! And not far away from me, Mitchell began sucking in big gulps of air. The man looked like he was about to cry.
“What’s the horse’s name?” I asked, still in distraction mode. “So I can bet on him sometime.”
“Miami Glory,” Kincaid said, glancing up from the money.
“I like that.”
“Could you please just hand me the suitcase?”
“Oh, you’re ready to count,” I said, giving the takedown signal a third time.
“Didn’t I just say that?”
I felt my heart thudding in my chest, loud enough, I thought, for Kincade to maybe hear. I was going to have to think of something and fast. I started slowly backing up toward the barn door. My only option was to run. I was unarmed; I always went in unarmed on an undercover buy. Believe it or not, guns make big drug dealers nervous. So now here I was unarmed and trapped in a barn with a drug dealer and his three bodyguards.
As Kincade unzipped the suitcase, my mind raced and I calculated my chances of making it out the door before the bodyguards drew their guns.
“What the fuck is this?” Kincade said, looking up from the bag.
Before I could offer some lame explanation, the door burst open and tossed me across the length of the dirt floor, where I found himself lying at Kincade’s feet.
“Police!” a voice shouted. “Police! Police!”
And my officers surged in wielding the most-welcome guns I’d ever seen in my life. They arrested everyone, including me in my guise of Jimmy Morgan, my heart still pounding as the cuffs were slapped on.
Turned out my prosecutor was slowed by a school bus when he approached the scene, accounting for the delay. Meanwhile, anyone listening to the police band for a five hundred mile radius heard the angered plea of the driver of of my squad’s lead vehicle behind the van,
“Get around the fucking school bus and get up there!”
Copyright © 2016 by Jeff Buck, Jon Land, and Lindsay Preston