In one episode of the dearly departed HBO series The Wire, Baltimore police struggle to crack a code that dope dealers are using to do business, causing a detective to wonder, "How complex a code can it be if these knuckleheads are using it?" Now it seems a real life version of that situation unfolded in Seattle as the DEA eavesdropped on the phone conversations of a drug kingpin and his henchmen.
While the operation began in 2008 with a routine "buy-bust" sting by Seattle Police, it was only after the DEA obtained permission to wiretap the cell phones of several key suspects that they started to make serious headway. But first the feds had to figure out what exactly the pushers meant with phrases like, "the black girls are dirty."
Turns out that expression is (allegedly) code for "the heroin is low quality." Court documents outline all kinds of colorful doubletalk the drug cops deciphered during their investigation:
One of the more clever tactics used by the dealers was calling kilos of cocaine "houses," and using addresses as prices. For example, when Jose Rodriguez-Rivera, the alleged ringleader of the local cartel, was overheard telling a potential customer that he should visit house number 23, it was (again, allegedly) a way of saying the brick of blow would cost 23 grand. A half-kilo was called a "recamarita," a Spanish word that translates to "little bedroom," and a quarter was a "corner."
Other slang highlights mentioned in the court documents include the dealers calling half-kilos "micheladas" (the Mexican blend of beer, lime, and tomato juice), or "medicos," which literally means doctor, but is actually a play on the word "medio," or half. Fifteen kilos was a quinceañera, a fifteenth birthday party, and five kilos was referred to as a "hand."
In his affidavit, DEA special agent Terris Farabee details the initial difficulty of unraveling the Spanish double entendres used by their targets. He writes that the dealers used the word "tirar," meaning to throw, to describe selling drugs, and called ounces of cocaine "pelotas" or balls. In one instance, a customer reportedly complained that his dealer was "two soccer balls" short on a package.
While The Wire centered on the cat and mouse game between Baltimore police and the city's various African-American gangs, nearly all of the defendants in the Seattle bust are Latino. (Rodriguez-Rivera left the country for more than a month last year to visit El Salvador; court documents mention that another suspect owns a coffee plantation in Honduras, though it's unclear wheter this too is code.) One idea the local drug merchants may have gotten from TV, however, was to use multiple disposable cell phones, or "burners," to talk business.
Court documents state that Rodriguez-Rivera used at least three different phones, and his underlings often changed numbers or phones when they began to suspect that narcs were listening in. Nevertheless, the DEA was able to keep up the wiretaps and use the GPS function of mobile phones to track their movements. In addition to his home in Lynnwood, Rodriguez-Rivera reportedly did business at a horse barn in Kent, and at California Customs, a body shop in Renton that specializes in "the installation of Lamborghini type doors."
The drugs allegedly came from a supplier in the San Francisco Bay Area, and were smuggled up I-5 and into Canada via cars with hidden compartments. Just like in The Wire, law enforcement officials proudly displayed "dope on the damn table," in this case 24 pounds of methamphetamine, cocaine, crack cocaine and $35,000 in cash. And just like on the show, many more pounds of drugs no doubt continue to be bought and sold throughout the city today, regardless of Wednesday's blockbuster bust.