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DallasNews.com: Contact usDallasNews.com: Texas & Southwest
Lawmaker intervened on inquiry into rapper and label, records show

DEA official says investigation active as new song taunts agents

10/02/2000

By Lee Hancock / The Dallas Morning News

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HOUSTON – A federal drug investigation of a Houston rap recording label and its associates was frozen after a prominent California congresswoman intervened on behalf of the label's founder with top Clinton administration officials, case investigators say.

This week, the record label Rap-A-Lot plans to release a CD in which one of its best-selling artists taunts the Drug Enforcement Administration and talks of killing agency informants. On the CD, rap artist Brad "Scarface" Jordan, one of several Rap-A-Lot associates arrested in the DEA inquiry, brags of the "Rap-A-Lot mafia's" ability to derail an investigation and drug agents' careers.

"Can't be stopped. Not even by a badge," one song declares, going on to curse two DEA agents by name. "There ain't enough [expletive] in the states to come stop this Rap-A-Lot mafia."

The joint investigation by the DEA and Houston police of the company and its founder, James A. Prince, was frozen after U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., intervened in August 1999 on his behalf with Attorney General Janet Reno, according to investigators and documents.

Ms. Waters did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

Mr. Prince has never been charged as a result of the investigation and has said his company has done nothing illegal. He did not respond to interview requests.

Ms. Waters' letter to Ms. Reno states that Mr. Smith and his associates feared for their lives because of what they called racist police harassment and use of excessive force. In a personal appeal to DEA officials, Ms. Waters cited the fact that the lead agent in the case, Jack Schumacher, had been previously involved in six fatal police shootings.

Authorities said each of the shootings was justifed. James Nims, one of Mr. Schumacher's supervisors, wrote a memo last September that said that all of Mr. Prince's complaints were "completely false."

Last spring, Agent Schumacher, a 27-year law enforcement veteran who directed the case through more than 20 state and federal convictions as well as cocaine seizures in Oklahoma City, Beaumont and Houston, was transferred from active investigation to a desk job. Police involved in the inquiry again blame Washington politics.

"It looks like the DEA and the Justice Department in Washington turned their backs on a good agent and a good investigation," said Joe Harris, a retired Harris County narcotics investigator who worked on the case. "It appears the object was to get them to stop their investigation, and it appears that worked."

The head of the DEA's Houston division denied that the investigation has been shelved and said that Agent Schumacher was transferred because he was needed elsewhere.

"It's an active investigation – still going on. ...The investigation has not been stopped," said DEA Agent Ernest L. Howard. "I'm the agent in charge of the whole division. I'm the guy who would know."

But other Houston drug investigators said that Agent Howard made it clear to them last September that the case was over.

DEA Administrator Donnie Marshall in Washington said Friday that he never ordered the case stopped. He said he reviewed the case after receiving Ms. Waters' complaint and determined that the drug investigation was valid.

"Nobody ever put any political pressure on me to close down this investigation, nor did I put any pressure on Mr. Howard," he said. The agency chief added that he did not order Agent Schumacher's transfer and was told by Agent Howard that it was being done for the agent's own protection.

Agent Schumacher, 48, referred questions about the drug case to his DEA superiors. Asked about his reassignment, he said he was moved against his will on March 14 from active enforcement and was told he was being transferred at the request of DEA officials in Washington. He said he was never told that anyone feared that he was in personal or civil jeopardy. "All I was told is that it was a very, very political issue."

Mr. Prince, 35, has long maintained that neither he nor his company has ever done anything illegal and that he has been unfairly targeted by law enforcement agents because he is wealthy and black.

'88 cocaine bust

Federal and local interest in Mr. Prince dates back to 1988, when a car with dealer license plates from a used-car lot he owned in Houston was stopped near El Paso, records show. Authorities found 76 kilograms of cocaine in a hidden compartment, and one Houston man was convicted in the case. His companion, a cousin of Mr. Prince's who carried a card identifying himself as a salesman for the car lot, was later released. Mr. Prince later helped the wife of the jailed man set up a bail-bond company, which is still housed in Rap-A-Lot's office building, records show.

The seizure prompted authorities to open a drug case in Houston just as Mr. Prince was becoming known for promoting explicit "gangsta" rap. The investigation slowed after it drew attention in 1993, when Mr. Prince publicly complained that he had been harassed.

Mr. Prince was arrested twice on minor drug and weapons charges that were later dropped, and his label subsequently released a 1993 Geto Boys CD that contained lyrics in which the rappers threaten to shoot local police. Mr. Prince personally complained on the best-selling album of a DEA "conspiracy" to target his record label.

The album's hit video "Crooked Officer" was banned by MTV because it depicted the shooting of a police officer. In 1996, that song and the group's other raps became a presidential campaign issue when Republican Bob Dole cited the Geto boys as an example of declining American mores.

The federal investigation moved slowly until 1998, when the DEA formed a task force with police. Several Rap-A-Lot employees were soon arrested, as was a Houston police officer later convicted on federal civil rights charges for using his patrol car to help a Rap-A-Lot employee try to rob a drug dealer.

Mr. Prince and his associates soon began filing new complaints alleging police brutality and racism. In one, it was alleged that Houston police used excessive force and made racist remarks when stopping a Rap-A-Lot van – an allegation that officials said was ruled unfounded.

On Aug. 20, 1999, Ms. Waters phoned Ms. Reno and wrote her office to allege a racist conspiracy against Mr. Prince and his associates by "rogue" agents.

A powerful Democrat who headed the Black Congressional Caucus in 1997 and 1998, Ms. Waters wrote that Mr. Prince had contacted her because of her aggressive criticism of racial profiling and her work "surrounding the intelligence community."

Ms. Waters gained national attention in the mid-'90s with her accusations that the CIA had helped launch the U.S. crack cocaine epidemic.

The letter stated: "Simply put, Mr. Prince believes strongly that the Department of Justice must intercede into the questionable practices of DEA and provide him with the necessary protection to ensure that his life and livelihood are not subjected to ongoing harassment and intimidation."

In September 1999, the chief of the DEA's Office of Professional Responsibility agreed to personally interview Mr. Prince in Ms. Waters' Washington congressional office, federal officials said. There for the interview were Mr. Prince's lawyer, the congresswoman and her husband, Sidney Williams.

A former Los Angeles car salesman and professional football player who served as U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas in the mid '90s, Mr. Williams graduated from high school and still owns a house in Houston's 5th Ward, the childhood neighborhood of Mr. Prince and some of his associates. He and Ms. Waters were married in Houston in 1977.

"It's not unusual to have an attorney present. But having a member of Congress? A congressional spouse? That's totally unheard of," said one federal official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "In DEA, we normally never have direct contact with Congress in one of our internal-affairs investigations or in an active criminal case."

Ms. Waters had a court reporter record the interview, in which she warned that she would hold the federal agency responsible if anything happened to Mr. Prince, said officials who reviewed meeting transcripts. She specifically complained about Mr. Schumacher, citing his involvement in the six fatal shootings – one as a DEA agent and five while he was a Houston police narcotics investigator.

Drug investigators in Houston said Agent Howard, the Houston DEA chief, came to their office in mid-September 1999 and told more than a dozen investigators that the case was being halted by Washington.

"Mr. Howard even gave us the date and time we were stopping it," said Houston police Sgt. Bill Stephens, a narcotics investigator who supervised the seven other local officers on the case. "He made it very clear that he was serious, and there was no longer any DEA support."

Mr. Nims, the DEA official who supervised Mr. Schumacher and his colleagues, wrote in a Sept. 27, 1999, memo that Agent Howard had recently ordered him and his investigators "not to pursue any new leads regarding [James Prince], Rap-A-Lot, et. al. ... This is unfortunate because there are still many investigative leads and enforcement operations to carry out."

The supervisor wrote that he could personally refute Mr. Prince's allegations of brutality and racism because he had been involved in every enforcement operation.

"It appears that [Mr. Prince] has a pattern of manipulating influential people when investigators get too close to him," the memo stated. "He would not be doing this if he did not feel threatened because of our successes."

Mr. Nims referred questions about the case to Agent Howard.

Officials with direct knowledge of the inquiry said there has since been virtually no new investigative activity.

"There is nobody out on the streets working, doing the normal things that you would do in an active investigation. We're sitting," said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Nobody is out beating the bushes, and there hasn't been for quite a while."

Agent Howard said the agency's Office of Professional Responsibility has found no evidence of racism or brutality by Agent Schumacher or other agents on the case. DEA officials in Washington said the internal inquiry is under routine review and should be completed soon.

Ms. Waters' office has since asked repeatedly for updates on the DEA internal review, officials said.

Gore visits church

Sgt. Stephens and others in Houston said Agent Schumacher's transfer came within three days of Vice President Al Gore's visit to a Houston church that had been scrutinized during the Rap-A-Lot investigation because of its high level of financial support from Mr. Prince. The church's pastor told a local magazine last year that the church had named a chapel for Mr. Prince because of his donation of $1 million.

Ralph Douglas West, pastor of the Church Without Walls, said he was familiar with the long history of accusations about Mr. Prince. He said the allegations are unwarranted and he added that Mr. Prince's businesses have no relation to the church.

"James Prince, I think, personally has been unfairly targeted or profiled as being corrupt or illicit or illegal in his business dealings. ... He is one of the faithful members of this church, and not just as a business person but as an active member of this church."

Mr. Gore's campaign communications office said the vice president knows nothing of the matter.

Sgt. Stephens said he and other local officers heard from federal counterparts that DEA officials transferred the agent to ensure that he did no more work on a case that had already provoked Ms. Waters and could pose a greater potential political embarrassment.

"The consensus was that it was a political move that was based on Gore's visiting that church, mostly because of the timing. Nothing had changed involving Jack. All of a sudden, he's abruptly moved," Sgt. Stephens said. "The word we got from all of the DEA agents was that the idea to move him came not from anyone local or from Mr. Howard, but from D.C. – from the top at DEA."

Federal officials noted that Agent Schumacher's transfer also came as Mr. Marshall, then the DEA's acting administrator, was awaiting senate confirmation hearings that led to his becoming permanent head of the agency.

Agent Howard said he was aware of Mr. Gore's visit and was told afterward that Mr. Prince was there. But he said the timing of Agent Schumacher's transfer had nothing to do with politics and was solely his decision.

"Washington had nothing to do with Jack Schumacher getting transferred," Agent Howard said.

Mr. Marshall said Agent Howard decided to move the agent to avoid the chance that he might be involved in a confrontation with Mr. Prince or his associates after Ms. Waters complained about him.

"There were allegations that ... Mr. Prince feared [that the agent] would set him up in a situation where he could do him physical harm and kill him," Mr. Marshall said. "If he were to continue with this investigation and then, God forbid, some situation develop ... it was our fear that he would be presumed guilty."

He added that he had thought the agent was moved late last fall. "By March, this thing was really off of my radar screen as any kind of an issue," he said. "I can tell you we wouldn't transfer anybody based on a political request."

Investigators say that a once-promising case is now derailed, that they and their informants are being threatened and that a rap star is publicly boasting of ruining agents' careers.

Some officers say they are concerned about the treatment of Agent Schumacher, who had been handpicked by Agent Howard to lead the Rap-A-Lot inquiry. They said he has won awards for his aggressive work, has taught police training courses across Texas and served in 1999 as president of the Texas Narcotics Officer Association.

"This was not a racist investigation. I'm black. Jack is definitely not a racist," said Mr. Harris. "The only thing he hates is crooks."

Witness threatened

A federal trial of one Rap-A-Lot employee ended in a hung jury in April after a star prosecution witness had been threatened by a courtroom spectator while testifying. A juror later complained that another spectator was trying to write down the juror's car license number, records state. The Rap-A-Lot employee, described by investigators as a gang enforcer, was acquitted in a second trial but remains jailed pending a federal appeal and resolution of state charges.

Rap-A-Lot's newest CD release, from one of the label's best-known recording artists, names the two DEA agents who led the agency's Rap-A-Lot inquiry and his partner, adding, "comin' in here, making a [expletive] case? Bitch, I'll ruin your career."

The artist, "Scarface" Jordan – who first gained fame as a member of Rap-A-Lot's Geto Boys – pleaded guilty in 1999 to misdemeanor marijuana charges arising from the DEA's inquiry. Songs already available on the Internet from the new CD, Last of a Dying Breed, contain repeated references to police trying to get "J" – a nickname for James Prince. Scarface also declares himself "a Rap-A-Lot mobster," denounces snitches and threatens bullets for federal agents who invade his turf.

In one song, he complains that he "can't get no peace, 'cause Shumacher's been chasin' me," and denounces by name the DEA informant whose information led to his arrest. In that song he also declares that he was framed and does not sell drugs.

The rap that declares, "We can't be stopped, even by a badge" ends with the simulated sounds of a DEA informant's execution.

In another song – which police say reads like a direct threat to those who have already informed for the DEA in the Rap-A-Lot inquiry and those who might – the rapper sings that he and his group can reach and kill informants, even in jail.

"I'm tellin' you dog, that even if you getting relief, how the [expletive] is you gonna live on these streets, if you got that jacket on your back – you a rat?" Scarface raps in the song "Watch Ya Step." "You don't spill your guts."







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