Ecstasy In Arizona: A Cop and Bull Story

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    The two agencies mounted a joint investigation. From October until last January, police teams shadowed virtually every move Gravano and Papa made. They also intercepted 16,000 phone conversations.

    With demand soaring, police say, the operation run by Papa made the leap from being one of hundreds of small rings to importing the drug in quantity. A Phoenix police spokesman explained that during the department's surveillance, Papa and his friends "changed the methods under which they operated after learning from Sammy. They became more aggressive, showed a lot of force and were more organized. It was almost like they were being schooled." They also began to use Gravano's name to intimidate other dealers and took to carrying guns. Almost overnight, police say, the gang became the top supplier of ecstasy in Arizona. At its height, police estimate, the ring was selling as many as 10,000 pills a week and raking in almost $1 million a month.

    Over the next several months, police would watch as the gang made the rounds of restaurant parking lots to deliver ecstasy to couriers and buyers. Among the spots the gang used for dealing ecstasy was Uncle Sal's, a restaurant owned by Gravano's wife Debra; its motto was "The Best-Kept Secret in Scottsdale." Police say the restaurant was in her name only because Sammy could never pass the background check for a liquor license.

    After a month of intense surveillance, the police moved in on Feb. 24. They arrested Sammy, Debra, his daughter Karen, her fiance David Seabrook, Gerard as well as Papa and 41 others. In raids on their properties, police found ecstasy pills, guns and nearly $100,000 in cash, most of it in the Gravano house. (In Sammy's separate apartment, the only drugs found were pot and Viagra.) Gravano, who has pleaded not guilty, is still in jail, unable to come up with $5 million bail. There is some skepticism about the extent of Gravano's role among federal officials who know him. They say there is a big difference between mentoring kids and masterminding a drug operation. "This is going to be a wiretap case," says a defense lawyer. "If the wiretaps hold up, the government has a good case. If they don't, it falls apart."

    Still, a DEA source theorizes, even as a mentor, Gravano "seems to have forgotten all he learned. He just did everything wrong. He used his own house for meetings and to store drugs. He used his own telephone without even trying to use code words. He drove a flashy Lexus that made him stand out. He left records of the transactions around. He used his wife to monitor the money and kids to run the operation. He prided himself on being a mobster. But he sure forgot what John Gotti taught him."

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