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Pushkin. A question was nagging me, who killed truth, this truth problem? It isn't just bad, it's deadly. I'm Jill Lapore and I'm a historian at Harvard and a staff writer at The New Yorker. I spent a lot of time trying to solve mysteries like this one, so I decided to start a podcast. It's called The Last Archive. I'll tell 10 stories from the last hundred years, A History of America and of our arguments about truth and evidence.
The last archive brought to you by Pushkin Industries. Previously on Deep Cover, by the late spring of 1985, Ned Timmins was deep into his investigation of the drug smugglers, one of the three major players, the gentleman smuggler was now behind bars, but Ned was still on a mission to get Mike Vogel, the grocery guy.
I had it in such a way that I really control the marijuana industry in Michigan.
His other target was Lee Rich, Mr. Beach Club. I'm the boss. OK. I called the shots if they wanted to load or if I was going to load something like that to secure the boat, plane, whatever.
But for now, that couldn't do much about the case because in the fall of that year, his cover was blown and there had been a threat on his life. So the FBI sent Nedd and his wife Kathy off to northern Michigan to hide together. They had to sit quietly and wait it out.
This is not any kind of a life that I want to lead. This isn't what. Any of us signed up for. For Kathy Timmons, going into hiding wasn't just scary, she had her own work, her own career at the FBI that she now had to put on hold.
She was tired of Ned's undercover persona.
Ed Thomas messing everything up. I was very angry.
I was very upset. I was scared, you know, and then I just had to let it be let it go.
Just be up there and sit and wait.
To make matters worse, she didn't feel well.
I thought I was sick or something, or maybe just really, really tired because I just kept falling asleep. And then I started feeling the queasiness and everything.
And I thought, oh, maybe I got pregnant. After being in hiding for about three weeks, the FBI calls and tells netting Kathy the coast is clear that caught the bikers who had planned to kill Ned.
So many Kathy come out of hiding. They go home. Kathy was still not feeling well. Visits the doctor and learns she is pregnant. In a way, the timing wasn't ideal, their lives had just been turned upside down, and yet Cathy took this as a sign like God meant it to be because we had been married for how many years by then, and I had never gotten pregnant and I never did anything not to get pregnant.
So I just thought, oh, OK, you know, I'm Catholic, you know? I was like, OK, this must be now.
All she had to do was tell Ned I thought that he would be thrilled and that this would really help to bring a closure to all of this craziness with this undercover work. I asked Ned, what were your thoughts about having kids, given the nature of your work? There wasn't time did you think you ever wanted to have kids? You know, I really didn't give it much thought.
And, you know, I was just consumed by work and what we were doing.
So when you get back from this trip to northern Michigan and she's like, I'm pregnant, what is your reaction when I just. Well, because we're going to roll with it, you know?
I'm Jake Halpern, and this is Deep Cover, Episode seven, The honeymoon is over. After he comes out of hiding, Net is back working on his case against Lee Rich, Mr. Beach Club, but for the time being there was no easy way for Ned or the FBI to apprehend Lee. Extraditions from the Caymans were rare.
Plus, Ned says down in the Caymans, Lee was kind of a Robin Hood figure, a beloved outlaw. Lee was the Robin Hood who had taken care of all the bankers and all the people on the island and buried friends and relatives and paid for everybody's expenses.
We had a big heart and and he took care of a lot of people and it would have been probably impossible to get him extradited out of there.
So on the one hand, Ned was frustrated that he couldn't apprehend Lee, but he also knew that Lee was kind of trapped and he knew this because of a conversation that they'd had when they were in the Caymans together.
We had always talked alone a lot. And I just turned to one day we're probably having a drink or something. And I said, Lee, why don't you get the hell out of this? Just quit. And Lee said, I can't. They'll kill me. And I believe he meant the Colombians would kill him.
Lee was on the hook for a million pounds of marijuana that he'd ordered from the Colombians, and that, by the way, is a shit load of marijuana. Look, this isn't an exact science, but I talked to a smuggler who once saw this much weed down in Colombia, and he described it as a, quote, fucking mountain, end quote. He actually built a small fort up on top of it and slept there. So you get the idea.
Lee was under pressure to move that much marijuana and remember Lee's go to guy, Steven Caliche, the gentleman smuggler, he was in custody at this point. So Lee pushed ahead without his star smuggler, tried to move at least some of it.
He arranged for a tugboat to tow a barge with one hundred sixty five thousand pounds of pot on it up to Virginia. The boat was intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard and the cargo was confiscated. It was a total disaster.
It's all scrapped. It was done, you know, at this point, Lee is finally feeling ready to just get out of the business.
You know, I was just I was tired of it. I didn't need it. And I blame a lot of that on myself for not being strong enough to tell people, I don't want to do this.
I'm done. It was a moment of reckoning for Lee, remember, from the very start, Lee says he'd gotten into the marijuana business so he could chill with his buddies.
Nonviolent beach guys, you know, lived on the beach, the surf and fishing and never hurt anybody, OK, even as his business grew and he became really wealthy.
This was still his credo. He had the yacht which the queen borrowed and the beach club, but the funny parrot and the cool house that Black Stars came to visit. It had been fun for a long time until suddenly, well, it really wasn't anymore.
And then, as if this weren't already perfectly clear, Alvin Conner came knocking and only Rich for years, Alvin was the chief inspector of narcotics for the Cayman Island police force back in the 80s.
We used to search all his private plane. You come in every week two to three times a week when all these girls, pretty girls used to bring.
Alvin says he had suspected for a while that Lee might be involved in the drug trade. Nothing solid, just chatter, which isn't surprising. This was a small island. Inevitably, people talked.
Alvin says he searched Lee's private plane a number of times but never found any drugs. But then one day in January of 1986, about six months after Ned had left the island, Alvin says he got a tip which led him to believe that Lee might have some drugs at his house.
This was all that Alvin needed, just a lead, a whiff of something, because on the island, Alvin had a reputation for chasing a scent. You can see me coming to see the dog is here. You call me the dog. Why do they call you? The dog might want to smell it. They say that I can smell it if they are going to find it. They call me the dog. You see the dog coming out.
And the dog he was coming for, Lee, he didn't know about Ned Timmins or the FBI investigation, he just wanted to bust Lee Ridge. So he heads over to Lee's house. I said, we here to look for drugs. Alvin says he searches the room and finds about an ounce of cocaine, he arrested me on the spot for drug possession. Lee says the whole thing was a setup. They planted a two or three grams of coke in my house and came in and raided the house.
My mother's in the house. And I think I had about eight people staying in the house at that time.
So it was a big scene when they took Lee away in handcuffs. The whole thing was upsetting for Lee, in part because his mom was there. She started making a fuss and Alvin confronted her.
I say, you shut your mouth, I assure you, and charge for obstructing police officer assault on Russia and charge you and charge you for this cocaine.
Took the message to Lee. Seemed to be clear. I'm not afraid of you. I'll mess with your mom if need be. Alvin took Lee down to the police station, booked him, locked him up, but soon Lee got out on bail around five thousand dollars. That's the amount that Alvin recalls anyway, which was nothing to Lee.
Yeah, we were like a king. Big shot, like your big shot that nobody could touch him.
He tells Lee, if the judge won't let you go, that he is. But I'll do my job.
For Lee, the biggest fallout from all of this was that he had to give up his passport. The police claim that he was a flight risk, so they insisted that he leave his passport with them at the station so he'd have to go and ask for a back if you ever wanted to leave the island.
Lee was beginning to feel trapped around the same time he was hanging out at a local bar on Grand Cayman when he bumped into a guy he knows who works for Scotland Yard, Lee buys him a drink and he goes, rich.
It goes, I'm just going to tell you. So he goes, don't take your boat out past 12 miles. Don't go out on the bank fish and don't leave the island. They're trying to get you on a Coast Guard cutter or something of a caveman. He said, I'm just telling you that because you're a decent guy.
It seemed like the walls were really closing in on Lee. Now, his business partner, the gentleman smuggler, was in jail and quite possibly talking to U.S. authorities. The dog was pursuing him on the island. And now the Scotland Yard guy was telling him, don't take your boat too far offshore.
So I knew then from what he told me that night, they're really on my ass, OK? And I started making arrangements. I was going to leave and I was going to Europe, to Portugal.
Actually, Lee's grandfather was Portuguese and he figured if he could get there, he might use that familial connection to get his status as a resident.
He thought he'd be safe there. So in May of 1986, a full year after Nedd first visited Lee in the Caymans, Lee got ready to make his escape and then his chance would have it. Lee got a visit from a friend which derailed everything.
And that friend was Tommy Lee Bass, you know, from Motley Crue. Hi there, I'm Michael Lewis, host of Against the Rules, and we're back for our second season, we're talking about coaches. It wasn't that long ago that we only had coaches in sports, but now there are life coaches and coaches. You can even hire a coach to improve your online dating performance and your charisma. But coaching has become an odd source of unfairness to has access to these coaches.
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Lee Rich was about to flee the Cayman Islands, but he had a scheduling conflict. A buddy was coming to town, Tommy Lee Bass, founding member of the band Motley Crew. In the mid 1980s, Tommy Lee and his band mate Nikki Sixx were the bad boys at the heavy metal world.
I remember you people from last time. You motherfuckers like to party. Is that true? Well, if you're a pervert, say fuck, yeah, I fucking knew it.
I just fucking Tommy Lee and his band mates had come to visit the Caymans a few times before. Turns out the band's manager, Doc McGee, was one of Lee's investors.
They all got along famously. Tommy even wrote about the first time that he'd met Lee in Motley Crew's memoir, The Dirt. Here's a clip from the audio book and just a heads up. For some reason, the narrator calls Lee Lee.
Anyway, Lee walked into Doc's rental house with an attaché case. The first words we spoke to him were Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, because we knew what was in that fuckin attaché case. Mountains of white powder to stuff up our noses, lay open the case and gave us a little rock in the memoir. Lee then shuts his briefcase, locks it winks and tells them if they can open the combination lock, Tommy could have the rest of it.
We were so coked out that we actually thought we were coming up with every single permutation of three numbers. Finally, I went into the kitchen, grabbed a butcher knife and cut the top, allays thousand dollar leather briefcase glittering inside like white gold were fucking dozens of huge plastic bags filled with coke. So there you have it, an epic drug dealer, an epic rock star who loved drugs. It was a friendship made in heaven. Tommy wasn't traveling to the Caymans alone.
He was coming with the latest love of his life, the actress Heather Locklear.
She'd starred in a few hit TV shows like Dynasty and TJ Hooker, where she played a rookie cop who once even goes undercover herself as a call girl.
You look at where she's supposed to wear her life in my trick bag and alcohol girl never part with a trick bag and don't get any ideas about helping me find just where Heather and Tommy they'd met backstage in an Oreo Speedwagon concert.
The relationship would become fodder for E Hollywood.
The bad boy of rock had found his princess. Tommy was now living the life he had fame, fortune and love. The happy couple left for a three week honeymoon in the Cayman Islands.
Tommy was coming to visit to spend his honeymoon on the Cayman Islands.
Seeing his good buddy Lee, the guy with the magic suitcase, least remembers just how excited Tommy was. He was head over heels on this girl.
He said, I really want to come back here and spend my honeymoon. I said, don't worry, I'll take care of you.
You know, he could have told him, no, the timing's bad, man. My drug empire is falling apart. I may soon be in prison. But that was just not Mr. Beach Club style. His buddy was coming to town, so his escape plan to Portugal would just have to wait. Lee arrange for a nice condo on the beach for Tommy and Heather.
And I got a call the next day after leaving them there that night from the manager of the condo, asked me to remove him from the property, both of them, because they were up all night running up and down in the parking lot of high on whatever. Not a huge surprise for the motley crew memoires. You get a sense for how Tommy partied. Gimme, gimme, gimme. So, Lee, he moves the couple to another condo.
But the situation doesn't get any better. It was one big headache for Lee, so they decide, let's go to Jamaica. It'll be better over there.
Lee books them some villas, makes all the arrangements, and he decided this trip to Jamaica will be the perfect excuse to run for it. So he goes to the Cayman police and somehow or another manages to get his passport back.
Lee says he's just playing with some friends to Jamaica for a mini vacation, but his real plan is to keep going to London and then on to Portugal.
So he packs a briefcase with some pocket money, 30000 in cash and boards a plane with Tommy and Heather from Montego Bay, Jamaica.
That night when we flew to Mobay, when I come off the airplane. One of the girls from the counter, she called me by my name.
She goes late. I looked at her and she goes, There's two agents waiting on you inside the customs area there, two agents. And like that really understood, had to be the feds. Somehow they'd been tipped off. What Lee didn't know at the time was that the FBI had a source who knew about his trip and ratted him out. And now here he was on the ground at the Montego Bay Airport, walking right into a trap. Here's Tom, he's got it for these boom boxes.
OK, up on his shoulder and he's jacking that around and he's dragging this other with him.
OK, go in ahead of me.
And so I. I went behind him, went into customs. And sure enough, those agents came up to me. Tommy made us started confronting them to, you know, hey, what he had done anything, you know? And so they've threatened to arrest him. And that was the end of that Tommy and Heather went one way and the two FBI agents escorted Lee out of the airport and into a car where Jamaican police officer was waiting for them.
They then all head to the hotel where the FBI agents were staying so they could grab their stuff. We go to the hotel and the two agents get out of the car and we're sitting in the parking lot. I'm in there with this cop and the cop that was in the front seat driving us. He was one of the cops I used to pay off.
And I said, listen, you don't remember who I am, you know who I am. So he goes, I can help you, Rich. I said, I'll never forget it. So, you know, I was kind of threatening him. And I said, all could do is let me run because I can't do it. So he wouldn't let me out.
And that was it, the two FBI agents got back in the car, they drove to Kingston and caught the next flight back to the U.S. with Lee in custody and Motley crew member Tommy Lee Bass takes full responsibility for all of this, saying that he and Heather caused the downfall of one of the country's biggest drug smugglers, all because they didn't want to go to Jamaica alone.
Tommy writes, Heather and I felt terrible. We had no one to show us around Jamaica. Now that he was in federal custody, Lee Rich began to mull over where exactly he'd gone wrong, and he recalled something that his business partner, Mike Vogel, the grocery guy, had told him. Mike was the distributor who ran the enormous drug warehouse back in Detroit. And Lee says Mike, he had never really liked Tommy and Heather thought they were trouble.
Lee remembers him saying repeatedly, Stay away from those people. They're going to be your downfall.
Mike Vogel was right. In fact, more right than he knew, in a way, Tommy and Heather, but also be his downfall, because at the very moment that Lee was being apprehended in Jamaica, there was another operation targeting Mike Vogel back in Detroit. When we come back after the break, Ned Timmins and the FBI make their move on the grocery guy. Back in Michigan, Ned was itching to arrest Mike Vogel. The idea was to get both of these guys, Lee and then Mike, almost at the exact same time so neither one of them would tip off the other.
Everything had to be perfectly synchronized this moment.
It was the culmination of almost three years of work on Ned's part.
It had been an epic journey, taking him from a roadside biker bar in Detroit all the way to the glitzy beaches of the Caymans.
And during this time, next case had steadily grown, merging with other investigations in North Carolina, Louisiana and Florida. Other agencies had gotten involved, too, like the DEA, the IRS, the Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and a slew of state and county investigators.
Together, the authorities had built a strong case against the smugglers. And throughout this time, Ned had kept pretty close tabs on Mike Vogel and apparently Mike had picked up on this. That's what he told me. Anyway, Mike boasted to me that he had sources within the FBI. He added, rather cryptically, that he knew all about Ned.
Did I sit down, have lunch or dinner with him now? OK, I. I was aware of them. I was very aware of them. I remember the day that Ned Timmons ever got involved with me. I wish I had never heard my name, so on May twenty third, nineteen eighty six, the same day Lee gets arrested, Ned Timmons is staked out at Mike Vogels house in Milford.
We had the whole SWAT team out there laying in place all night long, waiting for word that they had Lee in custody. And once we got word that they had Lee in custody, then we had Volta's house, as Ned and his FBI team are getting ready.
Something really weird happens. According to Ned, a Black Panther starts stalking the woods, a Black Panther in Michigan.
OK, so there were some sightings of it and one SWAT team moonlighting. We've been laying out there all night, night, vision, everything. And this panther had been released to people. And CNN reported that there's a Black Panther running around out here and some cattle had been killed. And so we're all laying out there talking on our radios, you know, waiting for word to hit the house in.
This Panther was screaming like this or in the night in the moonlight and you know, you know, it's out there someplace and you're laying in the grass. And it was a bit nerve wracking.
OK, so I was skeptical about this story, seemed like another Nedd tale that would be, well, impossible to fact check.
And then I found an article from the time dispatched from the town where Mike Vogel lived, confirming that, yes, there had been over 30 sightings of this large predatory cat.
Anyway, Ned was focused on getting the job done. Meanwhile, Mike is in his house asleep next to his wife, Julie.
I had driveway sensors, you know, put, you know, if anybody was coming on your property, OK?
And I always beep, beep, beep, beep, beep. Julie looked at me and said what I said to the feds. I could tell, you know, you don't have 20 beeps going off for one car. It was a whole group of them that came. They had IRS guys. I had FBI guys in a few DEA guys and Michigan State Police. And of course, Ned Timmons was there, too. And in this moment when Ned Timmons G man shows up to arrest Mike Fogle, master criminal, it isn't some kind of tense standoff.
They don't stare each other down or cuss each other out.
Mike says that Ned was pretty friendly, cordial. That was the word he used like two boxers after a fight. All the swagger gone and now just the handshake.
He allowed me to go ahead and take a shower and say goodbye to my wife and kids and we're going to prison. Mike Vogel was indicted in federal court in Detroit.
The indictment alleged that he and his fellow smugglers were responsible for importing at least five hundred and sixty six thousand pounds of marijuana.
Investigators estimated that over the years they'd smuggled as much as one billion dollars worth of drugs into the U.S. Voegele pled guilty that same year. He was stripped of his wealth, forfeiting, among other things, about five cars and four homes in Michigan. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Lee was arrested and Vogel was arrested and became was on the paper the whole day of everything and.
The story made big headlines, actually, and for a moment that was kind of famous, an article in the Detroit Free Press chronicle Ned's Adventures, an anonymous source told the paper that Ned, quote, made the case and quote, The source went on to say, I've seen a lot of undercover agents, but this guy special, he's got ice in his veins and he's a tough cookie.
One of the new breed, he's a high caliber agent who has that unique ability to be able to understand and work with the people he's been sent undercover to investigate for Ned. It was vindication.
He had spent the better part of three years playing the role of his alter ego.
In a way, he built Ed Thomas from the ground up, his back story, his demeanor, his friendships, his hard drinking, Harley riding lifestyle. And Ed Thomas had served his purpose.
It was as if all the risks that Ned had taken, all the close calls, all the paranoia, all the boundaries he'd pushed somehow or another, it had all worked out.
So maybe it was finally time to be done with undercover work, after all, Ned had a big win under his belt, plus at almost the exact same time of these events in May of 1986, there was other big news.
Ned's son was born and ned the action craving sometimes reckless Harley riding undercover guy he loved.
His son Cathy says that the baby was attached to him at the hip. Oh, yeah, no, they were like Frick and Frack, I mean, as soon as he came in the door, he'd pick them up. I don't think he would put him down just about every picture I have. He had this shark that he caught while we were on our honeymoon down in the Keys. And here's this hammerhead shark. And he he has it installed in the den of our home.
And so he'd put the baby up there up on top of the shark, like as if he's riding the shark and take a picture, you know? I mean, he just couldn't get enough of our oldest son, you know, even if his parents would volunteer to, you know, leave the baby here and we'll take care of it. No, no.
He's going with us. Wow. Yeah. Did that make you feel hopeful about.
Yes, I thought. And so, yes, I felt very, very hopeful and good good about things.
And I felt that, you know, whatever work he was going to wrap up then on that, and then that would be the end of end of that case. And he'd move on to the next set of cases. I'm like, oh, thank God. Back to normal life. But it didn't never go back to normal life. As it turns out, Neds case, it wasn't over. Not really Mr. Beach Club and the gentleman smuggler would have their day in court.
So there'd be a trial. But that wasn't all far to the south. Down in Central America, the silent partner, the general Manuel Noriega, he was still at large operating with impunity. But that was about to change. Word was getting out about what the general had been up to. And in Washington, D.C., a political shitstorm was brewing. Next time on deep cover. I just knew that the information that I could divulge about Noriega and his activities were a bombshell.
There's no doubt in my mind that there's ramifications that go all the way to the top. I mean, literally from Reagan on down. Deep cover is produced by Jacob Smith and edited by Karen Mukherjee, our story editor is Jack Hitt. Original music in our theme was composed by Lewis Guerra and Florian Williams is our engineer. Fact checking by Amy Gaines. Mia Lobell is Pushkin's executive producer. Ned's novel is read by Walton Goggins special thanks to Julia Barton, Heather Fain, Carly Migliore, Lee, Tom Mallott, Maya Karnig, Eric Sandler, Peggy Taylor, Kadija Holland, Zooey Gwinn and Jacob Weisberg at Pushkin Industries Special.
Thanks also to Jeff Singer at Stowaway Entertainment. I'm Jake Halpern.