Gang that sold meth in EBR was unusually pretty, unusually violent (Louisiana)
Unusual drug ring
By PENNY BROWN ROBERTS
Advocate staff writer
Published: Feb 5, 2006
Federal authorities say the birthplace of Baton Rouge’s largest methamphetamine ring was Illusions Gentlemen’s Club on U.S. Highway 61 in Woodville, Miss. At one time, the strip club — which has a large Baton Rouge following — was managed by 44-year-old Gray Dotson, who now is serving 40 years in prison.
WOODVILLE, MISS. — Amid the heavy scent of liquor, thick wisps of smoke and undulating bare bodies that draw Louisiana hunters in droves to a roadside Mississippi strip club known as Illusions, then-manager Gray Dotson and two bouncers hatched a new venture.
In no time, they were running the most significant — and dangerous — methamphetamine ring Baton Rouge had ever seen.
Its recruits weren’t a predictable cast of street thugs. There was a stripper. And a pipe fitter. There also was an Atlanta businessman, a former newspaper reporter and a former Eagle Scout and LSU Greek Committee member who earned $100,000 a year as an engineer.
Into the city they brought meth by the pound from Las Vegas and Atlanta. They armed themselves with pistols, assault rifles and a taped-up sawed-off shotgun affectionately nicknamed “Junior.” One of them shot a Baton Rouge Police narcotics detective, another sprayed bullets into the Prairieville home of a federal grand-jury witness and others kidnapped and beat the family member of someone they thought stole money.
An investigation that began on a hot July night in 2003 in Castlebrook Apartments on South Sherwood Forest Boulevard eventually took federal and local authorities to Georgia and Mississippi and other parts of Louisiana. To date, they have arrested a dozen people — all of whom have admitted their roles in the organization, whether it be drug trafficking, buying illegal guns or intimidating witnesses.
Founder 44-year-old “Big Daddy” Dotson got 40 years behind bars and is looking at more time after allegedly trying to tunnel out of the Ascension Parish Jail in December while awaiting transport to a federal prison. His right-hand man, 35-year-old Robert “Uncle Bobby” Enzley Hataway, got 20 years. Admitted 31-year-old cop-shooter Harry “D.J.” Ford — the network’s biggest dealer — is scheduled for sentencing in a Baton Rouge federal court in March.
Two things set this group apart in the minds of the agents and detectives who spent two years tracking it: The players … and their propensity for violence.
“If you look at the people that were in this organization, you’ve got a lot of clean-cut, nice-looking young people — especially some of the females,” said Milton Bonaventure, who is in charge of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives office in Baton Rouge. “You see them in a different arena and you’d think they’d be very successful.”
Nevertheless, added ATF Special Agent Jeffrey Powell: “They would shoot at anyone at the drop of a hat. Luckily, we caught them fairly early in the game.”
‘Wood in Woodville’
Their story — pieced together from the agreed-upon facts of the case in the guilty pleas, testimony and interviews that offer rare insight into the inner workings of the network — begins in Mississippi.
Zip up I-110 to U.S. Highway 61 and cruise past the rolling fields in West Feliciana Parish. A few miles over the state line is the town of Woodville.
Just before the water tower comes into view, a powder blue single-story wood shack on the left known as Illusions Gentlemen’s Club beckons with signs proclaiming “Girls Girls Girls” and “5 beers $10.”
During hunting season, the dirt parking lot of the full-nudity club that lays billboard claim to putting “the Wood in Woodville” is packed with patrons — frequently Baton Rouge lawyers and businessmen who refer to the attraction as “the Woodville ballet.”
In October 2002, Dotson — then earning about $4,000 a month managing the club — plotted with bouncers Ford and Hataway to sell meth. Baton Rouge, just 55 miles south of Woodville, seemed a lucrative market.
Dotson is a high-school graduate whom authorities say has an above-average talent for manipulation and business management — but is no stranger to the criminal justice system.
At a hearing in November, Greg Dotson said that while he loves his brother, he’s always been bothered by his “delusions of grandeur” and tendency toward exaggerating his accomplishments “to build himself up in front of other people.”
He didn’t use the drug, authorities contend — but his network was made up of people who did, establishing a family-like hierarchy that at times resembled a cult.
“Most of the people who surrounded him had serious drug problems,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Piedrahita. “The only individual who really stayed away from that was Dotson. If you look at the effect methamphetamine has on you — it’s addictive and it causes paranoia. You become anxious, fearful and probably easy to manipulate because of that and also more prone to violence. So that — coupled with Mr. Dotson’s intelligence and his experience in managing or leading — gave him control. It’s how he got the nickname ‘Big Daddy.’”
Hataway and Dotson kept their group in line with the near-mythic 12-gauge shotgun named Junior. Documents in the case describe its distinctive appearance: Its barrel and stock sawed off, the butt and forestock wrapped in tape and topped with Velcro, “Junior” carved into its side.
“It was like a thing of power,” Powell explained. “That’s almost what ran their group. For them, it was like, ‘Wherever this gun goes, that’s where the power is; we’ll be OK. That’s where our security is.’ We never thought we would see that gun.”
The group started buying their meth from a woman identified in court documents only as “Amber” — a former Illusions dancer who moved to Las Vegas. She was never charged in the case.
In June 2003, Dotson and Ford convinced Amanda Pete, an Illusions stripper, to buy Ford a 9 mm Sig Sauer pistol. Ford — described by U.S. District Judge John Parker as “one bad dude” — was convicted of felony theft in the early 1990s and banned from possessing a gun.
Dotson drove the two to a gun show at the Bellemont Hotel, where Pete walked up to a dealer from Hutchinson’s Guns of Pineville, bought the weapon and handed it off to Ford. It’s the same gun he would later use to shoot a Baton Rouge Police narcotics detective.
Two weeks later, Dotson met one of the network’s customers — Johnny Simoneaux — at a restaurant on South Sherwood Forest Boulevard. He asked the 18-year-old Gonzales pipe fitter to buy a 9 mm semi-automatic assault rifle. Simoneaux and another unidentified man went to Precision Firearms and Indoor Range at 11426 Cloverland Ave., where Simoneaux paid cash for the weapon and later laid it in Dotson’s hands.
That same month, Dotson and Ford met with Meredith Matherne — a 28-year-old former Houma newspaper reporter and admitted meth addict, and her boyfriend, Atlanta businessman Jeffrey Ellis. Dotson and Ford agreed to pay Ellis $5,000 for a meth recipe.
But sometime during the negotiations, Dotson and Ford decided instead to start buying meth in bulk from Ellis, whom they later started referring to as “Paw Paw.” On at least three occasions in June and July of 2003, one or both of them drove to Atlanta and plunked down $15,000 for a pound of meth, then brought it back to Baton Rouge to sell. Dotson usually fronted the cash, then he and Ford split the remaining profits — Dotson getting 60 percent.
In July, another dealer — 28-year-old Fabian Mullins — leased an apartment from Castlebrook Apartments for Ford. Ford and Dotson bought a Sentry safe from Sam’s Warehouse to store the drugs and money.
That same month, Dotson, Ford and Hataway — who helped recruit new dealers — abducted a man identified only as Chico, took him into the woods and beat him with “Junior.” Dotson later admitted doing it because he thought Chico’s brother had stolen thousands of dollars from him and also had threatened his family.
Throughout the summer, Dotson, Ford and Mullins frequently hung out together in the apartment, laying their pistols on the table for all to see. Hataway was often there, toting Junior.
By then, however, Baton Rouge narcotics officers and federal agents already had been tipped off to the meth being sold from the apartment and the arsenal that protected it. They sent in a client undercover to buy some of the drug.
And on the night of Aug. 5, they lay in wait.
A dozen detectives backed by other law enforcement officers nearby and marked units awaiting a call watched for any sign of Ford.
It wasn’t long after they spotted his stolen Ford Expedition returning to Castlebrook Apartments that they burst through his front door.
ATF Special Agent Christian Ladner remembers it was “extremely chaotic.” Ford retreated into the kitchen, his back against the wall. With officers yelling at him to lie on the ground, Ford lunged toward them — fists swinging. As the officers holstered their weapons to take him into custody, he reached down, pulled the Sig Sauer from a holster on his ankle and shot Baton Rouge Police Detective Brett Busbin in the foot.
It wasn’t until they had the chance to interrogate Ford, Ladner said, that investigators realized they had stumbled upon “a fairly significant methamphetamine trafficking organization.”
That same night, Dotson called a meeting of the organization’s membership to plot a strategy. They would “lay low” for some time then reestablish themselves, with Mullins taking over Ford’s duties selling the dope and Dotson resuming the trips to Atlanta to buy meth. But Mullins would be arrested just a few weeks later.
Meanwhile, Pete — alarmed that Ford used the pistol she purchased to wound a detective — called Dotson, saying she was worried authorities would trace it to her. Dotson told her to concoct a story that she bought the gun for self-protection from a serial killer, but that her car had been stolen with the pistol inside.
When ATF agents picked her up six days later, she eventually confessed and agreed to wear a wire. She got Dotson on tape twice advising her to lie — once to federal agents and again to a grand jury.
Simoneaux, too, phoned Dotson — worried about the semiautomatic rifle he bought. After several telephone conversations, Dotson told Simoneaux to lie and say Ford bought the gun after seeing it at the firing range.
Around the same time, Matherne — recently arrested on drug charges — arranged a meeting with Dotson and Hataway. There, she exposed to them the wire she was wearing, alerting them that authorities were getting close.
The act — which prompted Hataway to flee to Mississippi for several months — and her continued use of drugs later would be cited to pile time on her sentence. She is serving nearly five years.
“Whether she showed him the wire, whether she wrote a note saying, ‘I’m working for the feds,’ or whether she said, ‘I’m wearing a wire,’ it all amounted to the same thing,” Piedrahita argued to U.S. District Judge James Brady. “She informed the target of the investigation that she was working for the feds, i.e., ‘Be careful what you say. It’s going to get back to whoever is listening.’”
But her lawyer, Rodney Baum, maintained that it wasn’t fair for Matherne — whom court authorities feared at one point might commit suicide — to “be treated the same as people like Harry Ford and Fabian Mullins.”
“There is absolutely every indication that Meredith Matherne had a serious, deep drug addiction, and those kinds of illnesses are not overcome with the first treatment,” he said. “She screwed up.”
As for her part, Matherne said she knows she “can’t go back and change time for anything that I have done. If I could, that would be a miracle in itself. The definition of insanity is repeating the same things over and over and expecting a different result. And I just know from here on out that I can’t use drugs anymore.”
Shoot to scare
In late January 2004, investigators raided Room 249 of the Ramada Inn Limited Motel, 722 Lobdell Highway South in Port Allen.
There, they arrested “Uncle Bobby” Hataway and his girlfriend, Tiffany Dawn Aucoin, and seized methamphetamine, two handguns, an assault rifle, ammunition, knives, brass knuckles and $2,800 in cash.
A few days later, a relative of Hataway called Chad Aaron Hamilton — a 27-year-old dealer who worked for Hataway — passing on the name of the witness working with investigators in the criminal case.
Before sunrise the next morning, Hamilton drove to Prairieville, pointed his pistol and fired several shots at the witness’ home to scare him out of testifying against Hataway.
Hataway’s lawyer later tried to prove to a judge that the informant had a “history of possible drug and alcohol abuse, as well as a history of auditory and visual hallucinations.”
In the end, both Hataway and Hamilton admitted their crimes. Hataway will spend two decades behind bars; Hamilton, 12 years.
A new recruit
Robert M. Alford — nicknamed “Hummer” for the gold H2 he drove — wasn’t anything like Dotson and his crew.
A former Eagle Scout who served on the Greek Committee at LSU, the 26-year-old earned about $100,000 a year as an engineer. He invested in the stock market.
But from his CitiScape apartment at 5010 Mancuso Lane, he started selling methamphetamine and brandishing guns.
“I truly think money wasn’t the motivation for him,” Ladner said. “There was a period of time I think when he had lost some money on investments and thought that selling the narcotics could help him overcome some of the money he lost in the market. But more so I think it was probably a popularity thing. He was a shy individual and all of the sudden he became a person that people called because he had the drugs. He had friends in Atlanta and Dallas.”
Heather Altazan — a woman whose balcony was next to Alford’s — told agents she routinely paid him $300 for 3.5 grams of crystal meth, which he would leave under her doormat or in the dryer vent across the hall.
He confessed to one client working undercover for federal authorities that he was often “up for days on speed.” He also bragged of having a “hit” out on Sarah Heap — a personal trainer arrested with Ford and Mullins — because she reported him to authorities and he “can have somebody … killed like that.”
Alford did share two things with Dotson’s organization: Meredith Matherne was a regular customer, and her boyfriend, Jeffrey Ellis, was his methamphetamine supplier.
In January 2004, Ellis asked Alford for an unusual favor: Spend some time with Dotson’s wife and girlfriend at Dotson’s home in Baton Rouge while Dotson was in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison facing an embezzlement charge.
A few days after Dotson was released, he met with Alford to thank him for watching over for the women. Two months later, they were traveling to Atlanta together to buy meth from Ellis.
‘Ducks in a row’
Not long after that, a Baton Rouge federal grand jury indicted Dotson on 11 counts — including drug trafficking, illegal firearms, lying to authorities and witness tampering.
By that time, Dotson had vanished from Baton Rouge and Mississippi. The two ATF agents working the case — Ladner and Powell — set about trying to find him.
At 5 p.m. on May 3, 2004, they got a tip that Dotson was a $5-an-hour disc jockey at a strip club in Memphis and would be working that night. The two agents drove to the city, meeting Tennessee authorities along the way. They arrested Dotson about midnight.
“He was shocked, but I think we were more shocked that he was actually there,” Ladner said. “He gave us consent to search his truck and that’s where we located that sawed-off shotgun ‘Junior.’ We were ecstatic. By the time we got to the hotel at 2 a.m. we were just bouncing off the walls.”
When they interrogated Dotson the next day, he offered to make a deal — implying that the $4,000 they also found in his truck was for a drug buy. “You guys don’t have your ducks in a row,” he told them. “Y’all have a four-hour window to make a deal with me. Here is your quandary: I am supposed to be somewhere in six hours to pick some up.”
“He was just real arrogant,” Powell recalled. “I don’t think he ever thought he would get caught — much less get the amount of time that he was looking at. When he was arrested, he never realized the seriousness of what was going on. I still don’t think he realizes how many people he manipulated, he’s just so used to getting his way.”
Four months later, investigators arrested Alford outside his CitiScape apartment as he was getting ready to drive off in his Hummer. Immediately after being read his rights, Alford said, “I will tell you where all the dope is.”
It turned out to be prophetic. In addition to his own stash, Alford, the engineer, also kept meticulous records of his drug buys from Jeffrey Ellis. He even kept a dated eviction notice he found tacked to Ellis’ door, which became critical evidence in the case.
That gave authorities what they needed to catch Ellis, their most elusive target.
“It was a historical case we worked against Ellis,” Ladner said. “By the time we actually focused on him, two years had passed since the period of time he was supplying this group. After the shooting, he didn’t supply them much longer. So we had to focus on how to tie him to narcotics trafficking around the time of the shooting.”
At his sentencing Ellis — who will spend nine years in prison — apologized for his involvement in the network.
“I went 30 years without getting in trouble, but I got off track,” Ellis said. “Listening to the prosecutor and my attorney here today, it’s hard to believe that was me they’re talking about. I hate what it’s going to do to my son and my family, but I can’t turn back the hands of time.”
In another courtroom, U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola read off a lengthy list of Alford’s credentials. Then he had just one question for Alford: “Why are you even here?” He is serving nearly five years.
Change of heart
As for his part, Dotson pleaded guilty, then admitted he was sort of guilty, then proclaimed he was not guilty at all.
In an October 2004 letter to U.S. District Judge Ralph Tyson, Dotson insisted he had committed only three of the crimes he was accused of, then later tried to have his guilty plea thrown out.
After a two-day hearing, Tyson let the plea agreement stand, concluding that Dotson “is a pathological liar.”
To this day, Dotson proclaims his innocence, insisting he fired Ford from Illusions for selling drugs. “Why would I sell drugs myself if I fired him for selling drugs in a strip club?”
While Baton Rouge narcotics detective Neal Noel is content to see Dotson and the others out of business, he has no illusions about its impact on the Baton Rouge drug trade.
“In some ways, it just opens up the market for someone else,” Noel said. “It’s all about supply and demand.”