The two kids and their crew were making millions of dollars . . . illegally moving OxyContin and Roxicodone pills to a network of dealers spread out across the country—Tennessee, Alaska, South Carolina, New York.
It was Saturday night at the Round Up, a popular country dance club located just outside Tampa’s city limits. The place was packed with blue-collar workers and drunken southern belles line dancing underneath the disco balls to Blake Shelton’s “Redneck Girl” and “Trashy Women” by Confederate Railroad. There were sleeved-out dirty southern boys doing shots at the bar while watching half-naked strippers in Stetsons seductively slow riding the mechanical bull; your typical Florida honky-tonk. My high school buddies and I had been drinking rum and Coke and snorting oxys most of the night. I was seventeen years old and more than buzzed, dancing with a twenty-something raven-haired beauty, sporting a tramp stamp and silicon implants. That might have been why I didn’t notice the hulking bouncers pulling my friends off the dance floor until one of the country boys tapped on my shoulder. “You!” yelled the bouncer over the music. I reeled around to see this massive Hulk-like guy in a black T-shirt that read Security on it. “You’re outta here!”
He escorted me outside with my friends, and asked for my ID. “Not a problem,” I said, and handed him twenty-three-year-old Alejandro James Diaz’s Florida drivers license.
The bouncers held the license up and his eyes darted between Diaz’s photograph and myself—Douglas Chantz Dodd. We were both thin and roughly five foot eight inches tall with green eyes and dirty-blond spiked hair. Regardless, we weren’t twins. “Nah,” grunted the Hulk, “this isn’t you.”
“You’re crazy,” I replied, as a Pinellas County Sheriff’s cruiser pulled up to the club’s entrance just behind me.
“We’ll see,” chuckled the bouncer, motioning to the deputy exiting the patrol vehicle.
Between me, my best friend Lance Barabas, his brothers Landon and Larry, and our buddy Richard Sullivan, our group—which prosecutors would ultimately dub “the Barabas criminal enterprise”—was making millions, shipping hundreds of thousands of oxycodone pills throughout the country. Federal prosecutors would later call us one of the largest suppliers of the ever-increasing oxycodone epidemic. And I had roughly one hundred of the powerful painkillers in a metal vial hanging from the chain around my neck, barely covered by my shirt—a fifteen-year mandatory minimum sentence in the state of Florida.
“Shit,” I hissed under my breath. Fifteen years in Florida state prison was not a part of my plans. I slowly glanced toward the group of massive bouncers surrounding my friends and then to the deputy closing in on my right.
The officer noticed my shifting eyes and growled, “Don’t even think about it.” My fight-or-flight instinct kicked in and my adrenaline spiked. I bolted past my friends and across the parking lot, with the deputy and two of the bouncers on my heels. The pounding of their feet and screams faded into the background as I shot into four lanes of traffic on Hillsborough Avenue, causing a dozen vehicles to swerve and lock up their brakes. I could hear screeching tires, crunching steel, and cracking taillights. But I didn’t look back, I just kept running. I raced behind a building, yanked off my necklace, and stashed it in a tree. My heart was pounding, adrenaline surging through my veins as I scaled the chain-link fence of the Oldsmar Flea Market and hid in a maze of rusted storage units.
Within seconds, the sheriff was looking for me in the alley behind the building. “I need a coupla dogs ASAP,” he said into his shoulder microphone. The K-9 unit’s German shepherds arrived minutes later. They quickly found my vial of oxycodone hanging from a tree branch, and tracked my scent to the flea market. “I’ve got around a hundred oxycodone,” he said into his shoulder mic. More than enough for a trafficking charge. “Get me a helicopter up here, now!”
I had just caught my breath when I heard the K-9s barking and snapping on the other side of the fence—less than a hundred yards away. Then I saw the blue lights of several cruisers at the entrance of the open-air market. They were closing in. So I jumped the back fence and crawled through a muddy field as sheriff’s deputies swarmed the market.
That’s when I heard the helicopter and saw the spotlight converging on my location. Drenched in mud and sweat, I sprang to my feet and ran into a nearby shopping plaza where over a dozen tractor-trailers were parked. I quickly crawled underneath one and laid between its massive tires.
I called Lance and told him where I was as the beam of the helicopter’s spotlight passed over the trailer. “Bro,” I whispered while two deputies walked by, haphazardly shining their Maglites underneath the trailers, “you’ve gotta come get me.”
“Sit tight,” said Lance; one of his brothers and a friend had been arrested. Another buddy had backed Lance’s Dodge truck into a Mercedes and the remaining friends were screaming at one another. It was complete chaos. “But we’re coming to get you.” He ended the call and told everyone they needed to pick me up immediately. Most of them wanted to get out of the area before they were arrested for trespassing or underage drinking. “Well, we’re not leaving him!”
At roughly the same time, several sheriff’s deputies spotted Lance on the side of the highway. Due to my and Lance’s physical similarities they encircled him with their patrol vehicles, jumped out of the cruisers, and drew their weapons. “Get on the ground!” they yelled. “Get on the ground!”
Lance dropped to his belly as multiple K-9 unit officers approached the area with their German shepherds. A portly deputy jammed his knee into Lance’s back and snapped a pair of cuffs on his wrists. “What were you doing in the flea market?” barked one of the K-9 unit officers, while two of the dogs growled and snapped their razor-sharp teeth inches from Lance’s face. He could feel the dogs’ breath and saliva on his cheeks.
“I wasn’t at the flea market!” replied Lance. “I’ve been here—”
“What’re you doing with all them pills?!” snapped the deputy, as he yanked Lance off the asphalt. But the teen didn’t respond. “Boy, you’re fucking with the wrong officer!” then he shoved him in the back of the cruiser.
Over the course of the next hour—while I waited for Lance to pick me up—I went from sweating and dry heaving to shivering in the cold night air.
As two patrol vehicles pulled into the parking lot across the street, I slyly began to work my way down the shopping plaza, ducking behind bushes and blending into the dark areas, until I made it to a 7-Eleven. I scouted the area and then called Lance’s cell for an update. “Who am I speaking with?” asked an official voice on the other end of the line.
“Doug,” I replied. “Where’s Lance?”
“I’ve got ’im in the back of my patrol car. But I need to release him to someone. Where are you at?”
“Sir, I’m seventeen years old. How are you going to release him to me?”
“Listen kid,” growled the officer, “if you don’t tell me where you’re at, I’m gonna book your little pal here. What do you have to say to that, smartass?”
“Tell Lance I love him,” I chuckled, “and I’ll bail him out in the morning.” I disconnected and walked into the convenience store covered in dirt and grass, and grabbed a soda out of the beverage cooler. The clerk gawked at me—I was filthy from head to toe—as I tossed some cash on the counter and exited the store. It was after two o’clock in the morning when I called my cousin and said, “Come get me. They arrested Lance.” Then I popped the top and gulped down my ice-cold Orange Crush. You know, I wasn’t born a drug dealer. I became one.
* * *
Painkiller overdoses . . . exceed the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and the black tar heroin epidemic of the 1970s combined.
I was born in 1988—just after Ronald Reagan declared “the war on drugs”—in New Port Richey, Florida, not far from the Tampa Bay/Clearwater Beach area; it’s a small coastal town on the way to nowhere with a stagnant population of around fourteen thousand Floridians struggling to stay lower-middle class. Downtown is peppered with dated strip malls and pawn shops. Lots of fishing boats and packing warehouses. There’s no shortage of bars and strip clubs.
I spent most of my childhood running around the playgrounds and trailer parks, barefoot and dirty. Despite how it sounds, I never considered myself poor white trash, although what you’re about to read might have you think otherwise.
My mother, Sylvia Drupe, is a functioning alcoholic; a career waitress who loves Budweiser and marijuana brownies. I love her, but she’s never exactly been the nurturing, motherly type.
My dad, Douglas Dodd, is everything my mother isn’t: mild mannered, conservative, and nonconfrontational. Unfortunately, he’s got a thing for waitresses, and as a restaurant manager, it eventually became an issue.
In 1993, I was a skinny little five-year-old kid, oblivious to how fragile my parents’ marriage was, when a man approached my mother during her night shift at Chili’s. “Ma’am,” he said, “you don’t know me, but my wife’s a waitress at Bob Evans [the restaurant where my father worked], and your husband’s fucking her. They’re at your house, right now.”
My mother caught the two of them parked in our driveway. My dad was nailing Brandy, my future stepmother, in the back seat of our family’s Pontiac Trans Am, when my mom yanked open the passenger-side door. “You fucking whore!” screamed my mother, as my dad and Brandy struggled to shimmy into their clothes. “This is the last time, you cheating shit!” she screamed at my father, “we’re through!”
Between my father’s affinity for waitresses and my mother’s addiction to Bud Light, their marriage was doomed. They divorced in early 1993. I’ll never forget standing at the front door, barefoot and shirtless in my gym shorts, as the movers loaded the last of our furniture into my mother’s U-Haul truck. From the television to the couch, she took it all. We had nothing left. “Dad,” I remember saying, “she took the TV!”
“I know, buddy. I know.”
Just after the divorce was final, my mother told me, “Dougie, your cheating father only married me because I got pregnant.” I was five! Then she clenched her jaw tight and growled, “I could’ve taken him for everything. Full custody and child support. But I’m not that kind of woman.” As far as I could tell, she had already taken everything she could. The truth is she didn’t want, nor could she handle, the responsibility of a five-year-old. My father was awarded custody during the week and my mother got me on the weekends. She could barely handle that. Neither of them seemed to be able to afford me.
I went from being a symbol of their loving union to a painful memory of it. They bickered and fought over every dime it took to feed and clothe me. By the time I entered Calousa Elementary School, I had outgrown most of my clothes and all of my tennis shoes. I ended up attending the fifth grade in cowboy boots. They were only an issue during recess. When we played soccer, the boots caused me blisters, and I ended up bruising several of the other kids’ shins. My homeroom teacher made several calls to my parents in an attempt to get them to buy me a pair of tennis shoes. My mother told her clothes were my “cheating” father’s responsibility—they weren’t, but she always said that. My dad turned around and requested my mom split the cost with him, which she refused to do. After getting the runaround for a couple weeks my teacher broke down and bought me a pair of Wilson tennis shoes. My parents should’ve been humiliated, but they didn’t even notice. They were too wrapped up in their new lives.
After the divorce, my mother became a regular barfly for about a year.
She dragged home a succession of losers, but eventually married Gary Park, an alcoholic warehouse laborer. I dreaded the weekends with them. They fought constantly. I remember sitting in my room and crying, listening to them scream late into the night as they threw beer cans at one another. I was eight years old and didn’t know what else to do.
In 1998, one of their arguments turned violent. They had been drinking most of the night, arguing about money—they were always arguing about money. My stepfather slapped my mother or she slapped him—depending on who you ask. Regardless, my mother grabbed the phone and dialed 911. When they asked her, what’s your emergency, she screamed, “Help, he’s going to—”
Gary snatched the receiver out of her hand and told the emergency operator, “Don’t bother sending anyone, she’ll be dead by the time they get here.” Then he yanked the phone out of the wall and started throwing her around, slamming her into the walls and knocking over furniture. The entire double-wide was shaking when I was jolted awake by my mother screaming for help.
By the time I came out of my room they had moved to the front yard; lit by the motion-sensitive floodlights, red-faced and drunk, pushing each other. I exited the trailer just in time to see Gary slap my mom to the ground and kick her in the head with his steel-toed boots. At nine years old, I grabbed a Rubbermaid garbage can and hurled it at my stepfather. The can hit him in the upper back and burst open, sending garbage everywhere.
“Dougie!” screamed my mother while struggling to stand, “get the neighbor!” I ran next door and told them to call 911. When the police arrived, my stepfather was arrested for domestic violence and served with a one thousand–foot restraining order. My mother ended up divorcing Gary and marrying another abusive prick named John Tripper, her third husband, a handyman who grew hydroponic marijuana on the side. My mom’s arms were constantly bruised. I remember showing up one weekend and she had stitches running through her eyebrow, along with an implausible story about hitting her face on the bathroom sink. I’m not sure where she found these guys, but she never seemed to run out of them.
I was ten years old when my seventeen-year-old cousin, Eric Dodd, moved in with me and my dad. Dad was working sixty hours a week at Leverock’s Seafood Restaurant, and my cousin was selling pot out of the house. One day after school, Eric and I were sitting in the living room playing PlayStation’s Street Fighter when he asked, “You wanna get stoned?”
“Sure,” I replied. I had smoked pot once before, with a girlfriend and her older brother when I was in fourth grade. But this time was different, there was something about lighting up the bowl and sucking in the smoke; the sensation of the THC rushing to my head. The artificial sense of serenity. It didn’t take long before I was getting stoned with my buddies before and after school.
On the weekends my mother worked, I would stay with my Aunt Maria. She had recently been arrested in late December of 2000 for selling over a dozen ecstasy pills to a confidential informant and was currently awaiting sentencing. When Aunt Maria wasn’t watching me, I would hang out with my sixteen-year-old cousin Roberta. We would go to Dimensions, a popular teen club, and get high, or play on their trampoline and ride dune buggies through the woods.
But once my aunt was sentenced to a year in Florida state prison, and my uncle started working double shifts driving trucks, all semblance of parental supervision disappeared. That house turned into a straight cannabis club with a dozen neighborhood kids hanging around smoking at any given moment.
That’s when I first spoke to Kathy Fisher, a beautiful, curvy five-foot brunette cheerleader with a hard body and amazing legs. She had caught my eye at Dimensions weeks earlier. We had shared a couple flirtatious glances, and I got this strange feeling in my stomach. But she was sixteen years old and dating a senior on the football team. I didn’t have the guts to talk to her.
My cousin Roberta and her boyfriend knew I was crushing on Kathy hard, so they invited her over one weekend. We were all sitting around the sectional, smoking and grinning at one another. It took me half a dozen hits to build up the courage to talk to her. I wasn’t exactly a thirteen-year-old Don Juan, but after about an hour of smoking weed and flirting, we were French kissing and grinding away at each other. Eventually someone suggested the four of us relocate to my aunt and uncle’s Airstream in the back yard and “get naked.”
Kathy gave me a shy half grin and asked, “You want to?”
I had never wanted anything more in my life. Five minutes later, we were lying in the sleeping area tugging at each other’s clothes. I had seen some Internet porn and a couple of Playboy magazines, so I felt I had the situation under control. But when Kathy shimmied out of her blue jeans and slipped off her tank top, revealing two perfect breasts, I thought, I’m totally unprepared for this.
By the time I was fumbling with the condom and Kathy’s panties, my cousin’s boyfriend had Roberta completely naked and they were going at it right next to us.
Kathy, who was obviously more experienced than I was, was doing all the right things. Within minutes we were dripping with sweat from the sauna-like condition inside the camper. At one point she pulled her nails across my back and whispered, “It hurts sooo good.” I may not have known what I was doing, but Kathy damn sure did. It was everything I had hoped sex would be. But I’m certain my performance isn’t among her top ten sexual experiences. Whose first time is?
It wasn’t long before we were doing it every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I would call Kathy up and say, “I’m gonna be at Roberta’s this weekend.” I could feel her smiling through the phone when she giggled, “I’ll be there.”
I wouldn’t refer to it as dating—she had a boyfriend. We were more like fuck buddies on those weekends her beau was at football practice or off fishing with his friends. I was a thirteen-year-old stoner getting laid on the regular by a hard-bodied cheerleader with zero inhibitions—life was good. My biggest fear was that my newest abusive stepfather would figure out I was stealing Trojans out of his dresser and hydroponic weed out of the Igloo he kept in the freezer.
Keep in mind that virtually everyone I knew was selling drugs or doing them. Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, parents, and stepparents. On my mother’s side, Uncle Tony was serving an eight-year federal sentence for trafficking marijuana. So, when John’s Igloo eventually ran dry, I asked my Mexican buddies Alejandro and Joseph Diaz, “Do you guys have any pot?”
They glanced at one another and laughed. “Yeah,” said Alejandro, “we’ve got some.” They walked me out to a detached two-car garage behind their house and pulled back a weather-resistant tarp. The Diaz brothers’ stepfather was one of the largest suppliers of marijuana in the Hudson/New Port Richey, Florida area. There, lying on the concrete floor was a large rectangular fifty-pound bale of Mexican brick weed. I had never seen anything so exhilarating in my entire life. “Scrape as much off as you want.” Score, I thought as I filled up an entire sandwich bag.
Around a month later, on May 9, 2002, several friends and I got stoned on the bus, on our way home from Gulf Middle School. I thought I was so cool pulling out my pipe and weed. It never occurred to me that one of my fellow students might turn me in.
The following day, I was in history class listening to the teacher describe the effects of the Opium Wars.
“The opium epidemic continued virtually unchecked until the 1950s,” said the teacher, “when the Chinese Communist Party of Mao Zedong ceased all opium production, forced ten million addicts into compulsory treatment, and publicly executed tens of thousands of dealers.”
That’s when I noticed our lanky principal walk in and scan the room student by student. I never imagined he was looking for me. “Dodd!” he barked, and pointed down the hallway to the administrative wing. “My office now!”
There was a Pasco County Sheriff’s Deputy waiting for me in the principal’s gray and tan office. He searched my bag, sifting through my textbooks and notepads, until he found a small amount of marijuana in a Ziploc bag along with a glass pipe. When the deputy pulled the baggie out of my backpack, I thought, My mom’s gonna kill me.
The principal made me listen to a lengthy lecture on how drugs would ruin my life, while the deputy glared at me. “Marijuana’s a gateway drug. You keep it up, you’ll be doing heroin before long,” he said, sitting behind his desk, pointing a bony finger at me. “It’s poisoning your mind; imagine how much better you’d be doing in school if you weren’t smoking this crap.”
“How much better could I be doing?” I asked with a shrug. “I’ve got straight As.”
The principal gave me a skeptical smirk and pulled up my record on his desktop computer, revealing my 4.0 GPA. “I’ll be damned,” he grunted underneath his breath. Then he turned to the officer and said, “I’m finished with ’im.”
The deputy grabbed me by the wrists and snapped a pair of handcuffs on me, then walked me down the hallway filled with several hundred of my fellow middle schoolers, all gawking and whispering. It was all I could do to hold back the tears. I felt so humiliated and embarrassed. My stomach was turning, and I was a little frightened of what the outcome would be. I knew I messed up and was in for a serious whooping when I got home.
The Pasco County Juvenile Holding Facility was a utilitarian dump with adult-style cinder block prison cells. Once I was fingerprinted and photographed, a deputy asked, “Who do you want me to call, your mother or your—”
“Dad!” I snapped. “Call my dad, please.” I knew they would both be angry with me, but I was one hundred percent sure that if my mother didn’t kill me, she would thoroughly embarrass me.
My father was more disappointed than angry. On our way home he kept saying, “You’ve gotta start making better choices, Dougie.” But, by this point my stepmother, Brandy, had caught my dad sleeping with another waitress, Debbie—future stepmother number two—so it was kind of hard to take any advice he gave me seriously.
When my mom found out about my arrest, she bitched a little, but what could she really say? My stepfather was growing hydroponic marijuana inside their house.
I was expelled from Gulf Middle School and sent to Schwettmen Alternative School for troubled juvenile offenders. Roughly a month later, the juvenile court judge barked something like, “A straight-A student getting high. That was a pretty dumb thing for you to do, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, sir,” I mumbled, while staring at the carpet. Then he sentenced me to an intervention program and drug treatment. I had to meet with a social worker twice a week for six months. Plus, I had an after-school curfew and an old-school pager. But it was more about peeing in a cup and keeping my grades up than drug counseling.
My father and stepmother’s fights were getting more and more vicious all the time. “You never even loved me,” I remember Brandy saying during one of their many arguments. “You only married me ’cause you needed me to take care of Dougie, but I guess he’s old enough to take care of himself now,” she spat, “so now you’re ready to trade me in for a newer model. Is that it, asshole?!”
“I wouldn’t say a new model,” my dad shot back, “I’d say a better model.” Brandy went absolutely ballistic. She moved out shortly after that and took all the furniture. Loaded it into a Ryder truck and drove away with everything. “She took the TV,” I griped. “You lost another TV.”
“Don’t worry,” he said, “Debbie’s got one.” She moved in shortly after, along with her daughters.
Just after my intervention program ended, my father and new stepmother decided to move to upstate New York. Debbie’s grandmother had passed away, presenting the opportunity to fulfill Debbie’s childhood dream of buying her grandmother’s house. She and my father knew it would be a great area to open a bed and breakfast. So, they sold their house in Hudson, packed everything, and moved thirteen hundred miles away. But I refused to go. All my family and friends lived in Florida.
“I can’t believe your father’s making you choose between your family and friends and him!” spat my mother when she found out about the move. “We both swore we’d never leave Florida. Typical!” She never missed an opportunity to bash my dad. My mother had just kicked out my latest stepfather, and she wanted me to stay with her. At the time, it seemed like a good idea, but it didn’t take long before cracks started to appear. After a couple of beers my mother became a pretty mean drunk; she would start complaining about my curfew, my chores, and my music—typical teenager-parent stuff. The truth is, she just liked to get drunk and argue. Hence, the three husbands and multiple restraining orders.
As time went on, the living situation became more and more stressful. On occasion, it was unbearable. In a way, it seemed like my mother’s lack of control in her own life manifested itself in her desire to dominate my life. Nothing ever seemed good enough for her.