Pubdate: Sat, 04 Nov 2006
Source: Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN)
Copyright: 2006 The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.
Author: Jamie Satterfield


Superstition and secrecy - those were the guiding forces for 
decidedly New Age drug peddler Mike West, newly unsealed court 
records reveal. Mercury and its alignment with the other planets 
served as the forecast for success in the view of the brother of 
Market Square entrepreneur Scott West, who has admitted occasionally 
pushing some marijuana but more often laundering his brother's drug 
money by investing it in his downtown Knoxville businesses and properties.

Secret safes, tunnels and underground rooms provided the veil for a 
massive, decade-long drug trafficking conspiracy unearthed in January 
with the arrest of a courier for the West brothers and uncovered with 
an eyebrow-raising raid on Market Square in July.

So says Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Winck in an affidavit by U.S. 
Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Michael Davis that has been 
unsealed as part of an ongoing legal fight between federal 
prosecutors and alleged couriers Melvin "Big Foot" Skinner and his son.

The pair were popped by law enforcement inside an RV packed with 
nearly 1,000 pounds of marijuana paid for by the Wests, but defense 
attorneys Ralph Harwell and Tracy Jackson contend that the feds broke 
the rules when they used Global Positioning Satellite data to track the duo.

It is that challenge which led prosecutors David Jennings and Hugh 
Ward to unseal Winck's handiwork in securing court approval to get 
and use the GPS data.

Both Scott West, 41, and elder brother Mike West, 42, have pleaded 
guilty to conspiring to sell marijuana and launder money. As part of 
their pleas, barebones details of their venture were outlined.

But Winck's application offers an inside glimpse at Mike West's 
long-running career as a drug dealer.

Mike West has been dealing drugs for nearly three decades. In the 
1980s, he was buying cocaine from Miami and peddling it from Atlanta 
to western North Carolina. He was a one-stop-shopping drug store, 
though, also offering up marijuana, hashish and LSD.

It was when he moved to Cosby that marijuana became a staple of his 
illegal inventory, "obtaining and distributing hundred-pound 
quantities," Winck wrote.

The cost of doing business in the drug world is the occasional bust. 
West racked one up in 1991 and had to go on the lam, playing all 
manner of cloak-and-dagger games to avoid arrest. He lived somewhere 
in southwestern part of the U.S. and may have made his Arizona drug 
connections then.

At times, he "assumed his brother Scott West's identity by using 
variations of Scott West's name, date of birth and social security 
number," Winck wrote that "Mike West sometimes used a social security 
number belonging to someone who is deceased."

Eventually, the charges against him were dropped, although it's not 
clear why. His time on the run had made him, if not smarter, at least craftier.

"(A snitch) has seen an underground storage room at Mike West's 
Mooresburg, Tenn., residence," Winck wrote. "This underground room is 
accessible through a trap door located in the floor of a storage 
building. Mike West told (the snitch) that he planned to use this 
room to set up an indoor marijuana-growing operation. Mike West has 
told (the informant) that he has used this room to store drugs, 
United States currency and weapons."

He also had constructed "a false compartment containing a safe" at 
his parents' home in Lenoir City, where he stashed "thousands of 
dollars of Mike West's drug proceeds," the prosecutor penned.

It's not clear from the affidavit if his parents knew about the safe 
in their own home or that it was drug money their son stored there. 
The West brothers' parents have not been charged or accused in the 
conspiracy and have been allowed to continue operating Oodles 
Uncorked, a Market Square restaurant Scott West launched with drug money.

In the mid-1990s, business for Mike West was booming. He had hooked 
up with a supplier in Arizona that authorities allege was Phillip 
Apodaca, who has pleaded innocent in the case. Authorities contend 
that Apodaca got his illegal goods from Nogales, Mexico.

"Mike West began receiving up to 1,000-pound quantities of marijuana" 
from his Arizona supplier, Winck wrote. He used a series of couriers, 
including a Cosby trucker who hauled pot or drug money in a 
tractor-trailer for West.

The conspiracy relied on cellular phones, particularly the 
"pay-as-you-go" types drug dealers think can't be tapped or traced. 
West had one phone strictly for use in setting up deals with Apodaca, 
describing it as his "super secret" phone that required code-decoding 
skills just to figure out the device's number, according to the 
affidavit. The group also used e-mail to conspire.

"The subject matter of these e-mails primarily is the investment of 
drug proceeds through Spiral Web Inc. and other entities owned, 
operated or controlled by Mike West and/or Ronald Scott West," Winck wrote.

Just days before that fateful Market Square raid that blew the lid 
off this case, West was growing a bit tired of the game.

"This load of marijuana will be the last for Mike West this summer," 
Winck wrote of chatter on intercepted phone calls. "Mike West is 
happy that his marijuana trafficking has been profitable, although 
stressful, and Mike West is ready to take a break from organizing the 
transportation of money and marijuana to and from Arizona and Tennessee."

He also had a gnawing suspicion that fate might not prove kind.

"Everybody is in motion right now even though it is a Mercury 
retrograde," West is recorded as saying.

Winck translated the conversation this way: "Mike West is 
superstitious and believes that according to the planet Mercury and 
how it lines up to the other planets and the stars, that it would be 
bad luck for him to take any risks."

He should have listened to that New Age inner voice. Days later, the 
DEA swooped in on him and his operation. He's vacationing now - in 
jail, awaiting sentencing.
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MAP posted-by: Elaine