HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Texas Heroin Massacre
Pubdate: Thu, 27 May 1999
Source: Rolling Stone (US)
Issue: 813
Copyright: 1999 Straight Arrow Publishers Company, L.P.
Contact:  1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104-0298
Fax: (212) 767-8214
Forum:  Mike Gray
Note: Mike Gray is the author of "Drug Crazy" (Random House). His last
feature for Rolling Stone was "What Really Happened at Three Mile Island"
(RS 291).


The Jocks And Preps Of Plano, Texas, Couldn't Get Enough Of A New Drug. By
The Time They Found Out What The Fine Brown Powder Really Was, Kids Had
Already Started Dying.

IN 1996, DR. LARRY ALEXANDER, an earnest young medic with sandy hair and a
stylish goatee, came back to Plano, Texas, after a residency at an
inner-city hospital in Kansas City that had left him reeling. He had seen
enough murder there, enough coke, crack and crank to last a lifetime.
Plano, by contrast, was a wealthy corporate nesting round north of Dallas -
good schools, big houses, smoked-glass business parks and a hundred lighted
ball fields - and statistically, the safest city in Texas. It had fewer
murders in a year than Kansas City had on any given Saturday night. This
smooth exterior, however, concealed a certain hollowness. Plano is a pop-up
city, having risen from empty range land in less than a generation. During
the last couple of decades, some200,000 people have moved there to work for
corporate giants like 7UP, JC-Penney and Frito-Lay. In the wide-open land
to the west of the new freeway, developers built a sea of gated communities
and subdivisions that have been described as "tract mansions."

The city went through a bad patch in the early Eighties, when seven
teenagers committed suicide and a dozen others attempted it in a one-year
period. The national press blamed Plano's status as a sterile corporate
dormitory where children had too much money and too little attention. And
while Plano's 200,000 citizens are the same decent, well-meaning folks
you'd find anywhere in Middle America, they hardly know one another. Once
again, Plano was about to pay a terrible price for its splendid isolation,
and one of the first to spot the impending danger was Larry Alexander. ER
physicians like Alexander belong to a fairly exclusive club, and they tend
to compare notes from one hospital to the next. In the fall of 1996,
friends at Parkland Health and Hospital in Dallas, and at Methodist and
Baylor, were telling him that heroin was back in style. His first reaction
was that this was a Dallas problem; Plano had nothing to worry about. Then
on New Year's Day 1997, he found himself looking at the body of Adam Wade
Goforth, a nineteen-year-old Marine who had come home for the holidays only
to die of a heroin overdose.

During the next few weeks, Alexander saw a parade of overdose victims
rushed into his emergency room, usually dropped off by terrified friends.
"They're banging on the door, screaming, 'He's not breathing!'" Alexander
says. "We drag the kid out of the back of a Suburban. He's blue. We put him
on a gurney and run him back into the ER. The next thing I hear is tires
peeling out. His friends take off, and we don't even know who he is." Less
than a month after Goforth died, Alexander's ER team lost another teen; and
six weeks after that, Victor Garcia, a middle-school soccer player who was
barely fifteen, was found face down in a church parking lot. His friends
had left him there after driving around with his dead body for a day and a

By now it was clear that something was deeply wrong in Plano. Alexander
checked with his contacts in the Dallas police department and they said
that cheap black-tar heroin was flooding into the area from Mexico. What
distinguished this stuff from anything they had seen before was its
astonishing quality. The product on the street was five times more potent
than the heroin that authorities were accustomed to seeing. Because it was
so powerful, you didn't have to shoot it. You could just snort the powder.
Soon, Alexander was handling three or four overdoses a night. He knew he
had to get the word out about what was quickly becoming an epidemic, but
his superiors suggested he keep quiet. In the next few months, he cornered
one official after another and kept getting the same nervous response.
"People don't want the community to be known as having a drug problem,"
says Alexander." The city council, the police department, big business,
whatever. They don't want to talk about it." In three years, eighteen
teenagers from Plano and its suburbs would die of heroin overdoses. In 1997
alone, another 75 to 100 would be brought back from the brink of death by
Alexander and his colleagues.

THE RIO DE LAS BALSAS, a wild mountain stream for most of its 500-mile
tumble to the Pacific, divides the Mexican states of Michoacin and
Guerrero, and somewhere up this river, in the jungle between the coast and
the provincial capital of Ciudad Attamirano, is a tiny collection of adobe
huts known as Pinzandaro. Watched over by the 12,000 foot peaks of the
Sierra Madre del Sur, the village is distinguished by its moderate climate
and its crushing poverty. One day in 1994, Irma Lopez Vega, a diminutive
nineteen-year-old mestiza, decided she'd had enough. Ever since she quit
school in the third grade to help feed her siblings, she had been working
like a dog - cleaning other people's houses, putting in a full shift at the
flour mill, selling enchiladas on the side - and all she had to show for it
was the food on her table. Her husband, Ecliserio Martinez Garcia, a
respected figure in the community, had grander dreams for his family, and
when he decided to make the 500-mile trek north to the U.S. border, Irma
was with him.

They crossed the Rio Grande at Laredo, Texas, that summer and made their
way to McKinney, about thirty miles north of Dallas and fifteen miles from
Plano. Once there, they moved in with friends from home, Salvador Pineda
Contreras and his wife, Marcruz. Salvador had a wood-frame bungalow on
Walnut Street, within hailing distance of the Southern Pacific railroad.
Once again, Irma Lopez was working like a slave, but now she was getting
paid for it. The two women held down jobs at a local dry cleaner while
helping their husbands build a business steam-cleaning the driveways and
patios of the gringos. But they were sending, every spare nickel back home,
and it was a struggle.

When Ectiserio Martinez Garcia first laid eyes on Plano, he must have
thought he was looking at El Dorado. The median household income, $54,000,
beat the U.S. national figure by eighty percent, and the kids all drove
sport utility vehicles. It was an upscale market for everything from
jaguars to Learjets, but some-how nobody had thought to supply the place
with high-quality heroin. Drugs, of course, were already on the scene, but
you had to go all the way to Dallas, into unsavory neighborhoods. As one
ghetto dealer puts it, "These white kids, they're scared to come to my
neighborhood, so they come and buy double and triple what my people buy."
Martinez was in a position to solve that problem.

The village of Pinzandaro may have its drawbacks, but its climate is
perfect for growing opium poppies. Of the sixty tons of heroin that Mexico
produces each year, at least half comes from these mountains above Acapulco.

The setup was simple. In these high mountain valleys, the poppies grow like
weeds. Using friends and family, Martinez processed the local crop into
high-grade black-tar heroin, shipped it north to the border at Laredo and
hired couriers to mule the product into the U.S. a few ounces at a time.
Once it got to McKinney, the heroin was ground into powder with an electric
coffee mill, then cut with Dormin, an over-the-counter sleep aid, and
packaged in gel caps. It was nerve-racking and desperate work, but for men
like Ecliserio, accustomed to back breaking jobs and the routine dangers of
life in Mexico, this was nothing.

Late in 1996, Ecliserio delivered his first batch to his Plano contacts,
four young Mexican-Americans who had lived in the area all their lives and
had established a modest business selling cocaine to Plano teenagers. The
three Meza brothers, all in their early twenties, and their sidekick,
Santiago Mejia, 17, had known one another since childhood. They started
offering free samples of the new stuff to their regular customers from the
Plano high schools, and all of a sudden, demand went through the roof.

The purity, even after the heroin was cut, was an astonishing thirty-five
percent - so powerful, there was no need to search for a vein, or a spike,
or a men's room, or a belt to tie off with. What's more, Dormin contains
antihistamines, so it eliminated the telltale signs of heroin use: red eyes
and a runny nose. As for terms, they were pretty good: ten bucks a cap and
the first one's free.

The Meza brothers operated out of "the Blue House," a saltbox at 1120
Avenue I, where a couple of the brothers usually lived full time. It was in
the old part of Plano, east of the freeway. By late 1996, the scene at the
Blue House was off the scale. "They were parked three deep all hours of the
day and night," says a neighbor, who remembers kids in Beemers and Jeeps
dashing n and out with their engines running.

The stuff was called chiva, and the kids thought it was just the next drug
in line - marijuana, LSD, ecstasy ... chiva. But this shit was fantastic.
"Heroin is about as mellow as you can get," says one Plano college student
who's been dealing since the eighth grade. "Nice vibrations, you have your
eyes roll back for a couple hours, and at these wholesale prices, you can
afford to do as much as you want."

The party scene in Plano took an exciting and sinister turn. You would get
a beep on your pager, summoning you to somebody's house where the parents
weren't around, or maybe to a motel room, and there you'd find football
players, cheerleaders, geeks and honor-roll students all doing chiva. The
crowd was not the expected stoners and rebels. These were the students you
were supposed to emulate. And they clearly had no idea what they were into.
Collin County drug counselor Sabina Stern was stunned.

"I would say, 'Have you ever used chiva?' " she says.

" 'Well, yeah.'

" 'Have you ever used heroin?'

" 'Oh, I'd never touch heroin."

"They didn't know the difference. And I don't think it was a deliberate
attempt to fool kids on the part of the Mexicans. Chiva is just the Mexican
word for heroin."

There was also a certain glamour attached to being on the inside. You'd see
hand signals at a party and a bunch of kids would disappear into the back
bedroom, or a car would pull up in the driveway and your boyfriend would
duck out with part of the football squad and come back with a whole
different attitude.

Chris Cooper, a gentle, easygoing twenty-year-old African-American with a
quick smile, recalls those days. "It was not peer pressure," he says, "but
it was just, my friends had moved on to it, and I was kinda wondering, what
did it feel like? I had five or ten close friends. We'd go clubbin' in
downtown Dallas, Fort Worth, anywhere there's a party. "But very shortly,
weekends degenerated into finding a place that you didn't have to move from.

"I can remember doing it with a friend," says Cooper, "and he was telling
me, 'Man, I heard if you do it seven days in a row, you start feeling bad.'
And I was like, 'Hey, I've been doing it about eight or nine days in a
row.' So I didn't do it for a day and I was like, 'Yeah, what is this? This
is kinda weird.' And then I did some, and right when I did it, I was
feeling like crap and then whoo!"

That was Chris Cooper's first clue that maybe he was in over his head. His
mother, a TV newswoman, had moved to Plano, she says, "because it was safe.
"Chris had been using for several weeks before he began to get nervous
about it, and by the time it dawned on him and everybody else that they
were dealing with a major addiction, it was too late. Dozens of kids were
deeply involved, and some who had started as users were about to become

John Aaron Pruett, 18, was one of the first serious users to get busted.
Initially his parents were supportive, and they got him into rehab. But
when he relapsed, they were told that tough love was the answer. So they
cut off his income, which cured his cash surplus but not his addiction.
Pruett, slight and dark-haired, started dealing. He'd buy the chiva uncut
from the Mezas and mix it with the Dormin himself. His apartment, on
Preston Road, a couple of minutes from the Plano senior high schools,
became a major branch of the Blue House.

Emily Stevenson, a cute, long-haired former cheerleader and an honor
student, got into chiva like you get into ice cream. "I did it and I liked
it and kept on doing it," she says. She became such a fixture at the Blue
House that they invited her into the business. She and Santiago Mejia
became best friends, and Emily wound up handling the books for him, She
also provided the wheels for the resupply runs to McKinney until her
parents took her car away. Later, when Santiago needed a place to lay low,
she stashed him in her bedroom closet.

In spite of the growing awareness about the downside of this new craze,
there were still plenty of people willing to try chiva. For one thing, not
everyone who used it got addicted. According to the U.S. Department of
Health, most people who try heroin do not become addicted. And when the
kids in Plano saw that some of their friends were able to take it or leave
it, they decided that chiva couldn't be all that dangerous.

The kids who did get hooked, however, were in for a jolt. Milan Malina, 19,
was a sensitive-artist-and-poet type. His mother, Joanne, had raised him on
opera. "I used to play Pavarotti while he was still in the crib," she says.
The family was extremely close. His father, George, suffered a heart attack
some months earlier and Milan had said, "If you die, I don't want to go on

Likable and outgoing, Milan made friends easily. He had some problems with
school, though, and dropped out in his senior year. But he finished his
GED, and in January '97 he was checking out the University of California at
Santa Barbara campus when he was busted for driving while intoxicated. He
spent three days in jail before his girlfriend was able to bail him out. In
the fallout from this brush with the law, he confessed to his parents what
they had already suspected: that he was in trouble with drugs and desperate
to quit. They made a few quick phone calls and found Dr. John Talmadge, a
psychiatrist and addiction expert at the University of North Texas.

Right from the start, Talmadge was encouraged. "Milan was poised,
intelligent, very natural," says Talmadge. "He looked like the cover of GQ
- kind of a young Al Pacino. I was expecting somebody tough or street-wise.
He struck me as almost innocent." Talmadge's evaluation was glowing. "We
have an acronym, YAVIS: young, attractive, verbal, insightful and
successful. If somebody has all five, they have a good prognosis. Milan had
an excellent chance." Talmadge felt that Milan was so motivated that
outpatient therapy alone would do the trick. Events proved Talmadge right.
When Milan celebrated his twentieth birthday, at the beginning of June, he
had been clean for four months. He was enrolled in the local junior
college, scheduled to start classes the following Monday. His parents were
beaming. But there was an ominous note in the otherwise upbeat celebration.
When he spoke to a friend in California that night, he told her, "My
friends here don't like me anymore. They like the high Milan. They don't
like the clean Milan.'

That Saturday night, he decided to give his friends a treat: the high
Milan. A bunch of the guys were getting together to watch a hockey game at
a house on a golf course where one of the boys lived with his father. With
Dad gone for the weekend and the maid in another part of the house, they
passed around joints and champagne. Chris Cooper was there. He and Milan
had been friends since freshman gym class. When the discussion got around
to chiva, everybody was in. Chris and Milan made the drug run together.

Along with his friends, Milan snorted a couple of caps of chiva. By the end
of the evening, he couldn't stay on his feet. His pals put him to bed and
told him to sleep it off. When Chris decided to call it a night, Milan
seemed safely asleep. Chris didn't think twice about him -- people passed
out all the time.

Any junkie will tell you not to sit around drinking while you're waiting to
score. Alcohol and heroin don't mix. They are both downers, and they
reinforce each other, shutting off the part of the brain that reminds you
to breathe. But the alcohol wasn't Milan's only problem. He was also
seriously asthmatic, and though he had been told since he was a small boy
not to take certain cold medications containing antihistamines-which dry
out the lungs and can trigger asthma attacks - he probably did not realize
that the chiva he was snorting was full of antihistamines. On top of this,
he had been clean for several months, so he had the low tolerance of a
first-time user. "They said he was snoring throughout the night," recalls
his dad. "The reality is, he was aspirating his vomit."

A few hours after Chris had gone home, he got an urgent phone call: Milan
was in the hospital. Chris threw on some clothes and got there as fast as
he could. In the waiting room, seven of his buddies were standing around in
shock. A police officer was interviewing them. Then Milan's parents came
out of the emergency room.

George Malina found a chaplain in the waiting room. He asked the priest to
escort Milan's friends in to see the body. He wanted them to have a chance
to say goodbye. And he wanted them to grasp the enormity of what had
happened. The chaplain led them in and pulled back the sheet. There was
Milan's face - blue, caked with blood, eyes closed for all time. Some
reacted in stunned silence; the rest were sobbing. "They wanted us to see
what had happened, to really took at him," says Cooper. He looks away. "It
was awful."

GEORGE MALINA wanted to find out who was responsible. and he wanted to make
sure none of these other kids ended up like Milan. He went to the police
and demanded an investigation. The police said there was nothing to
investigate. They said that Milan had brought this on himself, yes, he was
a victim, but he was also a perpetrator. Case closed. "They were very
condescending to us," says Joanne Malina. "They made us feel like we as the
parents were at fault, that we were the cause of his death."

The determination to keep a lid on this story - spurred, no doubt, by an
honest concern for property values - ex tended to neighboring suburbs like
Richardson and Addison, as well. But Plano authorities were particularly
jumpy. For years, whenever city officials showed up at conventions, it was,
"Oh, Plano, the suicide capital." It had taken a decade to bury that smear.
As the police chief said later, "There's no way you can package nine, ten,
twelve deaths in something that is going to be positive."

But George Malina was willing to let it be known that his son had died of a
heroin overdose if that could save some other kid. And when he found out
that Larry Alexander had said the same thing months earlier - and was
stonewalled - Malina was outraged. "Whatever guilt the parents have to
carry," he says, "they carry. But shouldn't the authorities have the
responsibility to give us an alert?" By then, however, it was academic. A
reporter for the Plano Star-Courier had pieced the story together from the
obituaries. She tracked down Alexander at work, and he gave up the whole
story - the extent of heroin use, the deaths, the town's denial in the wake
of the disaster. The article ran right after Milan's death, and within
hours the Dallas Morning News was on the case. Before long, Diane Sawyer
was on the line.

Finally unleashed, Alexander began lecturing to students all over town,
trying to educate them about heroin - but for a lot of them, it was already
too late. The overdoses and the deaths continued. In November 1997,
sixteen-year-old Erin Baker, a Plano Senior High junior, became victim
number thirteen. The authorities were mystified. The bodies piling up
seemed to have no impact on the users. Kids would some-times attend a
friend's funeral and, after sobbing at a graveside, immediately go out and
score. "I don't think people who don't use understand how addictive heroin
is," says Sarah, 18. "I went to one funeral and got high right afterward. I
felt bad, but I was just numb." Another addict agrees: "I've taken friends
to the hospital and then gone right back to where we were and kept on
using." Chris Cooper knows what they're talking about. "I had three or four
pretty good friends die," he says. "It didn't stop me." But after that
scene with Milan in the ER, he quit using and was clean for nearly two
months - just sheer will-power. One day, however, he decided to try one
little cap, and in no time he was right back where he'd started. Finally he
told his mom he needed help.

Chris was lucky. Decent long-term treatment usually costs a fortune, and
the health insurance that most of us have will get you a ten-day detox at
the most. But Chris' mom was able to find him a safe haven an hour
southeast of Dallas, at the House of Isaiah, a private treatment center run
by former L.A. Rams line-backer Isaiah Robertson. Modeled after Alcoholics
Anonymous, the twelve-step program relies on spiritual guidance for its
forty or so clients.

After he completed the six-month course, Chris decided to spend another
year at the center's halfway house, in Fort Worth. Living there, he got a
job working construction and cut himself off from his old life in Plano. "I
thought, 'Man, I'm doing good now,' he says. But while Chris was getting
his life back together in the city, events in Plano were moving along
another set of rails.

The night Milan died, Chris had been interviewed by the cops, but nothing
ever came of it, and he managed to convince himself he was in the clear.
But just after five on the morning of July 22nd, 1998, Chris was getting
ready for work when he got a frantic call from his mother: FBI agents were
outside her front door.

Within a few hours he was in front of a federal judge. The charge was
something he'd never even heard of: conspiracy to distribute heroin that
caused a death. Thirty minutes later he was in a cell - "the lowest, the
scariest point in my life," Chris says. When his lawyer showed up, he
learned that he faced a mandatory minimum sentence of twenty years.

"When I heard those words," he says, "I remember thinking, 'You fucked up,
you really did it this time.' It's hard to describe that feeling. I was

IN THE NORMAL COURSE of events, Plano police chief Bruce Glasscock rarely
had to deal with anything more thrilling than an overturned semi on Central
Expressway. There had always been drugs in Plano - marijuana, a little
cocaine - but they were out of sight, under control. Now here was an
explosion of serious narcotics right under his nose. And while the city
fathers may have been reticent with the public, they weren't shy about
putting heat on Glasscock. Almost immediately, one of his top detectives
identified the source of the problem. In fact, he could practically see it
out the back window of the police station: The Blue House was three blocks

As predicted, the press pegged Plano as the heroin capital of America -
quite unfairly, since cities like Tampa, Florida; Baltimore; and
Parsippany, New Jersey, were going through exactly the same thing at that
moment. But the Plano angle had legs. For one thing, the kids there kept
dying. When Prime Time Live was about to hit town, one official said, "If
this goes wrong, everybody's house is gonna be worth $50,000 less."

TO stem the hysteria, Glasscock needed a bold gesture. Unfortunately, Texas
law doesn't allow the taking of scalps. Under state drug measures, Plano's
heroin dealers would face sentences of no more than ten years. But if
Glasscock called in the feds, the authorities could invoke a seldom-used
law passed during the drug-war hysteria of the Eighties. That law says you
can get a sentence equal to a murder rap if a drug sale leads to someone's

In late September 1997, when the furor following Malina's death was
building, Glasscock called on assistant U.S. attorney Bill Baldwin in
Tyler, Texas, and together they mobilized a federally funded task force. By
October, this enforcement team had hit Plano like a commands battalion.
Undercover agents were all over the place, and since most of their targets
were amateurs, arrests were made in no time.

Glasscock focused his investigation on the Mezas' Blue House and reached
into the schools as well, bringing in local police-academy recruits to
infiltrate Plano high schools. One twenty-eight-year-old earned the trust
of her new peers as she revisited her own adolescence, leaving her purse
open to conspicuously show off a pack of cigarettes; she would act
uninterested in class, mouthing off to her teachers, slyly revealing her
newly pierced tongue. The undercover operative quickly learned where to buy
marijuana and, later, chiva, and before she knew it, she was being
introduced to Plano's biggest dealers.

On July 23rd, 1998, Baldwin, Glasscock and the head of the Drug Enforcement
Administration held a joint press conference. A thirty-six-count federal
indictment was handed out. It named twenty-nine people, everyone from
Ecliserio Martinez Garcia all the way down to Chris Cooper. Count Six made
it clear to Cooper why he was essential to the case. He was the ultimate
link in the chain that led from the Mexican dealers to the dead body of
Milan Malina.

Of the twenty-nine people, seven were illegal aliens like Ecliserio and
therefore perfectly cast as villains. Glasscock, Baldwin and the DEA also
hauled in fourteen local Plano kids - the town's own: good students, sons
of prominent citizens. If convicted, they would be in their forties when
they got out.

Among the parents of the kids who died, George Malina seemed to have the
clearest fix on what had happened in Plano, and he was outraged by the
indictments. His empathy extended even to the young man who was accused of
murdering his son. "Chris Cooper shouldn't be sent to jail," he said. "it
could just as easily have been the other way around."

Malina, in fact, doesn't believe his son was a victim of heroin. He blames
the drug war itself. "It was easier to get heroin than it was to get beer,"
he says. "Chiva became a party favor." He feels that the kids were let down
by the very people who were supposed to protect them.

To begin with - in spite of Red Ribbon Days, Nancy Reagan and "Just Say
No"- the school system left these kids totally unprepared for the arrival
of heroin. At Plano-district schools, they had drug-sniffing dogs cruising
the lockers, but they had not bothered to tell the students anything
useful. Like the fact that chive is the Mexican word for heroin.

But the blame goes far beyond Plano. It goes to some of the fundamental
assumptions of the drug war, like the idea that we can cut narcotics off at
the border. The amount of heroin needed to supply Plano for a year would
fit in "a gallon jug," admits police chief Glasscock. The mules were simply
walking it across on monthly trips home. It was hidden in compartments in
the heels of their shoes. And it's important to remember that the only
reason the Mexicans set up shop in Plano was the money. If they could have
earned a decent living growing some legitimate crop down in Guerrero, they
would no doubt have jumped at the chance.

SINCE ANY JURY in Plano would likely turn into a lynch mob, the trial was
shifted to Beaumont, down by the Gulf Coast, some 340 miles away. When it
finally got under way, on February 2nd, one thing was clear about the
government's strategy: The Mexicans were going to pay. The kids from Plano
had all pleaded to lesser charges. All they had had to do to reduce their
prison time was give up a few Mexicans.

Armed with the testimony of the Plano kids, prosecutors set out to convince
the jury that the Martinez gang was a major international drug conspiracy,
overlooking the fact that none of these so-called criminal masterminds
could even afford to pay for a lawyer. The defense attorneys for the
Mexicans were court appointed, all gringos who had to communicate with
their clients through interpreters.

One of the defendants would not even talk to his lawyer. Jose Cleotilde
Solis - "Little Cocho" - was one of the part-time players associated with
the Blue House. During the big sweep of '97, he was busted with ten grams
of coke and six grams of heroin. Like some of the other defendants in the
federal case, he had already been tried in Texas state court, in 1998. And
while it may seem unreasonable to convict somebody twice for the same
events, it's not unusual in drug-war prosecutions. At the state trial,
believing he would probably get probation, Solis pleaded guilty, and the
judge handed him twenty-one years. These days, not surprisingly, Solis
doesn't speak to lawyers. All he does is read his Bible.

The defense lawyers did their best to paint the federal charges as
arbitrary and excessive, but in the end, the prosecutors held all the
cards. Ecliserio Martinez Garcia, for example, had confessed and pleaded
guilty in an earlier trial; according to Martinez's lawyer, the government
had agreed not to use that confession but ended up disclosing it anyway.
The best that the defenders could do was to chip away at the conspiracy
charges, which carried the heaviest penalties. That seemed like a possible
opening, since the idea that the government had nailed some international
cartel was clearly laughable.

"They were trying to make these individuals out as kingpins," says attorney
Garland Cardwell. "My client was the other Solis brother [Hilario] and he
had been working a steady job for five or six years at a telecommunications
company. He was making monthly payments on a '95 Ford pickup. If he was
making all this dough off the sale of heroin, I don't know where it was
going." In fact, none of the defendants seemed to be living very high on
the hog. When Martinez was busted in McKinney, he was driving a
four-year-old Dodge Caravan.

But despite the whiff of class warfare and racism hovering over the
proceedings, the jurors quickly returned with the inevitable conclusion.
They found all the Mexicans guilty of all the charges, except for Irma
Lopez Vega. But before the feds could toss her back over the border, the
state of Texas announced that it would retry Irma Lopez Vega in state court
on the same charges.

SENTENCING for the Plano twenty-nine will probably come down in a month or
so. The betting is that most of the kids will do OK but the Mexicans will
go down for the full count. Of the kids, John Aaron Pruett is looking at
the longest stretch. He faces a twenty-year sentence, though he may get
several years sliced off in return for his testimony. Chris Cooper
ultimately pleaded guilty to using a telephone in the sale of heroin, and
he's almost certainly going to do four years in the federal pen.

In the wake of this overwhelming state and federal effort to prosecute the
dealers, the heroin deaths continue. With the March 30th death of
twenty-one-year-old David Allen of Bedford, the body count for the northern
suburbs of Dallas and Fort Worth rose to at least thirty-four. In Plano
proper, the scene is less frantic, because kids don't bring overdose
victims to the hospital there anymore. They know better. As Larry Alexander
points out, the overdose rate is rising in the surrounding suburbs. And
while Chief Bruce Glasscock may feel that the heroin situation in Plano is
"under control," a brief tour of the old neighborhood suggests otherwise.
"I could have drugs on this table in forty-five minutes," says a friend of
Chris Cooper's who is still trying to kick. "It's more available now than
ever. Back then I only had one guy I could call. They busted him. Now I got
three guys I can call."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake