On November 9, 2006, agents intercepted a call that indicated that a drug dealer named Gerardo Toribio was going to meet Hicks at a Denver auto shop to sell him four kilograms of cocaine. The police set up a stakeout, and just after noon, Hicks and two other members of the Elite Eight — Malcolm "Pretty Malcolm" Watson and Haven "No Love" Brewer — pulled up to the shop in a black Lexus SUV. Hicks got out of the SUV with a black satchel slung over his shoulder and went into the shop; he emerged seven minutes later. Police tailed the Lexus and, after a short chase, arrested all three men.

After his arrest, Hicks continued to run the Elite Eight's drug business from jail with Clark's help, documents say. Recorded jailhouse phone calls captured Hicks instructing Clark on how to collect money owed to them. Hicks has also been charged with ordering Clark to kill Kalonniann Clark, who was scheduled to testify against Hicks in another shooting case. But before she could, she was gunned down in front of her house. Hicks, Willie Clark and a third man are charged with her murder.

On the day Clark, known as "Little Lett Loose," was released from the parole-violator facility, he was arrested on federal charges for distribution and possession of cocaine and crack. "Clark was moving up the ranks" of the drug organization, Fuller said. "We stopped his career advancement."

A 2007 makeshift memorial near the spot where Darrent Williams was shot.
A 2007 makeshift memorial near the spot where Darrent Williams was shot.
Willie Clark was convicted of killing Darrent Williams.
Willie Clark was convicted of killing Darrent Williams.

And while that case gave police a leg up in their investigation of Williams's murder, it didn't come close to solving the crime. It would take more than another year, and more help from the feds, to gather enough evidence to charge Clark with murder.

To get that evidence, the police turned to Clark's friends and associates. Several had been arrested in 2007 as a result of the sprawling Rolling 30s drug investigation, which involved more than 450 police officers and federal agents and resulted in the seizure of at least 85 kilograms of cocaine, 23 guns and $1.4 million in cash. More than eighty people were indicted altogether.

Among them were Vernone "Lil Thirty Ounce" Edwards, Daniel "PT" Harris, Felix "Little Fe" Abram and Veronica "Roni" Garcia, who were all part of Hicks's drug organization. Court documents say that in 2003, Hicks — who by that time had been dealing drugs for ten years and had established himself as a leader — hatched a plan to dominate the crack market in east Denver. It involved the formation of the Elite Eight, a group of eight men who shared drugs, guns, stash houses and customers.

Edwards was the muscle, court documents say. A tall, imposing man, he served as Hicks's bodyguard in addition to selling drugs.

Harris was a supplier. From 2001 until Hicks's arrest in 2006, Harris bought up to five kilograms of cocaine a week from a man named Edgar Diaz-Calderon and sold it to two other men, one of whom was Hicks.

Abram was a "junior member" of the drug conspiracy, apparently with a penchant for armed robbery. He pleaded guilty to robbing a high-end marijuana dealer at gunpoint, with the help of three other people. They took a duffel bag that contained several pounds of marijuana and baggies of crack, two guns and as much as $60,000 in cash.

Garcia was one of Hicks's girlfriends. She ran his hip-hop clothing store/recording studio, the Hott Spott, at 2019 East Colfax Avenue, which was also where the organization stashed guns, money and drugs.

Once the feds had arrested the members of Hicks's drug organization, Fuller and the Denver police detectives assigned to Williams's murder went fishing for information from them. "What happens 99 percent of the time is, people cooperate because they want to get a lower sentence," Fuller says.

Federal sentencing rules are different from state ones; federal time is "real time," Podolak says. "If you're sentenced to twenty years, you're guaranteed to do 85 percent of that time, even if you're on your best behavior," she says. "Some of these individuals [associated with the Elite Eight] had pretty serious prior criminal histories and were looking at upwards of thirty years to life. That creates an incentive to want to come forward and cooperate."

Investigators used the federal charges as a "vice grip" to squeeze information out of people who knew about the murder. "Because they had the federal hammer, that made people talk," Fuller says.

But cooperation didn't happen overnight. "It takes a long time to bring something like this to fruition when there's the 'stop snitching' code of silence," Fuller says. "That's a very real obstacle we face every day."

Some people refused to talk to investigators about Williams's murder. Others — including Edwards, Harris, Abram and Garcia — did. And all of them, with perhaps the exception of Abram, pointed directly at Clark.

Harris provided the most crucial information (see related story, page 18); in return, he received a plea deal in which federal prosecutors will request that a judge sentence him to five years in prison instead of the thirty years to life he previously faced. His deal also stipulates that he can withdraw his guilty plea and take his chances in front of a judge instead.

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