On the afternoon of June 10, 1999, suspected drug dealer Xavier Davis was puttering around Aurora in his silver Hyundai when he received a call on his cell phone from his buddy Nathan Brown, aka "Lil' Nate."
Lil' Nate, FBI agents believe, was looking to purchase dope from Davis, who they say was one of the biggest coke 'n' crack dealers in the Denver metro area. Known to both cops and criminals as "Za-Boo," the crafty 27-year-old had trained most of his customers to keep their telephone conversations cryptic.
In the conversation, which was recorded by the FBI and the Aurora Police Department's gang unit, Lil' Nate tells Davis, "Me and my little homeboy funna come through. He's gonna get a little fee-mee-mee-mee."
Davis asks, "A little fee-mee-mee-mee, huh?"
"Yeah," assures Lil' Nate.
Later, surveillance units videotaped a blue Chevrolet pulling into a parking space in front of Davis's Aurora recording studio, Elite Entertainment Group, at 262 Havana Street. The driver -- police believe it was Lil' Nate -- parked it directly next to Davis's silver Hyundai, which was already there. He then walked into the studio and stayed for a few minutes before casually returning to the car carrying what agents describe as "a clear plastic bag in his left hand with what appeared to be a white substance."
Davis came out, too, and got into the passenger side of the blue Chevrolet. That's when the two men began to smoke what agents believe was the fee-mee-mee-mee. Or, as the cops put it: "Based on the totality of the investigation, the agents believe Davis and the male were smoking an illegal substance."
The coded conversation was a teaser for the narcs. They soon learned that if they were going to tag Davis for selling drugs over the high wires, they'd best get hip to the phunky linguistics of the day.
On August 7, 1999, Davis received a phone call from a friend, and the two exchanged polite pleasantries. Then they got down to business. Davis tells the caller, "We're at the house, gonna grab some bomb."
The caller asks, "Where can I meet you all at?"
Before Davis can answer, another voice comes on the line and tells Davis, "Yeah, it's the back of TCI, we ain't there yet, that's why I ain't hit you but shit, it's like you know, where Kerr Macy is, turn left on, what you gonna do, that nigger wanted some bomb, that's why we came here so fast."
Translation: "Based on the totality of the investigation, the agents believed that Davis was agreeing to meet with the unknown male to deliver marijuana."
But how do agents know "some bomb" isn't, say, beef-and-bean burritos with sour cream and guacamole?
"We don't have one person who translates," says FBI spokeswoman Jane Quimby. "It's based on a combination of conversations, agents' street experience and informants' information, all in the context of the [entire] investigation. If an informant comes to an agent and says, 'Hey, when I'm dealing with Joe Blow Drug Dealer, we call it 'tire,' then the agents know what to look for."
Law-enforcement agencies investigating Davis and 22 other suspects in five counties certainly knew what to look for -- and what to listen in on. Last year the eavesdropping helped them score what they repeatedly called "the biggest drug bust in Denver metro history." Just before dawn on September 22, agents raided numerous homes and businesses, concluding a two-year investigation that tracked cocaine and methamphetamines flowing in from Mexico through El Paso and Albuquerque into Denver.
As the investigation wound down, a federal magistrate granted the FBI's request to wiretap the suspects' phone lines and intercept cell-phone conversations. During the final five months, federal snoops compiled more than 10,000 pages of transcripts, a narrative so lengthy only Stephen King could appreciate it -- or afford it. Just last month, the office of the Chief Judge of Appeals for the 10th Circuit Court cut a check for a cool $192,000 to cover the cost of duplicating all video- and audiotapes for defense attorneys. (The telephone argot also forced the FBI to grab a Spanish dictionary. Several hundred conversations were in Spanish, and the government has hired three interpreters, all of whom are working full-time to translate the recordings into English. Since the massive mission is causing delays that threaten the right of Davis and the other defendants to a speedy trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Podolak asked the judge for the rarely used "complex case designation," thus giving the government more time to untie tongues, so to speak.)
According to the government's informants, Davis began his career by selling marijuana for Manual "Psycho" Carrillo, the main target of the investigation. Davis quickly moved into the powder trade, selling several kilos a week at a price of $15,000 to $20,000 each. Elite Entertainment Group was actually a lucrative drugstore, the FBI says, where elite customers came for entertainment.
By July 1999, just one month after Davis was recorded talking to Lil' Nate, business was booming, and Davis chucked the silver Hyundai and bought a 1994 Lexus Sedan from a Denver couple. Davis met the couple in the Tivoli parking lot for a test spin, then pulled out a plastic bag containing $15,500 in cold cash. He expressed his distrust in banks and asked the couple to put the bill of sale in his parents' names. It was a gift for them, Davis said.
Soon afterward, Davis was recorded asking his mother to purchase personalized license plates to go along with his flashy new ride. In the conversation, he sounds eager to skip the paperwork, but his mother reveals her concern:
Mom: "You need registration, bill of sale to get a temporary."
Davis: "OK, for a temporary, how long does it take to get personalized license plates to come back?"
Mom: "I don't know. What are you putting on it?"
Mom: "You'd be less conspicuous with a regular license plate on it."
Translation: "Based on the totality of the investigation, the agents believe that [Davis's mother] was purchasing personalized license plates for Davis's new Lexus."
On the morning of the bust, Davis was easily found sleeping in the master bedroom of his home at 1351 South Peoria Court. A pair of jeans lay next to him with $2,626 in cash and his driver's license in the front pocket. On the dresser was a loaded Glock semi-automatic pistol. In the living room, a K-9 dog named Cindy found 100 grams of crack cocaine behind the center speaker of his 61-inch television set, the court documents note. Two kilogram-sized plastic wrappers, still laced with cocaine residue, were found in the ceiling above a sound room at Elite Entertainment.
Davis was charged with 23 counts of trafficking, some of which carry a minimum mandatory sentence of five years in prison. Until his trial, which is scheduled for August 4, the only calls Xavier Davis makes will come from the Englewood Federal Correctional Institution.
Back in the day, though, he had a better connection. In one of the final recorded conversations, an unidentified man talks with Davis and says the word "powder."
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"Shhhh!" replies Davis.
The unidentified man laughs and tells Davis he's being paranoid, then teases, "So, what, they're going to trace your cell, or what?"
"Shut up," responds Davis.