Drug kingpin. Born on January 26, 1960, Ricky Donnell Ross spent his formative years in Troup, Texas, but soon relocated to Los Angeles, California. A talented tennis player, Ross was noticed by a talent scout while he was playing at a local park. As he and his friends began winning local championships, Ross started taking tennis seriously.
Academics, however, were another matter entirely. Ross was frustrated by his education at Dorsey High School, and failed to see the reasoning behind attending classes or studying. As a result, Ross was barely literate, but because of his athletic abilities he believed he was likely to receive a college scholarship. When Ross’ tennis coach discovered that his student was functionally illiterate, however, all scholarship prospects evaporated
Ross dropped out of high school and, while learning a trade at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College (LATTC), he began stealing and reselling car parts. A subsequent arrest terminated his work as a bookbinder and ended his LATTC tennis prospects. By 1979, he was out of school and looking for a new source of income. A friend approached Ross with some cocaine he had scored at college and suggested Ross sell it. Until then, cocaine was considered a drug too expensive for regular consumption and was all but non-existent in the lower-income areas of Compton and South Central Los Angeles. The region seemed to be a promising, untapped market for an enterprising dealer.
Although Ross didn’t try it for himself until sometime later because of its high price, he did manage to sell it to neighbors and friend at a large profit. His customers were soon clamoring for more. Impressed, Ross decided to go into business as a full-time dealer.
The 19-year-old Ross then met Henry Corrales, a Nicaraguan drug supplier, through a former LATTC instructor. Corrales furnished Ross and his close friend and business partner, Ollie “Big Loc” Newell, with regular quantities of cut-rate cocaine. In turn, Ross and Big Loc, who were connected to the local Crips gang scene in Los Angeles, funneled this inexpensive drug into poorer communities, where demand grew at an exponential rate.
As their success grew, Ross and Big Loc decided to go into business for themselves. To buy the $300 in cocaine they needed to begin their own supply business, they stole a car and stripped it for parts. They used the money to invest in 3 grams of cocaine, and began selling to wealthier clients. By early 1980, after only six months of dealing, Ross and his partner had an exclusive client base and a steady supplier. By 1983, crack cocaine became the inner city drug of choice. Ross even developed a side business of ready-to-smoke freebase cocaine he called “Ready Rock.” The business addition increased sales exponentially, and soon Ross was selling and making freebase in industrial batches and had multiple production houses. At the height of his success, he was able to sell somewhere in the range of $2 to $3 million of crack on a daily basis.
As Ross moved to the top of the drug dealing chain, he began to work directly with suppliers, including Nicaraguan drug trafficker Oscar Danilo Blandón Reyes. Blandón, who was heavily involved in the Contra revolution, was able to provide Ross with the massive quantities of cocaine necessary to keep business booming and customers satisfied. In return, Bladón used the money Ross provided him to fund his Contra rallies against the Nicaraguan Sandinista rulers. Ross became an important link between major Columbian drug cartels and lower level distributors in the United States. In a matter of only a few years, Ross was the head of Los Angeles’ first cocaine ring.
By 1984, Ross began to expand his territory and his wares. While he was still primarily a drug dealer, Ross used his connections with Blandón and the Contras to add guns to his list of offerings. Blandón also supplied Ross with surveillance equipment that helped his suppliers track local patrol cars through their police scanners and block phone calls from tracking equipment. As the South Central Los Angeles market grew saturated, Ross increased his market to include cities such as Kansas City, Oklahoma, New Orleans, St. Louis and Seattle. He then expanded his reach to the East, creating crack and cocaine markets in Atlanta, Miami, New York and Detroit.
Ross’ growing business made a staggering amount of money. To hide the extent of his earnings, Ross invested his fortune in high-priced clothing, boats, a fleet of cars, ski trips to Aspen, and seats to Lakers games. In addition, Ross bought an auto parts store and a hotel near the Harbor Freeway called the Freeway Motor Inn. The Inn, which served as a secure meeting place for dealers and couriers, eventually earned Ross the nickname “Freeway Rick.”
Investigation and Arrest
This amassing of wealth and power caught the attention of authorities, who had been keeping an eye on Blandón’s smuggling activities outside the U.S. They eventually traced Blandón’s activities to his biggest customer: Freeway Ricky Ross. Within three years, police had created the Freeway Ricky Ross Taskforce, a special unit designed specifically to target Ross. In an effort to dismiss unneeded attention, Ross and his girlfriend relocated to Cincinnati to “lie low.” The temptation of a new and untapped market proved to be irresistible, however, and Ross soon infiltrated Cincinnati’s crack market.
With the Cincinnati dealers under his thumb, Ross was now sitting on nearly $5 million worth of real estate, and more money he could spend. Friends and loved ones were gradually becoming addicted to his product, and the police were now hot on his trail in Cincinnati, too. Ross was starting to have second thoughts about his business dealings. He began scaling back on his empire, turning his business over in pieces to smaller dealers and planning an early retirement.
For a time this tactic worked, and Ross successfully dodged the police. But Ross had gotten sloppy. In 1988, a grand jury in Texas issued a fugitive warrant for Ross after it was revealed that he had discussed a cocaine drop with Texas dealers on a monitored line. Later that same year, a New Mexico canine unit intercepted one of Ross’ crack shipments in transit at a Greyhound bus station. The dealer attached to the shipment, Alphonso Jeffries, was taken into custody and grilled for information. He began talking about shipments Ross had made between New York and California. Armed with evidence, including a paper trail with Ross’ fingerprints, the federal goverment issued Ross and 13 others with indictments for cocaine conspiracy in Cincinnati.
Now pursued on a state and federal level, Ross returned to Los Angeles and tried to keep a low profile. In November of 1989, however, a two-man SWAT team captured Ross. The kingpin’s reign was officially over.
Imprisonment and Release
Ross’ guilty plea earned him jail time and, in 1990, he began serving a 10-year sentence. Four years later, police offered Ross the opportunity to shorten his stay by testifying in a federal case. He was released shortly after on parole, and was allowed to keep around $2 million worth of remaining property and money.
After his release, Ross decided to stay clean. He’d purchased a rundown theater in South Central Los Angeles in 1989, shortly before his arrest, with the intentions of rehabbing it and turning it into an outreach center. Suddenly on television as the drug-dealer-turned-philanthropist, hundreds of supporters began to invest in his idea, including politicians, large corporations, religious institutions and even celebrities such as Snoop Doggy Dogg, Magic Johnson and Ice Cube. Ross also began discussing the rights to a book contract and a lucrative film deal about his story. According to Ross, he was finally on a new path.
But the CIA and narcotics agents remined skeptical of Ross’ sudden transformation to philanthropist do-gooder. They had cornered Blandón, who had been caught on tape bragging about his dealings in the drug trade. In exchange for a shortened sentence, a green card, and a $40,000 salary, agents said Blandón would have to become an informant for the DEA. His first job: to lead Freeway Ricky Ross into one last drug deal.
Trapped by the Feds
As soon as Ross appeared on television, Blandón saw his opportunity. He called Ross, saying he admired Ross’ new venture, and invited him over for dinner. Once at the Blandón home, Blandón’s wife told Ross that several of Ross’ former dealers shorted Blandón out of thousands of dollars. They refused to pay it back, she said, and now the Colombians were pushing him for the money, which he didn’t have. Ross denied the family help, saying he wanted to stay away from the drug industry.
Ross returned to prison for a set of pending drug charges in Texas, in which he discussed a drug deal over the phone. He pled guilty to the charge, for which he served a year in Texas prison. After his release in 1993, he returned to his theater project in Los Angeles. But court costs and lawyer fees during his time in prison had made Ross short on funds. Tumbling into bankruptcy, Ross also sold his remaining properties. To pay the debts on his building, he had borrowed $30,000 from a friend and local crack dealer, Leroy “Chico” Brown. The dealer wanted his money back, and Ross was having a difficult time finding the funds from his low-paying job as part of a cleaning crew for a development corporation.
Looking for ways to make a quick buck, Ross called Blandón. Ross’ boss at the development company had a Mercedes that had been rebuilt, but was disatisfied with the end result. Ross wanted Blandón to help him sell the car in Nicaragua for a good price. While on the phone, Blandón tried to cajole Ross into one final moneymaking drug deal, citing their friendship and his own lack of funds as the reason behind this last criminal act. Ross refused the deal, until Blandón threatened to kill one of Ross’ former partners who he claimed owed Blandón money.
Ross finally agreed to introduce his friend, Chico, to Blandón. The two could do business together, and Ross’ debt would be forgiven on both sides. Ross would have no part in selling the drugs, which he had promised he would never do again, and everyone would leave happy. Unfortunately for Ross, the deal was a setup. On March 2, 1995, as Ross approached the Chevy Blazer packed with 100 kilos of cocaine to finalize the deal, police apprehended him. Ross returned to jail.
Although he was initially sentenced to life in prison, the term was reduced to 20 years. While serving his time, Ross formally educated himself and began laying the groundwork for legitimate media efforts. In May of 2009, Ross completed his sentence and was released from prison.
In addition to establishing his social networking site FreewayEnterprise.com, he is in the process of authoring a book, hashing out the terms of a film deal, creating a modeling agency, developing a reality television show and founding a record label. The former drug runner is also interested in bolstering at-risk communities, and is working to create a non-profit foundation to help underprivileged youth.