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Says Singleton: "I'm hands-on. I'm involved with everything except for production. I promote, I look for talent, I finance. Starting off [Lock 'Em Down] was basically trying to help family members. The more involved I got in it, the more attached I got to it. I got to love it."
According to DJ Sir Thurl of 100.3 The Beat, at its peak "Money Snap" received nearly 50 plays per week on his radio station. L.E.D. produced two remixes of the song, one featuring members of Nelly's crew, the St. Lunatics. Eventually, major record labels came calling.
"They had a record that was bubbling. It was huge regionally in St. Louis and it spread a little bit outside of St. Louis. I thought the record had a shot," says Al Lindstrom, the CEO of ALMG, a national promotions and management group that works with several major labels and represents artists R. Kelly and Timbaland, among others. "I offered to work the record nationally for them. And they just disappeared. They just never came back. I told them what the cost would be to do the project, and it never happened. They just disappeared."
Ask anyone involved with L.E.D. what happened to Beano and they're quick to blame the DEA investigation.
"That hurts Beano," says Shondale "Diesel" Rounds, L.E.D.'s president. "They say, 'I don't want to fuck with him because he's got all that going on.' Other artists, like T.I. for example, he has a criminal history in his past. It's behind him. People in the industry see this and say, 'He's got it in front of him and we don't want anything to do with it.'"
Singleton admits that he suspected Martin Caldwell was involved in some sort of criminal activity but says he thought it best to keep his head down and not ask questions when he and LaKeith Cross visited Chicago.
"I noticed he had a lot going on," Singleton elaborates. "We'd party all the time. But like I say, you don't just go and ask people [that]. That's not normal. I knew somewhat [that he was a gang leader], but Chicago's west side is known for Vice Lords. But I'm not the type of guy to ask questions. Stuff like that can get you in trouble."
Though Singleton may have been unaware of it at the time, trouble is precisely what he got.
On the afternoon of September 21, 2002, DEA agent William Warren was listening in on Martin Caldwell's phone calls, several of which involved Dewanzel Singleton. According to court documents, Warren heard Singleton tell Caldwell that he wanted to "go an extra one," which Warren took to mean "purchase an additional quantity of cocaine." Singleton asked Caldwell if "it was lovely," which Warren interpreted as "asking if the cocaine [Caldwell] had was of good quality."
Three days after that, agents picked up on another call from Singleton to Caldwell. "I know they know what's up with that lick, man," Singleton said. "The girls all look alike...we ain't found no new girls yet," Caldwell replied. Warren again inferred that the two were arguing about the quality of cocaine.
On October 4, Singleton called again. "Singleton related the last time they had lunch, that 'One of them steaks was medium rare' or 'at least his was,'" Warren's statement reads. "[Caldwell] asked Singleton what happened to it and if he 'put an eat on it.' Singleton related that he still had 'a bite' just to let [Caldwell] 'fuck with it and see it.'
"[Caldwell] and Singleton were discussing the poor quality of a kilogram of cocaine," Warren notes. "Singleton was talking in coded conversation with [Caldwell] and referring to cocaine as steak."
Responds Singleton, who requested and received copies of all the documents the DEA filed: "That's a bunch of garbage. I'm always talking slang. One of the conversations, if my memory serves me correctly, I was actually talking about some girls and I was with my baby's mom, who is crazy, and I'm talking coded with him so she wouldn't understand what I'm talking about. But it's like every time I talk slang [the DEA says] I'm talking about the quality of the drugs."
In early 2003, Singleton says, he became wary of associating with Caldwell. In January of that year, Singleton and some friends had driven two cars to Chicago — his Chevy Impala, and a red GMC Jimmy that belonged to Caldwell. Singleton says Caldwell had agreed to let him use the SUV while Singleton got an alarm and stereo installed in his Impala.
That's not how the DEA tells it. Warren states that on January 15, 2003, Fairview Heights DEA agents got a tip that Singleton was in Chicago and planning to drive the Jimmy back with a load of cocaine. They alerted their colleagues in Chicago, who spotted the vehicle parked in front of Caldwell's house. When Singleton left, the DEA contacted the Illinois State Police, who pulled Singleton over for a traffic violation. Singleton, who was accompanied by two passengers, permitted the officers to search the vehicle. They discovered a hidden compartment that opened electronically. It was empty.