Lock 'Em Down, Lock 'Em Up

Did Lock 'Em Down Records exec Dewanzel Singleton lead a well-choreographed double life, or did the DEA finger an innocent man?

"The DEA agent approaches me, and he's talking about all these drugs that were in the car and this hidden compartment, and he knew everything about the car," Singleton recalls. "I said go ahead and search the car. It was Caldwell's truck, I didn't even know the hidden compartment was in the vehicle.

"At that point I just stopped dealing with Caldwell completely, period," Singleton says. "Because I felt like he was trying to set me up, or that the DEA was all over him. I didn't want any part of it."

The Chicago run-in was not Singleton's first brush with the law, however. Although he has never been convicted of a crime, he's had his share of close shaves, all of which DEA agent Jarad Harper lays out in his statement. The first came in December 1999, when Singleton was the passenger in a 1990 Chevy Caprice that was stopped during a "roadside safety check" near Springfield, Illinois. Police found 70 grams of cocaine in the armrest of the rear passenger door. Singleton and the driver were arrested for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver, but the charges were eventually dropped. Singleton says he didn't know the drugs were in the car and that the driver successfully argued in court that the stop and search were discriminatory. (A court clerk in Sangamon County verifies that Dewanzel Singleton was fined $55 for a seatbelt violation and says the county has no record of any criminal charge. The clerk suggests that the record may have been expunged.)

On October 31, 2002, Singleton gave DEA agents permission to search a room he was renting at a Motel 6 in Caseyville, Illinois. They found what Harper describes in his complaint as "[a] large mixing bowl and a large scale...consistent with being used by drug traffickers to weigh drugs for distribution." Singleton says he used the scale to weigh out marijuana for personal use. At any rate, when the DEA found the items, they were clean.

On June 3, 2003, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol stopped a rented Lincoln Navigator in which Singleton was one of five passengers. The troopers found $189,000 in cash stuffed in socks that were concealed in a rear door of the vehicle. Everyone denied ownership of the cash. The officers confiscated the money but sent the travelers on their way.

L.E.D. is not a record label in the traditional sense of the term. While more than a dozen local rappers and singers have been signed to deals with the company and its subsidiary, L.E.D. Reggae, neither entity has recorded a single full-length album. The organization focuses on recording, releasing and promoting singles, with the hope that a song will catch fire and become the hip-hop equivalent of the lotto jackpot: a radio hit that leads to a major-label deal and a multimillion-dollar recording contract.

"We'll burn a copy of a song out of our studio and take it to certain DJs, take it to the radio personnel. They'll try it. And if it's hot, if they like it, they play it for us," John Bacon explains. "But we never really took it to record stores. That was our next step."

In his statement, DEA agent Harper questions how, given the lack of revenue, L.E.D. was able to pay its bills. He claims the company was "financially supported by suspected illegal drug proceeds."

L.E.D. vice president Marceo Haywood scoffs at the notion, saying the company didn't have much overhead to cover. "It's not a monetary thing," Haywood contends. "It might cost you a tank of gas, but you can be outside the club passing out fliers, instead of inside it. A lot of the stuff that people look at and say, 'Wow, how did you do it?' — it wasn't necessarily money. You just have to think outside the box. A lot of events that you hear about as ours, they weren't ours. We were just there."

Adds Bacon: "Some of [the money] was generated by the label, but a lot of time it came out of our pockets."

Much of that funding came from Singleton's real estate profits.

Because Singleton only filed taxes twice between 2001 and 2006, it's hard to say how profitable his ventures were. The two years for which he did file, 2004 and 2005, his adjusted gross income is listed at $27,000 and $64,000, respectively. Singleton Investments was formed in 2005. The company did not file taxes that year and his return for 2006 was improperly filed, resulting in $1,600 in penalties, which Singleton has since paid.

Of the fourteen homes he bought and sold over the past eight years, documents on file in St. Clair County show that Singleton frequently grossed more than $50,000 per transaction. One home he purchased in November 2005 was resold in December 2006, grossing more than $87,000. Those numbers do not include expenses such as building materials, which Singleton likely incurred.

Singleton's court file includes a financial analysis undertaken by R. John Schuster, an agent with the Metropolitan Enforcement Group of Southern Illinois, a state drug task force. Schuster, a former IRS investigator, estimates Singleton's real estate transactions generated an income of more than $383,000 between 2003 and 2006, while the value of his assets — including the $189,000 seized by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol in 2003 — increased at least $859,000 during that time.

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