By Sam Levin
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"First it was about Lock 'Em Down. Then they came in to see how I was living, how I was making my money. They went crazy over my real estate company," counters Singleton. "To talk about how it's funny I quadrupled and quintupled my investment — if that's the case, they should lock the appraiser up. I was surprised too. I actually went out and had a cocktail when I found out about [some of the appraisals]."
Singleton's claim that he stopped dealing with Caldwell after DEA agents pulled him over in January 2003 isn't entirely accurate. On August 22 of that year, Singleton transferred to Caldwell the title of a property he owned on State Street in East St. Louis. In return, Singleton was to become manager of a restaurant, called Chubb's, slated to be opened on the site.
"The building was vacant, and [Caldwell] had the idea that he wanted to bring one of those Italian beef restaurants — the Subway-type things up in Chicago — down to East St. Louis," Singleton explains. "It sounded good. I agreed to it. It started OK, but then things wasn't really working out, so I just told him I wanted to get out of the business and he could pay me whatever he feels is right. But he never paid me. He ended up going to jail."
In fact, only two months and a day after the title for the property was transferred, Caldwell was arrested.
Two and a half years later, on May 10, 2006, Caldwell agreed to a deal with federal prosecutors. According to DEA agent Warren's statement, Caldwell told prosecutors that LaKeith Cross introduced him to Singleton in 2000, and that his cousin and Singleton were "partners in the drug business." Caldwell said that at least once a month between 2001 and 2002, he supplied the pair with two to five kilos of cocaine at a cost of $21,000 per. He said that the time Singleton was stopped for driving the GMC, they'd noticed DEA agents watching Caldwell's house and decided not to go through with a transaction. In the plea agreement, Caldwell also asserts that he often referred to cocaine as "girls" when talking on the phone.
"It's kind of like he's in a situation where he couldn't breathe and they came in and brought him oxygen to tear me apart," Singleton says of Caldwell's agreement to testify against him in exchange for a reduced sentence.
The statute of limitations for federal drug crimes is five years, meaning that if the DEA wanted to use Caldwell's testimony involving Singleton and the wiretaps in court, the agency had until September 21, 2007, to make an arrest. They beat the deadline by five weeks.
According to court documents, DEA agents learned on January 3, 2007, that a man named Robert "Big Rob" Bethea, a friend of Singleton who occasionally worked as a driver for L.E.D., had rented two rooms at an Econo Lodge in Caseyville, Illinois. The DEA believed Bethea was a high-level cocaine dealer working for Singleton. The rooms, agents learned, were to be occupied by a man named Jeremy Malone, described in Harper's statement as "a money courier from Dallas."
At 6 a.m. on January 6, Malone left the motel and got behind the wheel of a Ford F-350. He sat in the parking lot and waited for nearly two hours before Singleton arrived driving a rented white Dodge Magnum. Malone slipped into the passenger seat of the Dodge, and the DEA watched the pair drive to Bethea's house in Centreville, then return to the motel.
Just after 4 p.m. that day, several hours after Singleton and Malone parted ways, St. Louis County police pulled over Malone in the F-350, which he had been driving with several large truck tires rolling around unsecured in the truck bed. Malone eventually gave police permission to search the vehicle. In the center console, the officers found a .22 caliber pistol and what appeared to be "a partially opened birthday present." Upon inspection, the "present" contained what officers described as "a very large amount of U.S. currency." In the back seat police found two similarly wrapped boxes, each containing large stacks of cash. The money was later totaled at $642,499. DEA agents arrived and read Malone his rights.
Malone told the DEA that Singleton had given him the money in Bethea's driveway. Warren writes in his statement that Malone "suspected Singleton was a 'drug dealer,' who had given him 'dirty money.'" The DEA confiscated the cash and pistol, gave Malone a receipt for the seized items, and set him free.
On February 13, the same day L.E.D. staffers say the DEA searched their tour bus, agents exercised a search warrant for Singleton's house in Swansea. In a wastebasket in the kitchen, they found a copy of the receipt they'd given Malone.
How, Singleton asks, if the DEA was watching him and Malone the entire time they were together, did they miss the exchange of such a large amount of cash?
"You had the whole thing under surveillance, but all of a sudden when it came time for the transaction, you don't see anything?" he asks. "It says we came and parked — and it's like you ran out of tape. Then you pull him over at four in the evening. You done skipped six, seven hours."
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