Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

"The Company" Drug Smuggling Ring

"The Company"

Seal of the Kentucky State Legislature
Seal of the Kentucky State Legislature

In his work as an undercover agent, Thornton quickly developed a reputation for being heavy handed, often resorting to physical aggression during drug busts. However, his brutal tactics were either ignored or simply went unnoticed by his superiors. Free from scrutiny, Thornton became swept up in the excitement of the drug underworld and began selling the drugs he confiscated for enormous profit. He then decided that it would be more profitable to expand his business but that he would need a little help from his friends to get the ball rolling.

Sally Denton
Sally Denton
While Thornton had been hustling and bustling entering the drug trade, his buddy Henry Vance had been fired from his job on the police force in May 1973 for forging the sheriff's name on a weapons order. Within a year, Vance had used his connections to land a new job working for the Kentucky State Legislature, Dunne reported. During that time, Thornton's other friend Bryant had established himself with the elite in Philadelphia and Las Vegas, making a lot of money of his own on the side.

The connections both Bryant and Vance had made would prove useful in the formation of "Executive Protection, Ltd.," a private security service that they started with Thornton. The business, nicknamed "The Company," was in actuality a front for a large-scale drugs and weapons smuggling enterprise. Bryant, the brains of the outfit, used his connections to obtain and manage the capital they needed to run the operation. Thornton, the logistics coordinator and pilot, arranged the transportation of the goods, mostly marijuana, cocaine and guns, flown from as far away as South America back to Lexington, where the cargo would be sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars to dealers throughout the region. Finally, Vance would serve as the inside man, tipping his colleagues to any official investigations into The Company's activities, for which he would receive a significant cut of the profits. To assist in their expanding operations, the men also "recruited operatives, drawing from a pool of former police officers and drug agents from various state, local and federal agencies," Sally Denton wrote in her book The Bluegrass Conspiracy: The Inside Story of Power, Greed, Drugs and Murder.

Book cover: The Bluegrass Conspiracy: The Inside Story of Power, Greed, Drugs and Murder
Book cover: The Bluegrass
Conspiracy: The Inside Story
of Power, Greed, Drugs
and Murder
In January 1977, Thornton finally quit his job with the police department and charged full-throttle into the drug-trafficking business which satisfied his needs for excitement, power and money. It was around this time that the nature of the business began to change. It all started with the mysterious disappearance of Melanie Flynn.