Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

"The Company" Drug Smuggling Ring

A Series of Unexpected Events

On November 21, 1978, U.S. Attorney James Kerr, the lead prosecutor investigating the Chagra network was shot at but not hit while he sat in his car in San Antonia, Texas. One month later, Lee Chagra was gunned down in his office. Then in May 1979 U.S. District Judge John Wood Jr., "known as 'Maximum John' for his tough sentences, was shot behind his San Antonio home" on the same day Jimmy Chagra was set to go on trial before Wood on drug charges, Torsten Ove reported for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Judge Wood was "the first federal judge to be assassinated in this century," Denton wrote. More murders would follow, according to Denton, including a mobster blown up in his car and a witness found "strangled and dumped in a swamp." The high profile attacks "ratcheted up the pressure," Dunne reported, and focused unwanted attention on "The Company," threatening their business and their lives.

Thornton had had it. He didn't want anything more to do with the Chagra organization, fearing that involvement with it would lead to the downfall of "The Company." Yet, Bryant strongly disagreed. He not only wanted to continue a business relationship with the organization but also intended to head their entire South American operation, trading weapons for cocaine. Bryant and Thornton's differences drove a wedge between them, leading to the breakup of "The Company."

Bryant continued with business as usual but not for long. In January 1980, a maid at a Philadelphia hotel informed her manager that she smelled marijuana in one of the hotel rooms. The police were contacted, and when they entered the room they quickly realized that they had stumbled upon a much bigger drug bust then they had initially expected. Inside the room, which was registered to Bryant, they found "a ledger with a list of names and phone numbers, a telephone scrambling device, $25,000 in cash, semi-automatic weapons and a lease to a warehouse in Lexington," Dunne reported. It was clear that the police had hit the mother lode. Soon-thereafter, Bryant was tracked to a Philadelphia airport and arrested.

In the interim, the police investigated the warehouse that was also in Bryant's name. Inside they found even more incriminating evidence, including $250,000 worth of weapons, ammunition and a night vision scope, equipment that Bryant's cousin had stolen for him from the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station in California. Bryant was charged with unregistered weapons possession and released on bond until his trial in 1980. It seemed as if there was no escape for Bryant, with so much evidence leveled against him. However, to the shock of many in the community, including the judge, he was acquitted. Bryant's luck was unbelievable, but it wouldn't last.


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