S2 E08: Operation Backbone
November 19, 2018
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Still hung up on the unsolved murder of Damion Lucas, FBI agent Herm Groman devises an elaborate sting to ensnare the corrupt cops of the Detroit Police Department. Will it bring down Mayor Coleman Young, too?
MIKE: Pier 66, it's where a lot of yachts are kept. Really fancy yachts and a lot of drug dealers have been through there and it's like the TV show Miami Vice or something.
DREW NELLES: This is Mike Diaz. In the early nineties, he was known as a cocaine trafficker living in the capital of American drug smuggling: Miami, Florida.
MIKE: I'm a drug dealer. I'm from Miami. I had jeans on, Hawaiian shirt, solid gold, uh, Rolex Presidential.
DREW: One night, Mike wanted to impress two potential business partners flying in from out of town.
MIKE: I wanted to display that we had a lot of cash and that I was the real deal.
DREW: And to make sure his guests knew he was the real deal, Mike pulled up in a private yacht.
MIKE: A big you know twin screw, a big cruiser. And it was fully stocked with liquor and beer. We would get to these bars on the waterway and everyone's watching us when we pull up and... I had a two inch thick of hundred dollar bills. I was paying the maitre d’s 100 dollars, 200 dollars to take care of us.
DREW: See, Mike's guests were from Detroit... One of them was a drug dealer... The other? ... was a cop.
MIKE: ...we discuss business about bringing drugs into Detroit and having them get a group of police officers to protect our shipment. We just wanted an escort to get out of the Detroit city limits so we're not busted by DEA or FBI or Customs.
DREW: But the one thing Mike Diaz didn't discuss...was the fact that he wasn't Mike Diaz at all.
DREW: So can you just tell us your name and your profession?
MIKE CASTRO: My name is Michael Castro. I was a special agent in the FBI.
DREW: Last week, we told you about the shooting of 13-year-old Damion Lucas, and how it exposed a web of connections between the mayor, the police, and the drug world.
Today on the show, the FBI tries to untangle that web...and bring down some of the most powerful people in Detroit.
I’m Drew Nelles. Welcome to Crimetown.
HERM GROMAN: When I left the drug squad and went to a public official corruption squad. I worked a couple of small cases involving various minor public officials to kind of get my feet wet.
DREW: This is Herm Groman, the FBI agent from the last episode.
GROMAN: I had an agent on the squad that had just arrived from the Virgin Islands doing a tour down there. His name is Mike Castro, a great agent.
CASTRO: I was transferred from the Virgin Islands to the Detroit FBI office. Herm and I, we commuted together, became friends. He was there a couple years before me and told me the history of the public officials in the city of Detroit and it was fascinating. Mayor Coleman Young was the mayor of Detroit. They had cases on him over the years.
DREW: By 1990, the FBI's public corruption squad was trying to back Mayor Coleman Young into a corner with a string of investigations.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: The FBI and a federal grand jury are investigating an alleged million dollar police corruption scheme.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: The purchase of South African gold Krugerrands for the mayor’s private company.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: Charges he had a secret police unit try to dig up dirt.
CASTRO: His reputation was he was highly intelligent, very careful, very corrupt.
DREW: But the FBI couldn’t get anything to stick.
ARCHIVAL COLEMAN YOUNG: Lookit, man I have been hounded for 10 goddamn years, with allegations, rumors, and not one concrete charge. Now after ten years you get tired of that bull***t.
CASTRO: And then Herm told me about the shooting of Damion Lucas.
ARCHIVAL ANCHOR: 13-year old Damion Lucas was killed when someone fired 20 shots into his Detroit home.
CASTRO: He believed that the Detroit cops that investigated homicide were protecting drug dealers. And I was fascinated. And the first thing I said is ‘how come no one is doing anything to get these guys who are corrupt cops?’ And I wanted to do something about it. So did Herm.
DREW: So, Agents Groman and Castro decided they would try to build a case by going undercover in the drug trade. If it worked, they would take down the corrupt cops in the Detroit Police Department ... and maybe even get something on Mayor Coleman Young.
GROMAN: So I suggested that we create a fake drug operation and money laundering operation in an effort to ensnare these corrupt police officers and see where it goes.
CASTRO: People tried to stop us from doing it because it caused friction between the FBI and the police department.
DREW: And what was it called?
CASTRO: Operation Backbone.
DREW: Why Backbone?
CASTRO: Because certain people in our FBI office did not have a backbone.
AUSTIN MITCHELL: So it was kind of a vindictive name then?
CASTRO: We're vindictive, yes.
DREW: Operation Backbone would work like this: Agent Castro would pose as a major drug trafficker from Miami looking for protection in Detroit. His name? Mike Diaz.
DREW: Why did you pick that name?
CASTRO: Well the first name was my first name, and the second name just seemed simple. Easy for me not to forget.
GROMAN: Mike Castro knew the Caribbean real well. He was Hispanic, so he kind of fit the profile.
CASTRO: I am 13 percent Latino.
DREW: 13 percent. Do you speak Spanish?
DREW: With Operation Backbone now under way, the FBI agents knew the perfect person to target first: someone who had ties to the streets, the police department, and the mayor’s office. Coleman Young’s favorite niece: Cathy Volsan.
CASTRO: If I met her outside of this investigation, I wouldn't have thought that she was involved in drugs, very careful about how she wore her clothes, you know very nice clothes. She just seemed sophisticated.
DREW: So an FBI informant arranged a phone call and Mike Diaz invited Cathy Volsan to dinner…
CASTRO: We sat down and looked at the menu, we ordered some cocktails. Steaks. We had steaks.
GROMAN: With uh, Michael Castro posing as Michael Diaz, I sat at a nearby table just to observe it.
CASTRO: ...and Herm is at a table right near us. Probably eating a steak like me. The food was awesome.
GROMAN: Mike said, “Listen you know we've been — just be upfront with you... You know we need to have some connections to make sure that when we come in with a load of money or drugs that we get from point A to point B without the police hitting on us. And she just jumped right in. She said, “Oh yeah.”
CASTRO: She laid it out you know, she's related to the mayor, she's powerful, she has all kinds of connects with police officers who give her information and how she can help out. And she wanted to do business with me.
GROMAN: You know I felt real good about it, I thought OK, if anybody can make this happen, it's her.
DREW: A few weeks later, Mike Diaz called Cathy to tell her that he was coming to town with a briefcase full of cash and he needed protection.
HERM We made it look like Castro had just arrived from a Miami flight into Detroit and prepared a briefcase.
CASTRO: I had all hundred dollar bills covering one dollar bills. We had a command post at the hotel in the airport that's inside the terminal. We had several agents on the outside that were my surveillance team. I was told I couldn't take a gun because they didn't want me to have a firearm at the airport.
CASTRO: So I go to the airport. I'm in my little suit, my little tie, my briefcase of money, the recorder's going. It's noon. No one shows up.
CASTRO: I don't see her. I go down the one terminal I check another terminal, I thought maybe they went to the wrong terminal. Now it’s somewhat after 12, maybe 12:30. I'm getting ready to end it and go back to our command post inside the airport. And I see Cathy.
CASTRO: And she said ‘Hey how are you doing? Here we are and we're ready to go. Here he is. And she's with an older gentleman, who’s walking behind her, who's smartly dressed. And she introduces him as Willie. So I followed him outside. And there is a nice Cadillac there. He got in the driver's seat, Cathy got on the left rear. I got in the right rear. I said ‘OK.’ And I went through the conversation that was my script. ‘I've got this drug money here, I don't want interfered. All I want is a safe escort, protect me to the bank and I will pay you.’ And he goes ‘OK.’
CASTRO: Suddenly another African American big guy got in the right front seat and closed the door. And I go, ‘Who the hell are you?’ And no one says anything. I go, ‘What's going on here, Cathy?’ and Cathy wouldn't look at me. And I got out of the car. And they get out of the car. And they said ‘get back in the car.’ I said I'm not getting back in the car. And they said ‘look behind you.’ And I look behind me, there's a car behind us with four other guys. And I started walking a couple of feet away from them and they start walking with me and I know it's on. Right away, I smell a robbery.
DREW: Agent Castro walked back into the airport terminal. And Willie followed...
CASTRO: Willie, came up to me and he goes ‘well we can do this the easy way or the hard way. And I said ‘you can't have this money’. He goes ‘we want part of it.’ I said ‘let me call my partner in Miami. If I can throw you a bone, I'll throw you a bone.’ But I couldn't because if I gave them part of the money and they saw all one dollar bills, you know what's going to happen to me.
DREW: Agent Castro headed to a pay phone and called the agent running his surveillance team.
CASTRO: I said we got a problem. And I said ‘they want some of the money.’ He goes ‘Can they hear me.’ I go ‘yeah.’ He goes ‘OK where are you right now?.’ I said ‘I'm in the terminal. He said, ‘we don't have you in the terminal.’
CASTRO: I go ‘What do you mean?.’ ‘We have you on I 94.’ I said ‘what are you talking about?’ ‘They're on the Cadillac.’
DREW: After Agent Castro got out of the Cadillac, it had driven off, with Cathy Volsan inside...and the FBI surveillance team had followed. Castro was all alone.
CASTRO: So I said ‘OK, how long will it take before they get here?’ They're about four miles away.’ I just started melting right there. I just knew I was in trouble.
CASTRO: I'm thinking ‘well this has been the end of the case. I don't want to be the end of my life. I'm going to take the briefcase and cave his head in and get arrested by the Wayne County Sheriff's Office. Or I'm going to take the briefcase and just throw it over the metal detector. Cause a commotion and then run through security. I just had all these ideas in my head, but I, I was squirming like a rat.
CASTRO: Suddenly, who do I see? Herm.
CASTRO: And he's walking right towards me. I walked by Herm and as Herm and I were within six inches of each other. I set the briefcase down, Herm picked it up.
CASTRO: I ran through security. Cause I didn't have a gun on me. The metal detector went off and then they wand me and then they let me through and I ran through the airport like the old OJ commercials, I sprinted to the elevator of the hotel at the airport went up to that room of our command post.
CASTRO: You talk about adrenaline. I was jacked up like I was in a war. And I was very angry at our surveillance team. Very angry at everybody and I said as far as I am concerned this case is over.
CASTRO: Herm goes well let's think about it. Herm said ‘you know what we have?’ I go ‘what?’ ‘Mike, you have instant credibility that you're not an undercover agent, that you're not an informant. Because if you were, those guys would be arrested right now. Everyone would come out of the woodwork and jumped them when you were in trouble. By that not happening, gave you instant credibility as being the real deal. I said, “You know, you're right Herm.”
DREW: And Agent Groman mentioned something else. "Willie" was Willie Volsan… Cathy's father.
CASTRO: The mayor’s uh, brother-in-law… and the drug dealer Willie Volsan.
CASTRO: So I called Cathy. ‘I'm sorry Mike it didn't work out. We can do it again.’ I said ‘Put your dad on the phone.’ I think she was in shock.
CASTRO: And I said ‘Hey, Willie you almost got me, but it was for chump change. It was only a million. You want to make a bunch of millions? Let's do business together.
DREW: Willie Volsan and Mike Diaz came up with a new plan. And this time, it wouldn’t just be Willie providing protection.
CASTRO: The plan was “Willie, I'll ride with you in the lead car, and my guy will come in from Miami with the money, will ride with the officer or officers, in a police car and they'll follow us to the bank.
DREW: Agents Groman and Castro would finally get what they wanted: a police escort.
CASTRO: And if there's any problem, Willie, you and I are together you know what I mean? Essentially, it was implied he was my hostage and I was his. That was our guarantee, our insurance policy. He agreed. He agreed right away, very enthusiastic.
DREW: And this is when Operation Backbone started to fall into place.
JIMMY HARRIS: I was approached by Willy. He was always kind of slick, whenever there was a dollar involved, Willy was there.
DREW: This is police sergeant Jimmy Harris...the cop who looked after Cathy Volsan for the mayor.
HARRIS: He kept everything close to his chest, He never mentioned anything other than, you want to make some money? I need you to do a favor for me. He asked me to go with him to pick a guy from the airport and take him to the bank. And I did. Escorted him.
DREW: Willie Volsan, Sgt. Harris and a few other cops picked up Mike Diaz from the airport and drove him to a bank, so he could deposit his cash. Of course...he didn't actually deposit anything.
CASTRO: There was a men's room right next to the front door of the bank in the building. That's where I would hand off the money to another undercover agent. Come back out and I’d pay the bribes. I'd pay cash to the cops. 5,000 sometimes, sometimes more. It was exorbitant for, you know, a 40 minute ride, a car ride.
HARRIS: Nobody talked to me about laundering anything or any illegal activity.
DREW: But Sgt. Harris’s memory of all this is...hazy.
HARRIS: I just really believed that it was just picking up a friend of Willy’s and taking him to the bank.
CASTRO: And I would absolutely tell them why I was paying them the money. ‘Hey thanks for protecting it.’ ‘I didn't want the frikken DEA...’ You know I'd have a conversation recorded. He clearly understood what he was about to get into.
HARRIS: And we drive away. And I'm thinking, man this is easy.
CASTRO: So we did four one million dollar money laundering operations like that.
DREW: The FBI agents collected enough incriminating tape to put several cops away for a long time. But they wanted to see how high up all this corruption went. So, Mike Diaz approached Sgt. Harris with a proposition.
HARRIS: Mike asked me about a friend of his, that had some business, and he wanted to transport some, uh, I don't think he used drugs, the term drugs. I forget the term used, but it amounted to drugs, yeah. Coming into Detroit.
HARRIS: I kind of was kind of skeptical at that time. I talked to Willy afterwards. Man. I said, ‘Listen, what the hell is going on you know?.’ That kind of stuff.
DREW: So, what happens next?
HARRIS: I think I went to Florida.
GROMAN: We decided, just to kind of bolster the story, we would make arrangements to fly Willie Volsan and James Harris down to Miami first class...
DREW: Again, FBI agent Herm Groman.
GROMAN: We had them picked up in, in a Cadillac, drove them over to, uh, the dock area. We arranged to have an undercover FBI yacht.
DREW: On the yacht, undercover agent Mike Castro, posing as cocaine trafficker Mike Diaz, would be waiting in his Hawaiian shirt and Rolex Presidential.
GROMAN: And this yacht was fully operational. It had a complete crew with undercover agents...
GROMAN: You could record conversations and so forth, both on video and otherwise.
CASTRO: So ready to talk a little business?
WILLIE VOLSAN: Yes. Let's start.
DREW: You’re listening to an undercover FBI video from the yacht. Agent Castro had already convinced Sgt. Harris and Willie Volsan to help him launder drug money. Now it was time to up the ante.
OTHER FBI AGENT: We're gonna probably, uh, ship up in a plane around a 100 keys.
DREW: In the video, Sgt. Harris and Willie Volsan are sitting on a white couch, listening as Mike Castro and another undercover agent walk them through the plan.
CASTRO: Hey listen, it would be very similar to the money laundering thing. You guys would arrive at the airport.
CASTRO: And you can give us a heads up on any police that are in the area.
CASTRO: Ok. Make sure that my people, our people load up the truck, get out of the airport and get out of Detroit.
HARRIS: OK. Stop right, that's a problem...It's not not a problem, it's something that maybe I'm, wouldn't have... You say loaded a truck, now is the truck going to be on the ramp inside of the...
CASTRO: No no, it will be like, it'll look legitimate. I mean, it wouldn't be drugs on the outside of the containers. Only us and you will know it's drugs. No one else is going to know anything.
HARRIS: Oh shit, that ain't no problem. You know I'm thinking, lemme tell, I'm thinking about where the plane lands and before you get on the tarp, yeah. Oh. OK.
OTHER FBI AGENT: No we will go to a isolated area of the airport, or wherever.
CASTRO: This is going to look legitimate!
OTHER FBI AGENT: Let me ask you this, Jimmy, like, say there's a call coming across for suspicious action going on in the northwest corner of the airport or something like that. Would that go to a certain, uhh precinct or...
HARRIS: It go, it would go to 0-7 dispatch and I could just keep my radio on the 0-7 dispatch.
OTHER FBI AGENT: Um, could you respond to that call or, uh...
HARRIS: "Radio, 2571, cancel that run. Everything is under control here."
CASTRO: Perfect. that sounds good partner.
CASTRO: So we got a deal?
VOLSAN AND HARRIS: Yep.
DREW: That's how the FBI agents convinced several cops and the mayor's brother in law to help them fly 100 kilos of cocaine into Detroit. Again, Agent Groman.
GROMAN: They would be bundled up bags of fake cocaine, actually flour, duct taped and placed in duffel bags aboard the aircraft. We actually put one kilo of real cocaine in with it.
DREW: Sgt. Harris did several runs like this.
DREW: About how many drug runs would you say you did?
JAMES: I don't recall. I only remember one maybe two drug -- two or three drug runs.
DREW: Do you remember how much money you received in total?
JAMES: No I don’t. You’d have asked me 20 years ago I could have told you.
DREW: But Agent Groman and Agent Castro wanted to move up the food chain...and get the guy who they believed covered up the murder of a thirteen year old boy...
GROMAN: Throughout the entire time, Willie Volsan would continually brag about his relationship with Gil Hill.
DREW: Gil Hill, the head of homicide at the Detroit police department.
GROMAN: Willie Volsan, he would say things like ‘You know when you see Gil Hill on TV, you see that watch? I bought that. You see those nice shoes he's got, those four hundred dollar shoes? I paid for those.’
DREW: So the FBI agents hatched a plan to bug Willie Volsan’s car. Then, Mike Diaz asked him to broker a meeting with Gil Hill.
GROMAN: So they meet at a Bob Evans restaurant in suburban Detroit. And as they walk in, people recognize Gil Hill because of his local fame and he's actually giving autographs.
CASTRO: He was just like the guy in the movie with Beverly Hills Cop just like that's him. He's well-dressed sort of arrogant, real polite in a condescending way. He has a superiority complex I think. He was bigger in his mind than we were.
GROMAN: Mike said ‘well, I'm just going to be upfront about it. I handle the money from our drug operation. So we need some way to launder our drug funds through a business, through a financial institution, something of that nature. Willie says that you're a man of influence in town and you could help us out.’ Gil kind of contemplated it for a little while and he said ‘Well you know, I don't know, let me think about it.’ So the meeting was ended.
GROMAN: Gil Hill and Willie Volsan go out and they sit in the car, which is monitored and Gil said ‘Man that guy was pretty upfront’ and Willie said ‘that's the way he is. He wants you to know exactly what you're involved in’ and Gill said ‘Well you know, I do know a guy. But you know I'm going to have to get some money.’ Willie said ‘don't worry about it. These guys are loaded. They got plenty of money.’
GROMAN: And I think Gil Hill at that point, he just got squeamish about it. You know he was a savvy police officer for 30 years. I mean he knew that Willie Volsan had some dubious contacts. To make a long story short, it just didn't work out.
DREW: But the FBI agents had one more card to play...
HARRIS: When Gil got exposed in the movie Beverly Hills Cop he became an instant star in Detroit...
DREW: Sgt. Jimmy Harris and Gil HIll were close.
JIMMY: ...and the mayor wanted people around him that he could trust. And the mayor promoted Gil Hill to be commander. And that gave us a little bit more juice. Gil Hill and I were friends, but when I got money from these drug dealers, Gil was always there with his hand out, you know…
DREW: Agent Groman thought they might be able to flip Sgt. Harris…
GROMAN: And ultimately, the goal was for him to start wearing a wire on Gil Hill and other corrupt police officers, and you know the connection with the mayor and uh, take it up the food chain as far as we could go. But he would be a difficult nut to crack. We'd have one shot at it.
DREW: So Mike Diaz called up Sgt. Harris for one last drug run...
GROMAN: After the drug deal went down, we instructed Harris to come back to a hotel room in suburban Detroit to meet with Castro. By himself. We wanted to quietly arrest Harris without incident. I mean, don't forget these these guys are all armed. In an adjoining room we had agents, including myself, and a SWAT team. So we could take him down with overwhelming force.
HARRIS: After we got it unloaded, I drove back to the Hyatt hotel to pick up the fifty thousand dollars they were supposed to be paid, so I could split with the rest of the guys.
CASTRO: I hid the 50 grand in a basket of bread, underneath the bread. ‘Here’s your bread’ and I showed him the bread. Jimmy's looking at it, he’s not saying anything and I said ‘I'm just kidding.’ I took the white cloth that was holding the bread and underneath was 50 grand and I unfolded it like a deck of cards. And I said ‘Jimmy, can you see this? That this is green money, can you see it? I want you to say that you can see it.’ He says ‘I can see it.’
GROMAN: The meeting was successful. and they're going to have a celebratory drink. Harris loved Absolut Vodka. So we had a bottle of vodka in there and some other stuff. But we had no ice.
CASTRO: And the code was, to get him arrested, is I'm going to go get some ice. And I said ‘Oh we need ice.’
GROMAN: So Castro, he said ‘I'll be right back.’ He leaves the room, instead of him coming back... The SWAT team comes back.
GROMAN: They knock on the door.
HARRIS: And at that point is when the doors busted open, just came in with guns drawn.
CASTRO: Dressed in black, body armor carrying a submachine gun, and they came in and took him down.
HARRIS: They said, FBI agents, hit the floor! And I did.
DREW: And what did you think?
HARRIS: What did I think? When they said “FBI agents, hit the floor?” Are you serious? What did I think?
DREW: I gotta ask you.
HARRIS: Oh you had to ask. I thought they were FBI agents.
SORAYA SHOCKLEY: What were you feeling though when that happened?
HARRIS: Like a piece of shit. Well this is what this was about.
DREW: So what happened next? They arrest you...
HARRIS: They put a bag over my head and took me down to FBI headquarters.
GROMAN: We set him down in a conference room.
DREW: Agent Herm Groman.
GROMAN: We had a file cabinet set up and we had blown-up physical surveillance of him meeting with Castro.
GROMAN: We had old coffee cups old pizza boxes. Newspapers. All kinds of stuff. It's all fake.
GROMAN: We had files in there that didn't contain any files, but had his name, had Jimmy Harris, had you know some of the other corrupt officers names on it. To show him the gravity of this situation and demonstrate to him that he was a, you know, a main target of the FBI.
HARRIS: They tried to get me to tell about police corruption, wanted to know all the things that I did for Mayor Young. Wanted me to uh, plead guilty and testify. They weren't nasty or anything.
DREW: But you guys were kinda yelling at each other.
JIMMY: I might have.
CASTRO: The first thing Jimmy said, “You don't think I know what this is? It's all staged.”
DREW: Agent Mike Castro.
CASTRO: Said Jimmy, life as you know it is over. You're no longer going to be a police officer ‘you're going to wind up going to trial and we have such good evidence. We have you on tape. You're going to go, go to prison.
CASTRO: You know the drill, we want you to work with us and be on our team and continue this.
CASTRO: He just kept shaking his head ‘I can't do it. Can't do it.’ He took responsibility. He just wouldn't turn on his guys.
HARRIS: I didn't talk to them. And they took me away and I went to Wayne County Jail.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: A major story is breaking at this hour. The Newsbeat has learned of a big crackdown on police corruption in Detroit. These charges stem from an FBI sting operation that has caught at least one officer accepting a payoff to protect drug shipments into the area...
DREW: Operation Backbone was done. The FBI arrested 11 cops, as well as several civilians.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: The FBI also announced that Cathy Volsan Curry, the niece of Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, was arrested for accepting money for introducing undercover FBI agents to Sergeant Jimmy Harris. Her father, Willie Volsan, was also named in an arrest warrant in the case.
DREW: Willie Volsan was convicted and sentenced to 19 years. Cathy Volsan was ultimately not charged.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: This is at least the seventh federal probe of Detroit cops or city officials in the past 15 years. But agents say this case, is especially disturbing.
DREW: We asked Cathy for an interview, but she has never spoken to the media about any of this, and she declined our request too.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: Agents say Cathy Volsan Curry was familiar with Jimmy Harris, which allowed her to be the unwitting go-between in the probe.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: Now, just a few moments ago, Sgt Jimmy Harris was brought into the federal courthouse here by FBI agents, he is going to be arraigned in just a few moments…
DREW: Sgt. Jimmy Harris was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He got out after serving 15.
HARRIS: The only time I’ve ever done anything illegal is when I met FBI agents. [laughs]
DREW: But do, I mean, do you wish you had cooperated?
HARRIS: Well- but see I'm a loyal person. If I had a cooperatated then I’d have to bring people in like the mayor, his family. And then how could I come back to Detroit and face these people? You know they’d all remember and say ‘goddamn Jimmy Harris told em, you know, testified against the mayor and police officers and other people you know.’
HARRIS: But I didn't really know anything about any corruption.
DREW: The FBI was never able to make a case against Coleman Young. And in 1993, a month after the final convictions in Operation Backbone, the mayor called a press conference.
ARCHIVAL COLEMAN YOUNG: I’ve given considerable thought in recent weeks and months to the future. I have decided 20 years is enough. I shall not seek another term as mayor of Detroit….
DREW: Coleman Young was seventy-five years old. He’d been in office for five terms...one of the longest tenures of any big-city mayor in U.S history.
ARCHIVAL YOUNG: I’ve devoted the past 20 years serving the city of Detroit as its mayor. These years have brought revolutionary change to the city of Detroit. We have changed city government. We have changed our riverfront. We have changed our police department.
DREW: But Mayor Young still couldn’t escape questions about all those federal investigations.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: Mayor, do you think the federal government will back off a little bit? You have often said you had felt that they were trying to get something on you or, um…
ARCHIVAL YOUNG: I cannot answer you for what the probable conduct of the federal government will be. You oughta ask the federal attorney general. Or the FBI. But there’ve been many, many instances of entrapment. In fact that seems to be the chief tool being used by the federal government now. Entrapment.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: Mr Mayor, do you have any thoughts about you will be remembered in the history of Detroit and any preference as to what the history books will say about you?
ARCHIVAL YOUNG: Well, um, history means “his story.” And if I don’t or if a friend of mine doesn’t write it, I’m in bad shape. [LAUGHTER]
DREW: Next time on Crimetown…Detroit says a final goodbye to Coleman Young...and some unlikely admirers pay their respects.
DIMITRI MUGIANIS: As a junkie, an active user, I went to his funeral. Anybody who could stand up to the fucking feds for decades, and they never got shit on him, I’ll walk by his casket any time.
DREW: That’s coming up in two weeks on Crimetown. We’re taking Thanksgiving off, but we’ll be back on December 3rd.
Crimetown is Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier. This season is made in partnership with Gimlet Media and Spotify.
This episode was produced by Rob Szypko, Ryan Murdock, John White, Soraya Shockley, Samantha Lee, and Austin Mitchell.
The senior producer is me, Drew Nelles.
Editing by Zac Stuart-Pontier and Marc Smerling.
Fact-checking by Jennifer Blackman.
This episode was mixed, sound designed, and scored by Kenny Kusiak.
We’ve added a Crimetown companion playlist on Spotify. We’ll add songs on Mondays to complement each new episode. There’ll be Detroit classics from Motown to hip hop, tracks we used in the episodes, and other songs about the Motor City.
Head over to crimetownmusic.com to check it out.
Some of my favorites are “Please Mr Foreman” by Joe Lee Carter, “Detroit Blues” by Bill McAdoo, and “Uncle Sam Says” by Josh White.
Original music this season composed by Homer Steinweiss.
We recorded some original music at Rustbelt Studios in Detroit in partnership with Detroit Sound Conservancy. Special thanks to Carleton Gholz and Maurice “Pirahnahead” Herd.
Additional music by Kenny Kusiak, John Kusiak, Jon Ivans, and Benny Reid, and additional mixing by Bobby Lord.
Our theme song is “Politicians In My Eyes” by Death.
Our credit music this week is “Cash Flow” by Detroit Soul Ambassador Melvin Davis.
Archival research by Brennan Rees.
Show art and design by James Cabrera and Elise Harven.
We’re on Facebook and Instagram @crimetownshow, and on Twitter @crimetown.
Thanks to the Detroit Free Press, Peter Bhatia, Jim Schaeffer, Mary Schroeder, Mary Wallace, the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University, Melissa Samson, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History, the Detroit Historical Society, Brendan Roney, Kevin Dietz, Zak Rosen, Martin Torgler, Ralph Musilli, Evan Hughes, and everyone who shared their stories with us. Detroit is an amazing place, and we’re honored to tell a small part of its story.
Alex Blumberg is the podfather. Every payday, he comes over and unfolds my money like a deck of cards. And he says, “Drew, can you see this? That this is green money, can you see it? I want you to say that you can see it.” And I say, “I can see it.”
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