The gutted teddy bears were tossed everywhere, the slit carcasses and polyester innards strewn on the floor and kitchen table along with tens of thousands of dollars in fifties and hundreds — stacks of notes being tallied in an automatic money counter. On the table, there was a Glock .45, a Remington .308 sniper rifle, and scores of pharmaceutical vials containing thousands of opiate pills.
Standing at the threshold of a luxury condo in Tampa, Florida, Doug Dodd looked on in horror at the spectacle of a drug dealer's den of iniquity. Dodd was only 19, a student taking business courses at a local community college — when he wasn't busy being a big-time narcotics trafficker — but he could see the obvious: His best friend was out of control.
"What the fuck are you doing?" Dodd shouted, pointing at one of their high school friends sitting at the table. "What's he doing here?" Lance Barabas looked up in surprise from counting the money, clearly stoned out of his mind. This was bad, Dodd knew — very, very bad. It was the summer of 2008, and for the past year, every month Dodd and Barabas were illegally moving an average of 20,000 OxyContin and Roxicodone pills to a network of dealers spread across the country — Tennessee, Alaska, South Carolina, New York. The two kids and their crew were making millions of dollars, but the business was overwhelming them. The teddy bears were how they transported cash, instructing their out-of-state dealers to cut open the bellies of the toys and stuff them with thousands of dollars and then ship them back to Florida by FedEx or UPS. The teddy-bear operation was supposed to be top secret, known only to their inner circle, but now an old high school buddy of theirs was sitting at the table watching Barabas add up the money — incredibly risky and stupid exposure, Dodd believed. At that moment, Dodd was carrying thousands of oxycodone pills — more than enough for a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence in Florida. But Barabas didn't seem to care about security or rudimentary precautions.
"You're just being paranoid," Barabas said, gesturing to their friend. "He's all right."
"You're going to get us busted," Dodd said, clearly frustrated, dropping his load of pills and walking toward the door.
Dodd was beginning to despair of his best friend — known as the Little General for his short stature and Napoleonic tendencies. They'd wrestled together in high school for the Hudson Cobras, both bantam-size balls of muscle, with short hair gelled upward and a punkish attitude. They loved each other like brothers. But the Little General was getting more and more reckless. When they were out on business calls, he'd flash his Glock and threaten to kill anyone who crossed him. When they hit strip clubs, he'd dropped 2,000 bucks buying everyone drinks and lap dances to prove what a big-shot drug dealer he was. Crazy shit, Dodd thought — the kind of behavior that was destined to end with them in handcuffs.
"We were both hooked on our product," Dodd recalls today. "We were high all the time and making bad decisions. But I was afraid of getting busted. Not the Little General — he had to do things his way. There was no talking to him. He was brazen. He wanted to be the new Scarface — only the white-kid version."
The Little General's behavior was increasingly erratic, like the day he walked into a car dealership in Tampa and bought a tricked-out red pickup — entirely in cash. The salesman looked on in disbelief as the kid peeled off $25,000 in fifties and hundreds, forming tidy stacks on the desk.
"So you're in a cash business?" the salesman asked. "Y'all male strippers?"
The Little General grinned. "Something like that," he said.
On the way home, he told Dodd he wanted to get personalized plates for the truck saying Oxy 80s — the name of their favorite and most popular pill. Even though the friends had no visible means of supporting such an extravagant lifestyle, the Little General rented an upscale loft in a fashionable district by the water. His neighbor was the head coach of the NFL's Buccaneers. For his part, Dodd tried to deflect the attention of law enforcement: He still lived with his grandmother in a tiny house in a crime-ridden neighborhood called the Swamp.
The Little General's bachelor pad had floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the water, and a marble bathroom. He routinely threw Blow-style parties, circulating cocaine on silver platters and goblets filled with pain pills to be crushed and snorted. He and Dodd invited dozens of sorority girls to their parties. The Little General would spread tens of thousands of dollars in fifties on his king-size bed and let the girls post selfies in their underwear swimming in cash, or holding one of his rifles.
Evenings, Dodd and the Little General often sat on the balcony overlooking the trendy strip, getting drunk or stoned — usually both. Barabas used the time as an opportunity to have a little fun.
"Lance had a laser sight on his AR-15 rifle," Dodd recalls. "He'd target people walking along the street. Couples would be minding their own business having a nice stroll, and suddenly a red dot would appear on their chest. Most of the time they didn't know it. But a lot of times it would freak them out. Some people would scream — Lance loved that. They'd look up and search to see where the laser was coming from — Lance loved that too. And he was doing this when he knew perfectly well that he had $40,000 in cash and thousands of pills in his apartment if the police came knocking."
"Yes, I did point the laser at people," Barabas allows in an e-mail from prison. "But the gun was never loaded. I was crazy, but I wasn't stupid."
Prisoners pitch me their stories from time to time. But I've never before reported an article based on the manuscript of a tale written by a convicted drug dealer and a major mortgage fraud mastermind, both inmates in a federal facility in Florida. A while back, Doug Dodd and his prison writing partner, Matthew Cox, sent me a document titled "Oxy Rush: From High School Wrestlers to Oxycodone Kingpins," asking if I might be interested in writing about the story. Dodd was serving 80 months for trafficking illegal prescription drugs and money laundering. Cox was doing 26 years for a massive fraud he'd committed by originating fake mortgages and stealing the proceeds. The hundred or so pages they'd written were printed in the form of prison-issue e-mails, with inmate numbers stamped at the top.
I read the description of Dodd's adventures as a teenage drug dealer, and the story described a universe I didn't know existed, the half-crazy swirl of a gang of high school wresting buddies who turned themselves into an extremely unlikely organized-crime enterprise. There was a certain kind of charm to Dodd and his pals, even as they broke the law with abandon. Mostly I liked Dodd's voice: He was a maniac, but he was also smart and observant. He was like a pill-pusher version of The Wolf of Wall Street, it seemed to me, or the mobster Henry Hill in GoodFellas: an insider whose descent into the chaos and collapse of a major criminal conspiracy offered a window into an amazing underworld. So I checked out Dodd's tale — court records, DEA files, press clippings, interviews with two of his co-conspirators. And the story lined up: What follows is his account.
"I was born in 1988, at the end of the Reagan era," Dodd tells me via prison e-mail. "Growing up, virtually everyone around me was selling drugs or doing them. Family, friends, everybody was getting high or making money from it — or both.
"I started smoking pot around 12," Dodd says. "There was something about lighting a bowl and sucking in the smoke — the artificial sense of serenity. In the sixth grade, I thought it would be fun to smoke up on the school bus. I thought I was so cool pulling out my pipe — it never occurred to me that another student would rat me out. That time, the school called the police."
Taken to the Pasco County juvenile holding center outside Tampa, the 13-year-old Dodd was fingerprinted, and his mug shot was taken for the first time. The police called his father, who came to collect him with a heavy sigh. Dodd's parents were divorced, and he knew his mother wouldn't do much. But Dodd's father admonished his son to make better choices in life.
"It was hard to take advice from my father seriously, given the mistakes he'd made in his own life," Dodd wrote. "He was constantly getting caught nailing the waitresses at the restaurants he managed — he found three wives that way. Between my father's affinity for waitresses and my mother's taste for cold beer, their marriage was always doomed."
Growing up poor in hardscrabble towns outside Tampa — working-class neighborhoods of trailer parks, muscle cars and fast-food joints — Dodd ran with a gang of older, tougher kids. With his parents working long hours, Dodd was left to fend for himself and dealt weed in high school to earn pocket money. He also worked nights as a fry cook at joints like Mike's Dockside and Hooters. Which was how his drug-slinging venture really began — to be precise, on the evening of February 10th, 2006. That night, Dodd finished a shift at his crappy seven-bucks-an-hour job. Exhausted by school, wrestling practice, homework and then work, he got in his beater Honda Prelude and lit a blunt. As he drove home, Dodd forgot to turn on his headlights and was pulled over by a cop, who searched the car and found a bag with half an ounce of marijuana.
"You're going to end up in fucking prison!" Dodd recalls his mother screaming when he told her what had happened. "You little idiot."
Dodd didn't like his mother much — she had a bad temper; he says she wrote a letter to the judge saying her son was out of control and she desperately needed help with him. Charged with possession, Dodd pleaded no contest and was sentenced to nine months probation. He was required to undergo drug treatment, and was subject to a curfew that meant he had to go straight home after school. The confinement was torture: He couldn't hang out with his homeboys from the wrestling team — the Little General, Pretty Boy, Sully. He couldn't party. He couldn't deal weed, so he had no money.
Depressed, the 17-year-old Dodd started spending afternoons with an older cousin — a bodybuilder with a fondness for steroids and a hair-trigger temper who'd started to abuse prescription painkillers. Bored, Dodd began to pop the opiates too.
"We spent our time watching Ultimate Fighting Championship getting fucked up on pain pills," Dodd says. "My first time was actually Roxicodone, a milder opiate designed for breakthrough pain. It wasn't a sensational high, like Ecstasy or acid. It gives you a chill, body-buzzed kind of feeling. Pretty soon I was snorting pills every day — they were stronger that way."
Like millions of American teenagers, Dodd had discovered the pleasures of an opioid developed in Germany in 1916 that had been turned into a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States as pharmaceutical companies marketed a synthetic drug designed to treat chronic and severe pain — but that could be repurposed into a recreational high by crushing the pill to disable the time-release mechanism. Hillbilly heroin, as it was called, was pioneered in poor white communities in the Appalachian Mountains in the mid-Nineties. By the middle of the 2000s, oxycodone was a national health crisis, as thousands of people died of overdoses and millions became severely addicted.
Illicit prescription-pill use was bigger than cocaine and heroin combined – Florida had become the Colombia of pain meds.
The economics of pain pills were very different from other illegal substances. The supply chain ran throughout the pharmaceutical industry: Clinics known as pill mills handed out prescriptions to patients with little or no attempt to diagnose an underlying pain condition. Pharmacies gladly profited as they filled countless prescriptions, leading drug companies to manufacture far more medication than was legitimately needed, in order to meet the demand.
Nowhere was the epidemic more intense than in Florida, along the Redneck Riviera, where Dodd lived. Florida's laws didn't require the state to keep a database of prescriptions, so it was exceedingly easy for a patient to see three, four, five, 10, 20 different doctors. Physicians in Florida reportedly wrote 10 times as many prescriptions for pain medication as every other state in the country combined. The statistic beggared belief. The only logical explanation for the vast disparity was that the medical-industrial complex in Florida was complicit in the epidemic.
Law enforcement and legislation struggled to keep up with the burgeoning pill epidemic. The state's response was to impose onerous mandatory minimum sentences for possessing or dealing the pills — even while the medical industry profited from the trade, hypocrisy that didn't escape the notice of the teenage Dodd.
His pill habit growing, Dodd began to consider the idea of selling the painkillers himself: Oxy and roxie were basically semi-legal, he figured, and they were definitely abundant and popular. Dodd's cousin put him in touch with a potbellied biker willing to sell him a hundred 30-milligram Roxicodones for $8 each. Three days later, Dodd had sold them all for $12 apiece, netting a quick $400. The working-class crowd he ran with was happy to buy as many as he could get, it seemed.
As a pot dealer, Dodd had displayed a talent for sourcing a supply and maintaining discipline in his distribution, always prizing caution. He was half-Irish, half-Italian, with criminal histories on both sides of his family, so he'd been schooled in the risks involved in breaking the law. Moreover, his life of poverty had rendered him obsessed with making enough money to escape the trailer parks in the Swamp. Encouraged by his early success, Dodd started to buy the pills from people with prescriptions for more than they needed.
"It was too easy," Dodd recalls. "One buddy connected me with a married couple that had prescriptions. Another hooked me up with some folks he knew, plus there was a guy who I'd met at a drug rehab center who knew people with scripts. Before long I had 2,000 pills coming in every month. I was buying the pills for eight bucks and selling for 15 — or a 10-pack for $120. I could make at least five grand in a month."
By the time his probation was over, Dodd had $50,000 sitting in a safe, and he bought a pearl-white SUV. But the accumulation of cash was worrying him, so Dodd says he turned to a close relative — a longtime gangster freshly out of prison after serving several years for dealing drugs — for guidance on managing money as a drug dealer.
"Rule number two," his gangster relative said. "Don't ever keep all your money in one place."
"You have rules for dealing drugs?" Dodd asked.
"Rule number five: Never deal with anyone you don't know."
"What's number three?"
"Never talk business on the phone."
"Don't use guns, and don't deal with people who do."
"Don't ever keep your product at your house."
"Cease all contact with anyone under state or federal investigation."
Dodd asked if he could have a copy of all these rules.
"Rule number 20: Never write anything down."
Dodd had always been the poorest kid in his gang, a grim reality that had made him more than a little jealous of his friends. Lance Barabas — the Little General — and his older brother Landon, known as Pretty Boy because of his excessive vanity, were "redneck rich," it seemed to Dodd: Their mother ran a homeless shelter called Holy Ground, and they lived in an upmarket double-wide trailer out back. The Little General and Pretty Boy drove new pickup trucks, and they always had pocket money and the comfort of knowing they could afford to go to college. The other member of their inner circle, Richard Sullivan — Sully for short — was also well-to-do, at least compared to Dodd's broken and broke family.
"I had a chip on my shoulder," Dodd tells me. "I wasn't a spoiled little shit like my friends. I'd learned that you can't rely on anyone else. I'd lived in some of the most disgusting places: trailers with holes in the roof, sinking floors and fleas all over. My attitude was to say 'fuck it' when I started to deal pills — I was on my own, and I was going to live with no room for error. I figured I would deal pills long enough to make enough money to go to college and start a business, and then I'd be on my way, never looking back."
Now flush with cash, Dodd would get together with his teenage buddies on the weekends. They'd empty the furniture out of a trailer and turn it into a wrestling cage. A hundred high school students would whoop and holler and get drunk on "hunch punch" — flavored vodka, Everclear, Kool-Aid and cut-up fruit mixed in a 10-gallon container — as they cheered on the wrestlers pulling double-leg takedowns, body slams, rear-naked chokes. They'd light bonfires and drop Ecstasy and make out with cheerleaders until the cops rolled up.
The Hudson Cobras weren't a particularly good wrestling squad, but there was a strong sense of team spirit — and at least among friends, an appetite for illegal substances. Both Dodd and the Little General wrestled at 125 pounds and were constant sparring partners, practicing bear hugs, headlocks, arm drags, every day after school.
"Wrestling is the sport of all sports," Dodd tells me. "It's a warrior sport. Blood, sweat, tears — it's got everything. You don't rely on anyone else. I've always been self-reliant, I guess because I was left alone so much as a kid."
As an act of camaraderie, Dodd shared his stockpile of oxys and roxies with his buddies. The Little General loved the drug from the get-go — "from the rip," in Dodd's words. What began as pleasure became an addiction, and soon Lance Barabas couldn't keep up with the cost of his burgeoning habit. To help his friend finance his usage, Dodd fronted Barabas a hundred pills a week, so he could deal them and fund his habit with the profits.
In the spring of 2007, Dodd graduated high school with honors. He walked across the stage, searching the crowd for his mother's face — she didn't come — and waving to his wrestling buddies as they laughed and waved.
"Of course, I was fucked up on roxies," Dodd recalls. "Even though my mom wasn't there, I felt great that day. I knew that we had a good thing going with the pills. I figured we were headed for the top."
Dodd was right — at least for a while. One afternoon during the summer of 2007, Dodd and the Little General were at the beach in Clearwater, playing volleyball, listening to tunes, popping pills — 30mg roxies, or "blueberries," as they called them because of the color of the tablet. They'd set up a "personal party tent" on the beach to attract girls. The Little General's older brother Pretty Boy was back in town, on summer break, another Hudson graduate, who'd won a scholarship to wrestle at Cumberland University in Tennessee. To get the party rolling, Dodd handed Pretty Boy a couple of complimentary blueberries.
"You know these things go for a dollar a milligram up in Tennessee," Pretty Boy said, snorting the pill. "That's 30 bucks for one blueberry."
"You serious?" Dodd asked.
Dodd and the Little General caught each other's gaze, the same thought traveling through their minds. The money Pretty Boy was talking about in Tennessee — 30 bucks for 30 milligrams of oxycodone — was insane.
"You think you could sell some of them blueberries up there?" the Little General asked his big brother.
"Fuck yeah," Pretty Boy said. "My buddy Justin will get rid of them for me."
Pretty Boy told them that there was huge demand for the pills — wrestlers, football players, students looking to get high. He said people from Tennessee drove down to Florida to get prescriptions because it was so much easier to persuade doctors there to write scripts — and because the state didn't have a medication register, like Tennessee and most other states.
The problem was so vast and well-known, Interstate 75 was commonly referred to as the "Oxy Express."
"They love hillbilly heroin up there," Pretty Boy told them.
At the start of the fall semester, Dodd fronted Pretty Boy 200 blueberries when he went back to Tennessee. A few days later, Pretty Boy called to say he'd sold all of the pills for $4,000. This was big news: Dodd had purchased the drugs for $8, and Pretty Boy had sold them all in one shot for $20 each. They'd more than doubled their money in a matter of days.
That fall, Dodd and Barabas were enrolled in business-management courses at Pasco-Hernando Community College. One morning in class, as the professor reviewed the syllabus for introductory economics, the Little General couldn't stop talking about the potential to sell pain pills through his brother in Tennessee.
"This is huge," Barabas whispered to Dodd. "Have you done the numbers?"
Dodd hushed his friend. He'd done the numbers. A shipment of 500 blueberries, purchased at a bulk-discount rate of $7 apiece, and sold by Landon for $18 apiece, resulted in a profit of $5,500.
"I'll split the profit with you," Barabas whispered.
In the parking lot after class, Dodd told the Little General that he'd get him the pills by nightfall. "But I ain't driving them up to Tennessee," Dodd said.
"Don't worry, I'm going to send them FedEx," Barabas said.
Dodd didn't think that was a good idea: Electronic sniffers and X-ray scans monitored couriered packages for drugs, and they could easily be caught. But the Little General insisted — and when he wanted something, he was unstoppable. Once Dodd amassed the pills, the pair went to a GNC store to prepare their shipment. They bought the makings of a care package a mother might send a wrestler away at college: protein bars, vitamin supplements, muscle magazines. They emptied the vitamin bottles and stuffed them with 500 roxie 30mgs and carefully resealed the plastic caps with clear glue. They sent the package by FedEx, following the tracking number to its safe arrival at Pretty Boy's PO box at college.
The pills sold for 10 grand, says Dodd — all to Pretty Boy's friend Justin. The next week, Pretty Boy said he wanted 1,000 pills. Then he wanted 1,500. Then 2,000 — and that was more than Dodd and the Little General could get. With all the cash coming in, Pretty Boy needed to figure a way to safely ship it down to Florida to fund more purchases. To hide the money, Pretty Boy went to Wal-Mart and bought a teddy bear. He took the bear home, removed the stuffing, and filled the innards with $10,000 in cash. The teddy bear arrived by FedEx the next day, followed by another and then another.
"We were easily clearing 40 grand a month," Dodd recalls. "That's a lot of teddy bears."
The business model was pure genius, he believed. They were sending the pills to one person out of state, and all the legwork was being done in Tennessee. The biggest risk in dealing drugs always involved the number of people you had to interact with.
"Minimum risk, maximum profit," Dodd recalls. "It was so sweet."
As their successes mounted, the Little General began to entertain the idea of putting together a real organization. He wanted a group of associates to help them collect scripts, so they could ship more pills to Tennessee. The price difference between the two states — the arbitrage — was just too attractive not to exploit to the greatest extent possible. He talked openly about becoming a teenage kingpin with a network of dealers throughout the country.
"We need a tight group," Barabas said. "People we can trust. Guys like us."
Dodd didn't share his friend's grandiose ambitions. The pair were a study in opposites: Dodd was careful, canny, acutely aware of the trouble they'd face if they were busted; Barabas was cocky, pig-headed, greedy. Dodd wanted to save a half million — enough for college and his first home, he reasoned — then get out of the game.
"If it's working, why would you quit?" Barabas asked, incredulous.
"Everybody eventually gets caught," Dodd said. "That's one of my rules. Unless you have a reasonable goal and an exit strategy, you're going to end up in prison."
"I don't know about you, but I'm going to need way more than half a million bucks to quit," Barabas said.
"I don't mind helping you get the pills," Dodd said. "But I don't want anything to do with the rest of that other stuff. That's all on you."
The two came to an arrangement. Dodd became the Little General's largest supplier, selling his ample surplus of pills at a handsome profit — but would not move the product across state lines. To launder their money, the pair bought a license to resell electronic cigarettes as well as a couple of vans to shuttle passengers to the airport. The Little General was soon running a roaring business, shipping vitamin bottles stuffed with pills and receiving teddy bears crammed with cash in return.
Their main connection in Tennessee was a college wrestler named Justin Knox, a well-to-do student who'd turned himself into a five-eight, 200-pound gnarl of muscle.
In the winter of 2007, Dodd says Knox drove his new yellow Hummer down the Oxy Express to party with the Little General and Dodd and to propose a new initiative. As Dodd and the Little General snorted pain pills, Knox said he was happy with the business they were doing, but according to Dodd, he wanted to up the stakes.
"Oxy is where the money's at," said Knox. "I can move 10,000 pills a month easy."
"We'll figure something out," the Little General said, nodding at Dodd as if they were in agreement.
But getting the much stronger OxyContin 80mg pills — or "big greens," as they called them — proved to be much more difficult than the lower-dose Roxicodone. People with pain medication were willing to part with 15mg and 30mg roxie pills, but oxys were precious and hoarded.
To solve the shortage issue, Dodd came up with an idea. They could "sponsor" people to get prescriptions; simply paying for the medical process required to get a script was beyond the means of many of the poor white folks who constituted their supply chain. Instead of looking for people with an existing script, Dodd proposed that they generate their own prescriptions: They'd pay for the doctor visits, the MRIs and the drugs. In return, they'd sell exclusively to him at an agreed-upon price of $6 for roxies and $20 for oxys.
Dodd quickly recruited a handful of people to take to the local pill mills — medical practices with names like MD & More Clinic and Doctors 'R Us. Dodd called his growing group of patients "doctor shoppers." He discovered that getting the scripts was comically easy: degenerative disks, herniated disks, lumbar lordosis, sciatica — there were myriad ways back pain could be monetized.
"Some weeks I was able to get 5,000 oxys and not have one problem," Dodd recalls. "The next week so many things would go wrong, I'd be lucky to get a couple of hundred roxies. Some of my doctor shoppers were business-type people, but others were stone-cold junkies. They'd forget to show up for follow-up appointments, or their prescription would expire. Or they'd get so hooked on their pills they wouldn't want to sell them. Or they'd go to rehab. Or get arrested."
One of the main distributors of the pills in Florida was Cardinal Health, a Fortune 500 company that had a facility in Lakeland supplying more than 2,000 pharmacies around the state. Churning out millions of pain pills, they eventually caught notice of law enforcement when their pills found their way to what the DEA called "rogue" pharmacies. In November 2007, Cardinal was suspended from distributing the opioids.
Days after Cardinal's suspension, Dodd and the Little General went to a pharmacy to fill a prescription only to be told there were no drugs left: They'd run out.
"Neither of us had ever heard of a drugstore running out of drugs," Dodd recalls. "At first it seemed kind of funny." But Dodd noticed a drastic change in his business. "Everything quintupled in price," Dodd says. "Some local pharmacies stopped accepting insurance because they were running out of the pills, so they only served cash customers. We had a couple of dozen prescriptions and a good amount of cash, but it wasn't enough to keep up with the demand."
Cardinal Health settled with the DEA in 2008, paying a fine of $34 million with no criminal charges. But business had already gotten back to normal: The War on Drugs was raging in Mexico, but not for pain meds. Illicit prescription-pill use was bigger than cocaine and heroin combined — and all of it surrounded by an air of corporate respectability. Florida had grown into America's own Colombia of pain meds.
With supply humming again, the Little General continued to expand. Pretty Boy met someone from Alaska who mentioned that prices for oxy and roxie were even higher there — as much as double. The Little General soon had another conduit to sell to, in Anchorage. For his UPS shipments to Alaska and Tennessee, the Little General used an alias: Lance Attaway. Scores of packages filled with vitamin bottles stuffed with pain pills were sent each month, and scores of teddy bears returned via courier. The operation was smooth, seemingly seamless.
There were many risks to pill pushing, but the most pressing issue was how to transport the supply around Tampa without risking getting busted by a local cop in a traffic stop. The answer came in the spring of 2008 from another random and dopey incident. On the afternoon of May 9th, Dodd was smoking a joint with a girlfriend when he was pulled over for a faulty brake light. The officer smelled the lingering pot and asked the pair if they were carrying any illegal substances. They said no and agreed to be searched; Dodd was so stoned he forgot he had a bag of weed in his pocket. When the cop looked in the car, he also found a pillbox hidden next to the passenger seat containing nine Roxicodones and two and a half Xanax pills.
After being told he'd face five years in prison, he says, Dodd hired an attorney, who was able to get the pill charge dropped, but he had to plead guilty for the pot. Dodd realized the only safe way to continue was to get his own prescription.
"Lance and I decided we needed to get our own oxy scripts," Dodd recalls. "It was a common tactic used by junkies, to avoid getting busted."
A friend showed the pair how to fake the MRI test: arch your back slightly, twist to apply pressure to your lower spine, and then hold the position while the machine imaged the back. Dodd and the Little General had arrived at the central truth of the pain-pill epidemic: Back pain was difficult to properly diagnose, and the experience of pain was completely subjective. If someone claimed to be suffering, there was really no way to prove they were lying — especially not if the MRI showed any evidence of abnormality.
Dodd's personal physician refused to assist in getting him a prescription for opiate pain medication, despite his extravagant tales about back pain from falling from a ladder and being involved in a car crash; the doctor said the drugs were too addictive and dangerous. But Dodd soon found a more compliant doctor. He then went to a radiology clinic and submitted to the hourlong MRI procedure. Sliding into the cramped, coffin-size space, Dodd arched and twisted his back, as he'd been instructed, but it was hard to maintain the position: He was actually in pain.
But his suffering served a purpose: Dodd succeeded in fooling the machine. The Little General did the same. Their diagnoses were identical: bulging disks.
"We were stoked," Dodd recalls.
The next stop was a pill-mill medical practice. The doctor was older, pale, desiccated. The exam took 30 seconds. Dodd had a script for 240 blueberries, and when he went back a few weeks later for a follow-up, he said he needed something stronger — specifically OxyContin.
"Why didn't you just say so?" the doctor said with a sigh.
Dodd's prescription, which was upped to include 120 oxys, along with 60 Trazodone for sleep, enabled him to travel with a stash of meds without fear. The Little General and Pretty Boy were likewise secure.
"I can't tell you how awesome it was to have my own script," Dodd recalls. "It was only a week later that I was pulled over and the cops found my pills — but I could show them the prescription. So technically, I'd done nothing wrong."
Despite the safety precautions they were taking at home, moving product across the country was becoming a riskier proposition. In the spring of 2008, two shipments from Lance Attaway — one for Alaska, one for Tennessee — vanished from UPS's tracking system. According to an affidavit from a DEA agent, the packages contained roughly 250 pills. When Barabas called UPS, he was told they'd just disappeared. Then the manager called back and said the packages had been found. All Mr. Attaway needed to do was come in to sign some forms before they could be sent on to their destination.
Dodd thought the call sounded fishy. When he and Barabas arrived at the UPS store, Dodd refused to go inside.
"I'll bet there's a fucking narcotics squad in there waiting for you," Dodd said.
"Whatever, bro," the Little General said.
As he describes in his manuscript, Dodd scanned the parking lot outside the strip mall and spotted a black SUV with tinted windows. Two square-jawed federal-agent types were sitting in the idling vehicle.
"Look!" Dodd cried. "Let's get out of here."
"You're so fucking paranoid," Barabas said. But now he eyed the parking lot as well, spotting another nondescript vehicle with two beefy men.
"Still think I'm paranoid?" Dodd asked.
The Little General took out his phone — a prepaid burner. He called the UPS store, asking to speak to the manager.
"I know the cops are trying to set me up," he said. "Put them on the phone."
Moments later, Dodd and Barabas watched as two men exited the car and walked toward the store.
"That was close," Barabas laughed as they sped off.
The brush with the law chastened even the Little General — at least a bit. He decided to start transporting their wares to Tennessee by car, but they were still shipping to Alaska. Still, he and Dodd couldn't agree on tactics. Dodd wanted to do a small number of shipments with large quantities, figuring it would reduce their chances of getting caught. The Little General hated the thought of losing the money if bigger packages were seized, like the thousands of dollars they'd forgone at the UPS store.
Growing weary of the Little General's recklessness, Dodd started doing less business with his best friend. But the Barabas brothers kept going strong, making regular trips between Florida and Tennessee — sometimes bringing along others, like Sully — stuffing thousands of pills in Pringles cans to haul north, returning home with stacks of cash. The brothers were usually completely wacked out on pills when they made the run. Dodd was convinced it was only a matter of time before they were busted, and he put more and more distance between himself and his buddies.
By 2009, the Barabas operation had expanded to South Carolina, and Dodd was shipping a couple of thousand pills a month to a connection in upstate New York. They were now distributing 20,000 pills a month, and the teddy bears were really rolling in. Dodd tried to be inconspicuous, living with his grandmother in the Swamp and attending business classes. But the Little General insisted on living large, with the new truck, the high-end apartment by the water and his ever-growing arsenal of weapons.
Business was great, but the reality was that many of the dudes in their posse were heavy users — junkies in truth — and they were constantly flirting with disaster. Dodd tried to cut down on his usage, but even then he was taking 10 roxies a day, along with a couple of 40mg oxys and a steady supply of hydroponic pot; he'd wake up in the night with cold sweats, and it took a couple of pills simply to get out of bed in the morning.
"OxyContin went from a recreational drug to an all-consuming addiction," Dodd says. "It was destroying everything in my life. My friends and family were getting arrested, overdosing, dying. I decided to cycle off the opiates, but it was much harder than I thought it would be. The aches and pains, the chills and shakes, dry mouth, insomnia — it was terrible.
"Meanwhile, the Little General was partying all the time. I was trying to keep my distance. The idea of hitting a nightclub made me want to snort an oxy. He gave me a hard time about quitting, saying I wasn't fun anymore."
These young dukes of oxy didn't know it, but the world had changed in an important and dangerous way: After years of neglect, in 2008 the DEA started a series of high-level investigations focused on pill pushers. One day Pretty Boy went to collect another shipment at his student PO box in Tennessee, only to be surrounded by police cars in the parking lot and arrested.
"We should stop shipping to Tennessee," Dodd said when he learned of Pretty Boy's bust.
"Are you fucking crazy?" the Little General said. "We need to be shipping more. I'd rather die a legend than live as a man."
"Where'd you get that one?"
"Braveheart," the Little General said, grinning, unaware he was misquoting the film.
Shipments continued apace, only now, according to the crew, the pills were couriered directly to Pretty Boy's friend Justin Knox. The Little General's partying got even further out of hand, as he strutted around Tampa with a concealed Glock. A major bust of another opiate ring in February 2009 did nothing to dampen his spirits. But Dodd watched the TV news report in terror.
"They were guys that lived in the area," he recalls. "I'd seen them at the same pill mills and pharmacies I went to. The organization was run by career criminals with a lot of experience. We were a bunch of kids. If they got caught, I figured we could too."
Dodd's fears proved prescient. In June 2009, Knox was nabbed in Knoxville — not for oxy or roxie, but for smoking pot at his home. They uncovered an arsenal of guns at Knox's apartment, much like the weapons the Little General kept at his place, along with syringes, a blank prescription pad and mountains of paraphernalia. Lance Barabas flew north to help Knox hire a defense attorney. The Little General thought he'd solved the problem. But according to an affidavit from a DEA agent, Knox soon met with the agency and police and spilled everything he knew about the operation — even putting the Little General at the top.
Around the same time, the DEA set up undercover operations on Knox's Tennessee connections and surveillance on the Little General and other key players. Still reckless, despite all the warning signs — the Little General continued talking about packages that contained hundreds of berries and oxys.
"One of the dudes up in Tennessee got visited by some detectives, and they took some of our stuff — pills and cash," Dodd recalls the Little General said in a cellphone call. "But he didn't get arrested. Don't worry: The guy doesn't know we're supplying the stuff."
"What the fuck," Dodd shouted — rightly fearing the call was being recorded by law enforcement. "I don't know what the fuck you're talking about. Don't call me with this shit." Dodd hung up. He knew he was trapped in a multimillion-dollar conspiracy without the faintest idea of how to get out.
Then, in the fall of 2009, Dodd says three packages loaded with pills were intercepted. The FedEx store called the Little General, and the manager told him they'd made a mistake in pricing the packages. Barabas — or Lance Attaway — needed to pick up the parcels or pay the difference. He and Dodd were at a gun range when the call came in.
The Little General didn't hesitate: Put the cops on the phone, he told the manager. Dodd leapt for the phone and hung up. "Are you fucking crazy?" he said
"Fuck 'em," the Little General said. "You want to worry about something, worry about how we're going to replace those pills."
Despite all the heat, most of the crew partied on obliviously. Pretty Boy had moved home to await his fate for the drug charge he faced in Tennessee, but he was still doing pills and hitting clubs. Likewise, the Little General's abuse skyrocketed as he grew skinny and jumpy and increasingly unpredictable. Dodd finally managed to kick the drugs, so he felt in control, at least a little, even if he was filled with dread.
In early October, a dealer in Tennessee was pulled over in a traffic stop in Knoxville, a ploy Dodd believes was engineered by the DEA. The Little General called Dodd, and they met around midnight outside the Florida Aquarium, near the Little General's loft. Barabas admitted to Dodd that the DEA might now be involved. But he claimed that the dealer didn't know who they were.
"So we're cool," the Little General said.
"It's unraveling, Lance," Dodd warned.
"No, it's not. You're wrong."
But Dodd was correct: The DEA was moving. On October 20th in Knoxville, a federal grand jury issued a sealed indictment against Dodd, the Little General, Pretty Boy, Sully and 10 others in their ring. The wrestlers were completely oblivious. The Little General continued to act like he was untouchable, says Dodd, texting and making calls using words that were transparent code for drugs: blueberries, big greens, big dogs. When yet another FedEx package mysteriously disappeared, he lied to Dodd and said that the truck had crashed.
"There were packages all over the road," the Little General said.
"That makes no sense," Dodd said. "If they were all over the road, there would be pills all over the road too. You got to stop — it's fucking stupid."
"If I don't get the pills from you," Barabas said, "I'll get them from someone else."
On the evening of October 25th, 2009, Dodd gave the Little General 400 blueberries and 180 big greens. By then, the Little General had transferred to the University of South Florida, and he was pledging a fraternity. The next morning before dawn, he was in front of the frat house doing jumping jacks in his underwear and being verbally abused by seniors when a dozen DEA agents swarmed onto the lawn demanding to know which one was Lance Barabas.
Dodd remembers he was asleep in his grandmother's house when he was jolted awake by the sound of DEA agents pounding on the door. According to the agency's report, they found nearly 1,000 oxy-codone tablets hidden in his room and around his grandmother's property, as well as his Sig Sauer and Smith & Wesson guns and $23,000 cash. When his grandmother woke up, he says, she was shocked to be told that Dodd was under arrest.
"Oh, dear, not Dougie," she said.
That day, Dodd, the Little General and Pretty Boy stood in the dock in federal court. They were held without bond. Sent to county jail, the Barabas brothers went into opiate withdrawal, rocking, sweating. Dodd looked around the room and was surprised to see one of his cousins. He told Dodd he'd failed a urine test, and so he was in on a probation violation. Dodd told him about the charges he faced: the federal conspiracy indictment, the money laundering, the drugs.
"The prosecutor says I'm looking at 20 years," Dodd said.
His cousin nodded toward the Little General and Pretty Boy moaning and rocking. "You think you can trust your buddies?" he asked.
"I just don't know anymore," Dodd said.
It quickly emerged that the others named in the indictment were cooperating with the DA's office, so Dodd decided to talk too. As the leader of the ring, according to the federal government — and according to his own reckoning — Lance Barabas would receive 15 years, time he continues to serve.
"Dealing drugs was so easy," Dodd tells me, now under house arrest, finishing the final months of his five-year sentence. He's working to become a successful businessman – of the legitimate kind. "Like my old man said, 'Easy come, easy go.' There were so many times when I was with Lance and I'd tell him he was going to get us busted — but I still stuck around. I didn't listen to my own intuition. But the biggest lesson I learned is simple: Don't sell oxys."