EPISODE FOUR: THE KINGPINS' KIDS
RON GARIBOTTO: Well, I was a Latin and Greek teacher for three years. I was suffering from terminal boredom.
DREW NELLES: This is Ron Garibotto. In the late sixties, he was working as a teacher in Boston… and he needed a change of pace.
GARIBOTTO: I happened to be reading Parade Magazine, you know comes out in the Sunday edition, and there was a section on how you become a Secret Service Agent. It seemed like it was a chance for some adventure. I applied for the Secret Service but they weren't hiring. But the DEA called me up and and said, well you want to come in and talk to us? They needed somebody to go to Detroit. And I was assigned to Detroit right out of basic agent school. So, I drove in seeing and experiencing Detroit for the first time by myself. And it was a bit of an eye opener. I mean, when I got there it looked like I would think Berlin would look like in 1945.
DREW: As he drove into Detroit, Agent Garibotto looked out the window at block after block of burned out buildings…and single family homes turned into dope houses.
GARIBOTTO: The dope traffic had taken hold. Heroin was the main agent in the virtual destruction of the city.
DREW: And almost from the moment he arrived, he kept hearing about this one particular heroin ring.
GARIBOTTO: I had heard about the Eddie Jackson organization which was a substantial heroin trafficking organization. I decided that I was going to cut my teeth on the Jackson organization. It was time for me to spread my wings and fly.
DREW: Previously on the show, we told you about how two childhood friends, Eddie Jackson and Courtney Brown, took advantage of Detroit’s economic downturn to start one of the city’s biggest heroin operations. And then, they moved their families to the suburbs.
Today’s episode...Eddie and Courtney go up against the DEA, and it all comes crashing down.
I’m Drew Nelles. Welcome to Crimetown.
DREW: What did you think your dad did for a living?
COURTNEY BROWN JR. Brought home duffel bags of money. [laughter] I did! Because he would! Literally bring home duffel bags. Literally army green duffel bags full of money.
DREW: This is Courtney Brown’s son...Courtney Brown Jr. As a kid, he didn’t know how his dad made money...but he knew there was a lot of it.
BROWN JR: And sometimes we'd go down to his office and we'd count money together.
DREW: You you would count money with your dad?
BROWN JR.: Yeah. Yeah.
DREW: What did that look like?
BROWN JR.: Looked like an office with a couple little games in it and a desk full of money.
DREW: What amount of money are we talking about here? Like, an average count with your pop? How much?
BROWN JR.: I don't know...Dad, how much money you bringing home a day? If you did all the collections?
COURTNEY BROWN SR..: Maybe about 20 thousand.
DREW: 20 thousand a day? That’s a lot of money.
BROWN JR.: Yeah, especially in 73 or 72.
JOHN WHITE: So I'm trying to picture it: father and son in the basement and just counting money. Is this like a bonding moment between you two?
BROWN JR.: I thought it to be.
DREW: And with all that money, the Brown family went looking for a new home… in the suburbs.
BROWN JR: And it was only like a 10 minute drive. But once you turned off of 8 Mile, all of a sudden you just, the homes are three times the size of regular homes and people have well-manicured lawns.
BROWN JR.: My dad tells my mother, “That's the house that we're going to buy.”
DREW: What did you think? What went through your head?
BROWN JR.: This is going to be fun. This is going to be fun. ‘Cause it was truly like people lived on television. Um, Smokey Robinson lived down the other street, we'd ride our bike on his grass, his wife come out and yell at us. It was African-American nirvana.
DREW: Right next door lived the Fat Man himself… Eddie Jackson. And his son, Eddie Jr.
JOHN: One of your neighbors was Courtney Brown. Can you tell me about what...?
EDDIE JACKSON JR.: That’s my first friend. We were best friends.
JOHN: Did you know that Courtney Senior was in business with your father?
JACKSON JR.: Not really. I knew they were close friends. But I, you know, at that point I just thought that Pop owned a lot of property, Courtney was doing whatever he was doing, I wasn’t really concerned about money like that. You know, as long as I had it and could do what I wanted.
DREW: Just like their fathers, Eddie Jr. and Courtney Jr. were opposites. While Courtney Jr. was learning accounting with his dad...Eddie Jr. was causing trouble.
JOHN: What kind of kid were you?
PATRICIA JACKSON: [laughs]
EDDIE JACKSON JR.: Bad
JOHN: How bad were you?
EDDIE JACKSON JR.: I’m running down the brand new Rolls Royce with a fork scratching the side of that mother fucker up... Because I wanted to go to Circus Circus World in Northland
JOHN: What’s that, an--
EDDIE JACKSON JR.: It was a toy store. Circus Circus World. I wanted what I wanted. If he was too busy to take me goddammit I was going to protest.
JOHN: So were you guys spoiled?
EDDIE JACKSON JR.: I would say so, yes.
JOHN: Do you have a favorite memory of him as a kid?
PATRICIA JACKSON: It’s too many. Just being able to sit on his lap when he come in the house.
DREW: This is Patricia Jackson. She and her brother adored their father.
ROB: And what would that be like?
PATRICIA JACKSON: Complete joy. Just-- It's hard to explain.
EDDIE JACKSON JR.: And he’s playing with you all at the same time boogidy boogidy boo, as a kid you in heaven like wow. He was the type of person that electricity jumped from. There was nothing he couldn’t do.
PATRICIA JACKSON: When I saw my father I saw nothing but peace and security and serenity because anything he ever said he made come true.
DREW: But the kids’ sense of peace and security wouldn’t last long, because across the street from the Jackson home, a man sat in an unmarked car, watching...
GARIBOTTO: Whenever I had some free time I would, by myself generally, surveil Eddie Jackson.
DREW: ...DEA Agent Ron Garibotto. He started building a case against the Jackson organization...by following Eddie everywhere.
GARIBOTTO: Eddie’s entourage looked like they are refugees from Louis the Fourteenth’s court at Versailles. I mean they would wear these plumed hats, white suits with knickers and big sort of pilgrim shoes with big brass buckles. And he was always of course surrounded by a phalanx of flashy women. I hate to use the expression, ladies of the night, but they were always dressed to the nines showing all their assets at all times.
DREW: And it was one of those ladies who helped bring about the beginning of Eddie’s downfall.
LARRY MONGO: When Eddie Jackson got busted, his girlfriend, was running, carrying the stuff for him.
DREW: This is Larry Mongo, a legendary Detroit bar owner… If you want to know how something really went down, he’s the guy to ask.
MONGO: I could see that lady right now in my head walking through the airport letting everybody know. "[UNINTELLIGIBLE] you know who I am? I'm a ... " 'Cause a ho wants everybody to know that she's big time, she's a gangster. A airline stewardess, a ticket salesman tipped them off. Said, "I think she's a crook."
DREW: Eddie Jackson's girlfriend was arrested at LaGuardia airport with two kilos of heroin. And Agent Garibotto flew to New York City to testify at her bond hearing.
GARIBOTTO: Once the hearing was over, as fate would have it, uh, I get on the plane returning to Detroit and who is in first class but Eddie Jackson, Courtney and his whole coterie. Of course I wasn't in first class, I went back into coach and shortly after, took off, Eddie Jackson waddles back to the area where I was, I had an open seat next to me, he sat down and started chit-chatting. He used to have a laugh that went, "uh-uh-uh-uh-uh". The only thing he said is, I guess we're going to see a lot of each other in the future. "Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh.”
DREW: Agent Garibotto had come a long way from teaching Latin. Now, his one man surveillance team grew into a sting operation run from a cramped room at DEA headquarters…
GARIBOTTO: It wasn't the Ritz, that's for sure. There was a lot of equipment there. There would be tapes and backup tapes and, I think they were probably three or four listening devices.
DREW: Agent Garibotto tapped Eddie and Courtney’s phones. And then..he caught a break.
GARIBOTTO: That's when we learned that the shipment was coming in...We were ready, we knew that it would go to the Hubbell address.
DREW: The Hubbell address was Eddie and Courtney’s dope house.
GARIBOTTO: This was this is virtually a dream come true. I said we've played with this long enough, take it down.
BROWN SR.: Next thing we know, boom boom boom, police police! Police, Police!
DREW: Courtney Brown Sr. was there that night.
BROWN SR.: Oh shit. Eddie takes the stuff on the table and throws it up in the air.
GARIBOTTO: They threw all the heroin up in the air.
JOHN: It sounds like Eddie panicked.
BROWN SR: Yeah, he panicked and threw the shit in the air.
GARIBOTTO: And there was powder thick through the air, such that many of the agents that came in got very, very sick and were puking all over the place. On all of the tables there was a scum of, of heroin, which we had to scrupulously, uh, collect.
DREW: Garibotto’s team caught Eddie and Courtney with five kilos of heroin. And the raids didn’t stop there.
CHARLES RUDOLPH: I was at home on Prairie.
DREW: This is Charles Rudolph, one of Courtney and Eddie’s guys. The ladies’ man from the last episode.
RUDOLPH: Early that morning, the phone rang and I picked it up. And it said, Charles Rudolph? And I said yeah. And then they hung up. So I put the phone down and I knew from that it was a white person. And I said I don't know any white people. I had a girlfriend she was in bed with me downstairs. They was breaking down the front door and the girl was running to the back door trying to get upstairs to the apartment. And that's when they arrested me.
DREW: Ultimately, the DEA indicted 32 people in the Jackson organization. At the time, it was the biggest DEA bust in history.
BROWN JR.: On my way to school in third grade, I pick up the paper like I did every morning.
DREW: Again, Courtney Brown Jr.
BROWN JR.: And I look on the cover of the paper and it's a picture of our house and Eddie's house. Why's our house on the front page of the paper? And then I read: "Drug kingpin Eddie Jackson lives in lap of luxury. This is his house his fortress blah blah blah and his chief associate and right hand man in this enterprise Courtney Brown and they’re living, and neighbors" and this whole story.
And then I remember just still throwing the paper back in the house and it hit me when I got on the bus that everybody else gets the same newspaper. And that everybody else had just read what I just had read.
DREW: Eddie Jackson Jr. saw the newspaper that day too.
JACKSON JR.: And I get to school, it might’ve been maybe 15 kids in the class. Only three blacks in the whole school. And we go to recess, and this girl Kim come up and start taunting me. Your father’s a drug dealer, y’all are drug dealers, you’re bad people you gotta leave school and all this. I was so enraged and so furious.
BROWN JR.: Me and Eddie Jr. would be outside shooting ball… and the news reporters would come up and see us playing and they'd be like is your dad home? Is your dad home?
REPORTER: You’re under constant surveillance. There have been all kinds of stories about your alleged connections with the underworld drug market. What’s your reaction, Mr. Jackson?
EDDIE JACKSON SR.: Well, as far as the connection, that’s 100% false. And as far as the surveillance, I welcome, you understand, anybody who feel like they wanna waste their time watching me, you understand, well then they can just go ahead and watch me...
DREW: Here, Eddie Senior is giving a local news crew a tour of his opulent, very 1970s home: sputnik chandeliers, wall-to-wall red carpet… and a long row of luxury cars in the driveway.
REPORTER: Mr Jackson, just how did you come to acquire this home in Southfield, and your other business interests, your automobiles?
JACKSON SR.: Well, I think the law states, you know, that you have to file your income. You know, if I tell you that, you know, then you know my secrets, you know? But as long as I file my income, I think this is what the law states, you know. And I do do that.
REPORTER: Do you deny flatly that you are In any way tied in to with the illegal drug trade?
JACKSON SR.: Yes I do.
REPORTER: Would you care to reveal just what your business holdings are, how you’ve acquired this wealth?
JACKSON SR.: If I tell you that then you know my business.
DREW: When Eddie and Courtney were finally brought to trial, DEA Agent Ron Garibotto was in court almost every day.
GARIBOTTO: Even though they were in custody, they still had their retinue there, which, you know, the same people with their plumed hats and tight skirts were still there impressing the judges I'm sure.
ROB SZYPKO: So when you guys all went into the courtroom were you all dressed up, or...?
RUDOLPH: Well you come to the court like you wanna.
DREW: Charles Rudolph, again.
RUDOLPH: One thing I did once was that was foolish, you never know, with 32 people you don't know when they're calling you to the stand. One day I wore a medallion with all these diamonds in it.
DREW: And Charles knew his diamond medallion wouldn’t play well with the judge...
RUDOLPH: They calling me up to the stand. I'm trying to break the medallion. And it’s made so well I can't break it. So I'm sitting on the stand and “raise your hand” and they looking at this medallion. Who wants to wear a diamond medallion to a trial? That’s stupid. You know in hindsight. They came out to the house a day or two later and picked all that up.
DREW: And in the courtroom, Eddie Jackson’s entourage gave Agent Garibotto a nickname.
GARIBOTTO: Whenever I would enter the courtroom you hear a muffled, "Monster man, monster man." You can tell how pleasant I am, so I have no idea why they called me Monster Man, But...the judges weren't amused.
Everybody was convicted.
DREW: Eddie Jackson was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Courtney Brown, to 17. And for Courtney Jr., it was a wake up call.
DREW: And how did that feel? Knowing that he was going to be going to prison?
BROWN JR.: Sad. In fact it's time to grow up for real for real.
I didn't know black people didn't have money until I was like 12, 13 til he went away to jail. I had no, no context that African-Americans were economically challenged in America. Because for all of my formative years, all the black people I knew did well.
DREW: What was the moment when you realized that wasn’t generally the case?
BROWN JR.: The first summer he was away, when we went to go shopping for me to go to summer camp, and we always went to Jacobson's and Hudson's and I walked in this store called Montgomery Wards and I was horrified by it. I was like, what is this place?
DREW: Why? Why was it horrifying?
BROWN JR.: Because they didn’t have the kind of clothes in there that I was accustomed to wearing.
DREW: What kind of clothes did they have?
BROWN JR.: It's just like what you're wearing. [laughs] Yeah. Yeah, those kind of clothes.
DREW: For the record, I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. Courtney Brown Jr...was wearing a pinstripe suit.
JOHN: Did you visit him in prison?
PATRICIA JACKSON: Of course. All vacation time went to wherever he was at, Easter vacation, Christmas -- everywhere wherever he was at is where we were.
DREW: For Patricia and Eddie Jackson Jr., the biggest adjustment was visiting their father in prison.
EDDIE JACKSON JR: I got in there I didn’t want him to touch me. When he first came I didn’t want him to touch me. Cause he left me. Man don’t touch me. Shit. I didn’t want him to touch me. It took him playing with me and fucking with me for me to warm up and...this is Dad. You know. You know so I took it a little hard in the beginning.
JOHN: I mean you were emotional. What did he tell you?
PATRICIA JACKSON: Everything was going to be alright, he was going to be gone for a little while, but, stay strong he’s coming home…
EDDIE JACKSON JR.: These white folks fucking over me, man! [laughter]
JOHN: Is that what he told you?
PATRICIA JACKSON: Yeah.
DREW: As for Courtney Brown Sr., he did a total of 14 years behind bars. It would be nice to say that all that time in prison changed him. But, talking to him today, it’s pretty clear that it didn’t.
BROWN SR: I mean they tried to play all together, it was conspiring with each other. We have five or more people working for us which was not true. Only people who worked was me and Eddie.
BROWN JR.: That’s not true.
DREW: Yeah, that doesn’t seem true.
BROWN SR.: Yeah but Junior, they was not,…
DREW: Despite everything, Courtney Jr. and Courtney Sr. are still close...although they don’t always agree.
BROWN JR: Every day of my life growing up you guys were involved in a conspiracy. When me and Eddie Jr. were walking around playing and shooting basketball and you and Eddie and 5-0 and Bubba and Big Willie and you guys will come by and be talking, those were all conspiratorial conversations.
BROWN SR.: May have been, but I didn’t call it a conspiracy.
BROWN JR.: No No. Every time Big Willie came by the house. Butch came by the house. This was every day.
BROWN SR.: But Big Willie didn’t work for us.
BROWN JR.: But he did!
DREW: Did he distribute drugs for you?
BROWN SR.: Yeah, no, he did drugs for himself.
JOHN: Where did he get it from?
BROWN SR.: Us.
BROWN JR.: That’s a conspiracy, dad. That’s a conspiracy.
BROWN SR.: Well, I don’t call it a conspiracy. White folks call it a conspiracy. I don’t call it a conspiracy.
DREW: What about Eddie? What wound up happening to him?
BROWN SR.: Well he done time but he caught a case soon as he got out.
DREW: Just 15 months after he was released, Eddie Jackson Sr. was sent back to prison.
DREW: Another drug case?
BROWN SR.: Another drug case. When he first got into it, he was like, everybody gotta pay their dues. Everybody, don’t care what you’re doing. But don’t pay the price. I says, "what you mean Eddie?" He says, "Dues is going to jail. That's part of paying your due. The price is when you get killed or die.”
DREW: Then one day, Courtney got a call. Eddie Jackson died at age 51 of a heart attack.
BROWN SR.: I just dropped the phone. I just dropped the phone.
DREW: The Jackson Organization was out of commission. But here’s the thing about the drug trade: just because supply disappears doesn’t mean demand goes with it.
ROB: What did you do after?
RUDOLPH: Got a job. Because the drugs wasn’t what it used to be. The city had started to change then and I didn't know it..
DREW: Charles Rudolph says when he got out of prison six years later, he barely recognized the drug scene.
ARCHIVAL NEWS: The drug industry is the biggest employer of young black men in Detroit.
RUDOLPH: You got these guys--They did murders. Because they didn’t have the sense we had. Drugs is hot enough in itself! Murder going bring the investigation and make you hot.
ARCHIVAL NEWS: If you're young, black and male, you're more likely to die by violence than any other cause.
RUDOLPH: See, murder draws attention.
DREW: That’s next time...on Crimetown.
Crimetown is Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier. This season is made in partnership with Gimlet Media and Spotify.
It’s produced by Rob Szypko, John White, Soraya Shockley, and Samantha Lee.
The senior producer is me, Drew Nelles.
Editing by Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier.
Fact-checking by Jennifer Blackman.
This episode was mixed, sound designed, and scored by Kenny Kusiak.
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 John Kusiak and Melvin Davis, and additional mixing by Bobby Lord.
Our theme song is “Politicians In My Eyes” by Death.
Archival research by Brennan Rees.
Archival footage courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University.
Show art and design by James Cabrera and Elise Harven.
We’ve got a great website with bonus content for each episode like photos, videos, and newspaper clippings, as well as a full list of credits and a transcript. Check it out at crimetownshow.com.
Courtney Brown Jr. made a documentary and wrote a book about his dad and Eddie Jackson. They’re both called “Motown Mafia” and you can find them on Amazon.
Thanks to the late Bob Bennett, the Detroit Free Press, Peter Bhatia, Jim Schaeffer, Mary Schroeder, Mary Wallace, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History, Melissa Samson, the Detroit Historical Society, Vince Wade, Scott Burnstein, Lewis Stevens, 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. Sometimes we go down to his office and we count money together.
ROB: You, you would count money with Alex?
DREW: Yeah. Yeah.
ROB: So I'm trying to picture it: Alex and Drew in the corner office and just counting money. Is this like a bonding moment between you two?
DREW: I thought it to be.
RON GARIBOTTO: You haven't spoken to Courtney since we started talking, right?
DREW: No, no, I haven't. Anything you want me to ask him?
GARIBOTTO: No, just give him my regards, see how he reacts to that.
DREW: So, Garibotto said to give you his regards. Do you want me to pass...
COURTNEY BROWN SR.: Yeah, tell him we still alright. I ain’t got no personal animosity against him. I mean, people do they job, I ain't got a problem with that.
DREW: So you want me to just say hi, tell him...
BROWN SR.: Send my regards, say I said hello to Broadway.