EPISODE FIVE: YBI TO THE DAY I DIE
JAMES “PEP” COOPER: We had 50 people just from the junior high school, and our elementary. Selling dope. That’s remarkable.
SORAYA SHOCKLEY: This is James “Pep” Cooper. In the late seventies, he got into selling heroin with a young crew... Really young...
COOPER: We ain’t got no high school buddies that started with us. It’s elementary, junior high. You know what I’m sayin? That’s our core.
SORAYA: This new business venture needed to attract customers ...so they got creative...
COOPER: We gave out free giveaways. So now there’s dope fiends all around, they all around downtown and they noddin. Other dope fiends coming up, “Man where you get that blow at, man?” “Man them young boys down there on the corner got a motherfucker.” Them young boys. And that’s how we became Young Boys Incorporated. Dope fiends named us.
SORAYA: Young Boys Incorporated... As their customer base grew… so did their profits.
COOPER: The gold chains, the Sassoon and Jordache jeans with the designer gym shoes on. We were trendsetters. You know we were hip hop before hip hop even started.
The white people used to ride down the block just to get glimpses of us they ride down with they windows rolled up, literally taking pictures out they windows. The kids faces pressed up against the window.
SORAYA: At first it all seemed glamorous...
COOPER: Even though you're 15 years old you grown, you drinking Remy Martin and Heinekens all day, you got money flowing through your hands.
SORAYA: But with big money came a darker side to drug dealing.
COOPER: As you get older your thug-nism gets worser. Each year, each day, each month, each week. You know what I’m sayin? The more violent and vicious it’s getting. You know times change. It’s a dog eat dog world.
SORAYA: Last episode, we told you about the downfall of two old-school drug kingpins.
Today on the show - Young Boys Incorporated disrupts the drug trade, moving it out of the dope houses and onto the street corners…
Neighborhoods become battlegrounds, and families are torn apart.
I’m Soraya Shockley. Welcome... to Crimetown.
SORAYA: Before we get back to YBI, meet one of Detroit's best-known families: the Mongos.
DREW NELLES: Can you just tell us your name?
LARRY MONGO: Larry Mongo.
DREW: Where are we right now?
LARRY: We here at Cafe D’Mongo’s.
SORAYA: You met Larry briefly in the last episode... Today he's showing us around his bar.... And the decor is eclectic.
LARRY: It's what I call... It's not Art Deco or Art Nouveau. It's early attic or late basement design.
SORAYA: The walls are covered with memories…photos from the good old days.
DREW: You look really young. (Laughter)
JOHN WHITE: Describe that picture.
LARRY: At the Muhammad Ali and Frazier fight; I got on a white mink coat, mink cat, my wife, white minks and everything.
DREW: And you're sitting in a golden throne.
LARRY: Yes. Four years later here I am with the vice president of the United States. My wife and Coleman Young in the back.
SKIP MONGO: The mayor Coleman Young and the vice president of the United States!
SORAYA: And that is Skip Mongo, Larry’s youngest brother.
SKIP: Larry always tell people my parents were so impressed with him that they had me. I always say listen, they didn't stop until they got it right with me.
SORAYA: And then, there’s their oldest brother...Benji.
SKIP: This is a picture of Benji and Larry. Larry, how are old are you, about 20? Benji's probably about 22. Benji has on a pair of suede pants, a pinky ring. And suede shirt. And Benji got a big fro.
SORAYA: And back when they were young, Benji sold drugs…
LARRY: Benji was selling dope. His nickname was boss dog. He was an original.
SORAYA: Larry hovered around the fringes of his brother's drug business, lending advice, and always watching...as Benji worked his territory. Before long, Larry says another dealer threatened Benji, demanding a cut of his take.
So Benji went to talk to him...
LARRY: Benji, he has that smile and that silence. He said ok, ok. So the guy had confidence that this little punk ass young boy, I got ‘em. So when the guy got in the car thinking Benji gonna give him some money, Benji said wait a minute I've got to run and get the money out. Guy said okay.
SORAYA: Benji disappeared into a nearby building...
LARRY: Benji came back with his vicious German shepherd. Open the door put the dog in. See, my man went to fighting the dog. The dog went to chewin’ the guy, just went into shock. Dog chewed him up and Benji threw him out the car. And the whole neighborhood heard of this. Took the roughest guy in the neighborhood, didn't kill him. Just made a shell out of ‘em.
LARRY: If you kill a guy you silence him but if you put fear in his heart he’ll take the story and put fear in other people hearts with your story. So it's more valuable to leave that person alive.
SORAYA: While Benji was building his business, Larry started rubbing shoulders with some of Detroit's most powerful people.
LARRY: I used to hang in this barbershop. Jack’s Barber Lounge.
JOHN: Can you paint a picture of Jack's? What was Jack's like back then?
LARRY: Upper middle-class black barbershop. The only place we as blacks could come to. It was like our country club.
SORAYA: Everybody who was anybody would gather at Jack's Barber Lounge. Which is how, one day, Larry found himself sitting next to the mayor of Detroit: Coleman Young.
DREW: Can you tell us about Coleman?
LARRY: Oh man.
DREW: How’d you first meet him?
LARRY: Oh man. Scuse my language. Talkin’ shit. So when Coleman used to come in the barbershop, I was always talking history and stuff. Me and the mayor talking a lot of stuff, I'm arguing with people, just BSing. He used to just enjoy me. He really like my brother Benji too, he like the both of us together.
SORAYA: Occasionally, Benji would hang out at Jack's too.
LARRY: One day, they took a picture of all of us together and Benji got up and left ‘cause the guy wanted to take more pictures. Benji in the middle getting his hair done, and Benji got up and left. And the mayor said, What’s wrong with your brother? I said, Your honor, I said, My brother don’t ever want to be around you when you here or any pictures that’s what he told us. He said what’s...? “My brother sell dope, and he do not ever want them to have a picture saying you with a dope dealer if he got caught.” Mayor Young looked at me. He said, “Tell Benji thank you.” He said, “Thank you.”
SKIP: Man, I went to private schools. I went to a school with 200 people in the school. This was an elite school.
SORAYA: Skip was much younger than his brothers. And he had a very different upbringing. In the early eighties, he was going to a fancy private high school.
SKIP: I got straight A's in school. I never made one friend at that school. I got straight As. To me they was all square. I couldn't wait to leave that school and come home to the neighborhood and get off into some mischief.
SORAYA: Mischief is putting it lightly for what was going on in Skip’s neighborhood.
SKIP: When you talk about the genesis of the Young Boys, how it started, Dwayne Davis, who was known better as WW, they called him Wonderful Wayne. And let me explain Wayne. This guy was just ultra smooth.
SORAYA: Wonderful Wayne was one of the founders of Young Boys Incorporated. After school, Skip would hang out on his block and wait for Wayne to drive by.
SKIP: He has three Mercedes Benzes. He had a Porsche 928 S, seven years before the movie Scarface came out. I’m a young kid very impressionable. And for some reason he just took a liking to me. Wayne, he would ride up on me and he would say listen wait, "what are you doing? Where you going?" "Nothing, walking around." He said, come and ride with me. Man, this was like riding with Michael Jackson, seriously.
SKIP: Now my hanging with him gave me a certain status in the streets because what are they, the Young Boys Incorporated. What am I? A young boy. And I'm riding with the boss every day.
SORAYA: And it so happened that Skip’s older brother Benji was Wayne’s supplier. And he soon found out that Skip was hanging around Wayne.
SKIP: He hated to see me with Wayne. He would blow a gasket when he see me riding with him. I remember him looking at me shaking his head. He said, "listen you going to end up going to one of their funerals, or they're going to end up coming to your funeral." And he told me, "This ain't for you, but if you want to be in the streets, leave- stay away from me. Don't ever come and get me for anything." So on and so forth all that. So maybe this was the... maybe this might have been February of ‘82. April of ‘82 he ended up getting killed.
LARRY: I was with Benji that Sunday and he was driving me all around.
SORAYA: Again, Larry Mongo.
LARRY: And he started talking about life, about the drugs and everything and kind of remorseful. Which scared me a little bit. He said, “You know I'm gonna give you some money.” He said “Because I'm going to get out of this.” He said “You know I just... I just want to get out of it.”
LARRY: When I was getting out the car he grabbed me and he said something to me and never said in his life, that I can recall. He grabbed me said ‘Larry,’ I said ‘What?’ he said ‘Man, I love you’” And that shook me, you know? You know I probably said like “Yeah ok. Me too,” you know? But to say ‘I love you’... I said to my wife, “My brother is going to die.”
SORAYA: The next evening, Skip was home when one of Benji’s friends came to the door.
SKIP: It’s night. I just went in the house. It was a school day the next day. I got ready to take a shower. I look out the top window, the bathroom window. I see this girl and she had on Benji's shirt that he had on earlier that day and she had a wrapped like this. She looked up and she said aren't you Benji's brother? I said yeah. She said, he just got into a fight. And I think he's hurt because I heard a gunshot. And I'm like, damn.
SKIP: I ran and woke up my my mother and father. I jumped in a car. I shot down to his house. The house pitch black. The patio door is open about this much. And he had these green velvet drapes. And I remember the drapes were blowing. And I was calling his name and no answer. So I'm scared to walk in. I'm like, he in here waiting on somebody and he gon shoot the first person that walk through this door. I'm hollering his name some more. No answer. I walked in. He's laying across the couch, shot in the head.
SKIP: Now this is the part [voice cracks] ... that was worse than him getting killed... [breaths in]. About, about ten minutes later, my parents pulled up [draws breath]. And Benji was a real sickly kid when he was born. He stayed in the hospital first four months of his life. And this was the saddest thing in the world to me. My mother walked in the back, and she said, I fought so hard for him to live and he end killing hisself.
SKIP: Now that was the day that my childhood was ripped out of me. And I remember learning that day that... it was, like, a pain so deep that it can't even come out like this, ‘cause I saw it with my mother. And I never seen her laugh the same, smile the same, none of that.
SKIP: This is what’s odd, man. I pray nobody ever has to feel this way. Guy like that, man. It hurt but you know what else? It was embarrassing. It was like, naw, yeah, y'all thought he was something. And so that embarrassment is probably what drove me to the streets too. And I say you know what, I'm going to prove my...I'm going to show y’all I can do this without him.
SORAYA: Shortly after Benji’s death, Wonderful Wayne was also shot and killed.
SKIP: Benji got killed, Wayne got killed right after that. So my whole life look like it’s crumbling around me.
What do I do? I go out and start selling dope. I get with the guys who running the entire drug operation for the city of Detroit. That was my life. YBI to the day I die. Yeah.
SKIP: It was a, there was an article came out in the newspaper, that said, they’re young boys on Detroit’s west side making more money than their parents in the automobile factory selling designer dope.
SORAYA: By the early ’80s, Young Boys Incorporated was competing for customers in Detroit's booming drug trade. Skip Mongo still remembers how YBI set themselves apart.
SKIP: I remember this article, it said these young kids have started stamping their drugs like Calvin Klein brands his blue jeans.
“PEP” COOPER: This is how he mentioned it in the papers.
SORAYA: The guy sitting next to Skip is Pep Cooper, from the very top of the show.
JOHN: Do you remember some of the names of the dope?
COOPER: Yeah, Hoochie Kahn, Murder One, Rolls Royce, Roaring 20's, Uno, Cloud Nine, Skag, Smack, Crazy 8 Smack, Freak of the Week. Um... dang.
SORAYA: But branding wasn’t their only innovation.
COOPER: See our dope joints, it was easy to get caught in the dope joints. Cause there’s only two ways out, the front door and the back door. If they both of them, you hit. You see what I’m saying? We’re going to do it from the hip, now. When I say from the hip, we doing it from outside. You know what I’m saying, and that’s when we went outside.
SORAYA: Skip was put in charge of his own corner.
SKIP: Cars would ride up. One guy would run over to the car and you'd say how many. And the customer, the drug addict, might put his fingers up. And that’s two. I'm putting up two fingers. And you would turn around and you’d holler. You’d say “two times!” This guy would run the pack to the customer. And then you’d take the money and you’d give it to the spot boss. He’d stay on top of the money. I'm the lieutenant. The spot boss worked for me. The runners worked for him.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: The kids work in teams: one collecting the money, another delivering the dope, others acting as lookouts, and all are decoys for one another. And when a lookout throws a signal a busy street can become deserted in a matter of seconds. That way, a cruising police officer sees nothing.
DREW: Would the cops ever come by?
SKIP: All the time. We had people on corners. So we used to call the police “the hook.” And then, so guys be on the corner and they’d holler, “Off the hook. The hook!” And then that spot, man, everybody run.
DELBERT JENNINGS: We did early morning surveillance, we set up and it was just like these kids were going to work at a legitimate job.
SORAYA: This is Delbert Jennings, a Detroit police officer who worked narcotics.
JENNINGS: They’d begin to show up about 8:30 and the party store opened on the corner and they all went in, got a pop and a honeybun and they came out and drank the pop and ate their honeybun and they were ready for work. At 9 o'clock, the bag arrived with the narcotics and these kids went to work. It was really something to see them come together. People just start showing up and I mean it was just traffic up and down the street like you had never seen before. They would turn these quiet neighborhoods into a circus.
IKE MCKINNON: I went up to a young guy one day, and the way that I'm talking right now I spoke to him.
SORAYA: Ike McKinnon was an inspector for the Detroit Police Department’s Gang Squad. He saw firsthand what YBI was doing to the city, when he stopped a 12 year old on the sidewalk...
MCKINNON: I said young fella, I said you can't do that. Fuck you motherfucker. That's what the guy said to me. Excuse me? I said look man you could — aw you proper talking motherfucker he said, I will kick your ass. I said, What did you say?
MCKINNON: I said No no. You little motherfucker I’ma kick your ass you know. And he looked at me. You can't say that to me. I said motherfucker I will kick your ass right now. Who you going to complain to?
SORAYA: And officer Delbert Jennings started to see how using kids to sell dope gave YBI a big advantage.
JENNINGS: The youngest one that we caught was 11 years old. Once we took him in, at that time juvenile didn't take the kids in for nonviolent offenses. So we had to let him go.
ARCHIVAL POLICE: Arrest 16 people all at one time over in the Jeffries projects. 15 minutes after we take them downtown, there’s another 25 or 30 runners out there dealing dope. That doesn’t sound like we’re winning to me.
SORAYA: YBI continued to expand with a series of hostile takeovers. Pep Cooper seized territory corner by corner.
COOPER: When we first came up, we used to call jumpin’ on guys rec, like recreation. Rec. As things got more violent and intense, we became the Wrecking Crew.
COOPER: Don’t nobody bring no bag in our neighborhood, 10th precinct. But we’ll go to yours. Don’t come tell us we can’t roll. You know what I’m saying? Now that’s a no-no. Now, you come with that, there’s gonna be gun play over here. You aint gonna see me. I’m gonna be back over next morning with the bag. But that night, or later on that evening, oh there’s some people coming to see you, coming to holler at you. Now, you got the killers coming at you.
COOPER: We own they neighborhoods. We was in there deep: East side, west side, north end, north west, southwest, Brewsters, Little Jeffries, Big Jeffries. I mean we were so deep and our crew just grew. You know, extending YBI.
MCKINNON: Young Boys Incorporated. What they were doing is they were expanding. They would take block by block.
SORAYA: Again, inspector Ike McKinnon.
MCKINNON: Everybody in the city recognized the fact that we have a serious problem with these guys. And that's when Coleman Young issued this edict.
COLEMAN YOUNG ARCHIVAL: I want to tell you now, I’m not going to let any group, of young hoodlums or old hoodlums, black thugs or white thugs, take this goddamn city over! (applause)
MCKINNON: He said the biggest baddest toughest gang in Detroit? Police Department. I want you to kick their asses. I said, Mr. Mayor what about complaints -- Ain't no goddamn complaints. If somebody makes a goddamn complaint I'll take care of it.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: 7 o'clock on a warm evening in March and you are riding in a caravan of unmarked police cars about to raid what they call a major distribution outlet of heroin in the Brewster Housing Project. The place police say is a suspected dope house of the Young Boys Incorporated network. The assault on the apartment comes fast.
SORAYA: In this news footage, a SWAT team swarms into the Brewster housing project. They break down an apartment door and throw the residents up against a wall.
ARCHIVAL POLICE: Ain’t nothing for you to see in here, you understand? Just keep your head right there. Don’t look around or talk.
SORAYA: In the city’s war against YBI, Pep Cooper found himself in the middle of a drug sweep.
JOHN: What happened?
COOPER: Well, dope fiend rolled down the street, wanted four. I jumped on the moped. They pulled on the corner of Cortland and Broad street. I go to serve ‘em. They park right here, I pull up on side them in the moped.
COOPER: The police was in the alley. The dope fiends see them in their mirror before I seen them. Cause, I can’t see, they see only [INAUDIBLE] they take off on me. Well I don’t want nobody to take off so I turn around and I see the police. Now I’m on moped, man. Can outrun a car. I’m trying to get away, hit the corner. They gaining on me so I went up in a yard. Hit the yard drop the bike, hit the fence and I’m gone. Now they radio. There’s police everywhere looking for me. So I see them they coming up Martindale, they’re everywhere you know what I’m saying, so I can’t get away. I come out, see them coming out Steego so I just took off the jacket I had on, cause it was fall, took off the little windbreaker I had on, threw in the trash and came out walking, cause now they come up the alley. Car coming up the alley. They grab me. he say was you running, like no, he feel my heart. My heart racing. [THUMPING NOISE]. He said yeah you was running, you the one we was looking for. So now they start beating the shit out of me. They ride me down Martindale, let everybody see they got me, take me to the 10th precinct.
LARRY: Somebody brought some information to me. He said, “Man, you know, your baby brother is throwing down now.”
SORAYA: Word got back to Larry Mongo that his younger brother Skip was in deep with YBI.
LARRY: I say, “Skip?” and a cop told me. He said, “Yeah.” He said, “You know we got him on the radar.” He's slingin.” So I guess he was getting off the school bus. So I went in front of all his friends and jumped on him. I just said, uh, “Man, I hear you’re selling dope.” I said, “Man, don't you know we just lost Benji?” You know tell him “God, Don’t you ever be in this world. Why you wanna be in the dope business?” [Nonsense words] And he tried to mouth off because his buddy was there. So I just jumped on him. [laughs] You know I rushed him right quick. Grabbed him and “Boom, boom” I knew he never got whoopings as a kid, really. So, you know, if you're going to be in these streets, you better start getting ready to fight. Right now. And ready to die maybe.
SKIP: My brother Larry came over to the house. When he found out, jumped on me, beat me up and I'm still like, man y'all not stopping me.
SORAYA: But Skip did start taking a harder look at the life he had chosen for himself.
SKIP: We always would have a house, where we would keep what we call the big stash. Because you don't want the police to ride up and get to the stash. We would pay somebody, and we had Dave. He was a drug addict. Dave and his wife. Man. And I remember they were poor because I remember I leaned on the wall on one time, and I burnt my hand. Why is this wall so hot? Because they were stealing heat so it wasn't controlled and man I remember his kids. He had daughters. They used to come home from school. We sitting around the house and we weren't disrespectful or nothin. But you think they want to come home to that? Not only is it a stranger in your house so it’s not comfortable in your house, but it's a reminder every day of what my parents are. So I feel bad about that. Them girls weren't too much younger than me. I feel horrible about that.
SKIP: One day I laid in the bed and I looked up and I said, “Why do I want to continue to sell dope?” This is what I'm thinking and I'm thinking and I'm thinking. I'm thinking like what is this? I sense a strong force that's taking me to these streets. And I kept saying “It’s temptation. This temptation is a monster.” And I started saying this prayer. And I just used to say, “God, please take the temptation away from me.” And this went on for about a week and one day I just said, “I'm done. I quit.” I didn't have a plan. I had a little money saved up. I didn't have a clue what I was going to do.
SKIP: I start hanging out with my brother Larry. Larry owned a chain, the most successful chain of black beauty salons that Detroit has ever seen.
JOHN: And what were they called?
SKIP: D’Mongo's. This is what got me out the streets. I was riding with Larry one day. We went to this accountant’s office. I’ll never forget this figure. Man said, “This is what you grossed this year. Seven hundred sixty seven thousand dollars off hair.”
JOHN: That’s a new drug.
SKIP: Listen, he always say - Listen, “I was pushing hair and my brother Benji was pushing heroin.” That was it, man, it was.
SORAYA: After his older brother Benji was killed, and while his younger brother Skip was slinging dope for YBI... Larry built a successful salon business.
LARRY: Black hair care then was really wild. Ninety nine percent of it was ghetto. I said, There's a black middle class. There’s a market for this. Professional black stylists.
SORAYA: Larry Mongo had learned a thing or two from the streets himself…
LARRY: In those days people could just hang in a barbershop. I ran it just like a dope house and in the dope house if you ain’t buying dope you don't come in here. Why are you here? So all my shops was known, if you not spending money, you don't come here.
LARRY: Once Skip came under my wing he started seeing what real power was.
SKIP: I remember I was riding with Larry one time and we pull up in front of one of his shops. He double parked. Police came up, told him, “Man, you gotta move.” He say, “OK. Wait a minute. I'll be-” Police jumped up. Cursed him out. He started cursing the police out. They put him in handcuffs. Drove off. I'm sitting there like, “Damn, now what am I going to do?” So I'm stuck here. Five minutes later, man, the police car pulled up. He was in the front seat. I’m like, “Damn!” The political influence...they found out who he was.
DREW: What kind of political influence did he have?
SKIP: We were like this with Coleman Young. Coleman Young was the king of this city.
SORAYA: Even though he was now a successful businessman, Larry hadn't totally left the streets behind. And all that time he spent at Jack's Barber Lounge? Well...it paid off.
JOHN: Where did you get your power from?
LARRY: From Coleman Young. Mayor Young.
DREW: And what were you doing at the time?
LARRY: What was I doing? Connection to the underworld.
SORAYA: Next time on Crimetown…Coleman Young’s connection to the underworld.
COLEMAN YOUNG: The people I knew best were hustlers. Uh, These guys who ran the crap game, you know, or who were cutting the blackjack game, old gamblers.
COLEMAN YOUNG: You know I’ve never been accused of being immoral but I’ve never been accused of being too moral either.
SORAYA: That's coming up in two weeks...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, Samantha Lee, and me, Soraya Shockley.
The senior producer is Drew Nelles.
Editing by Zac Stuart-Pontier and Marc Smerling.
Fact-checking by Jennifer Blackman.
This episode was mixed, sound designed, and scored by Sam Bair. Additional sound design by Kenny Kusiak. And by the way, congrats on the wedding, Kenny.
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, Kenny Kusiak, and additional mixing by Bobby Lord.
Our theme song is “Politicians In My Eyes” by Death.
Our credit music this week is “I Won’t Be Your Fool” by Detroit Soul Ambassador Melvin Davis.
Archival research by Brennan Rees.
Archival footage courtesy of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History.
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.
To learn more about YBI, check out the book “Bound By Honor, Torn By Greed: The True and Untold Story of Young Boys Incorporated,” by Pep Cooper, Piks M., and India Williams.
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 Detroit Historical Society, Chuck Lindsey, Michael Squirewell, Bill Dwyer, Otis Culpepper, Al Kirschner, Vince Wade, Scott Burnstein, Mark Binelli, Charlie LeDuff, 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. The other day he told me his first rule about storytelling: if you kill a guy you silence him, but if you put fear in his heart he’ll take that story and put fear in other people hearts with your story.