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O.J. Simpson in middle of drug probe

FBI documents link him with cocaine, Ecstasy buys and consorting with Fla. narcotics ring

Sunday, May 12, 2002

By Michael D. Sallah, Block News Alliance

MIAMI -- Bloodied by a custody battle and stripped of his wealth because of civil and criminal murder trials, O.J. Simpson left his native California two years ago with his children to seek refuge on the forgiving shores of South Florida.

 
 

The Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. Michael D. Sallah is a reporter for The Blade.

   
 

The single parent vowed he just wanted to be a doting father, play golf, and live quietly in an unpretentious home amidst the cookie-cutter neighborhoods of suburban Miami.

But since his arrival, his life has been anything but tranquil.

The 54-year-old former football great has been living a self-indulgent lifestyle of cocaine binges, strip club rendezvous, and late-night visits to the home of a Miami dealer to buy illegal drugs, defendants in a drug case have told the FBI.

So close has been Simpson to the Miami drug scene that a dealer in an international narcotics ring stayed in Simpson's guest home -- and drove the Simpson children to and from school at the same time he was orchestrating drug transactions, according to the statements in confidential FBI documents obtained by The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

The admitted dealer, Andrew Anderson, 33, told federal agents he was supplying Simpson and his girlfriends with the illegal drug Ecstasy -- a hallucinogenic substance that's popular in many Miami clubs.

Throughout his first two years in Florida -- as Simpson was trying to restore his image through hospital visits and media interviews -- he was indulging in cocaine and Ecstasy, records state.

Shortly after his acquittal in his now famous road rage case on Oct. 24, he visited the home of drug dealer Zenaida Galvez, 36, to buy cocaine to celebrate with girlfriends, the dealer told the FBI this year.

"Simpson stated that he knew he was going to win, " her statement says.

The public has become familiar with Simpson's sometimes topsy-turvy life in South Florida, including public spats with former girlfriend Christie Prody. Simpson had moved there from California after a civil court jury ordered him to pay $33.5 million for the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman in Los Angeles. He had earlier been cleared of criminal charges.

But now, for the first time, the FBI records reflect events, places, and in some cases, times in which the onetime actor is alleged to have taken part in drug parties.

Though he was never the target of a narcotics probe -- and has not been charged -- federal agents stumbled across his name in the course of investigating an international Ecstasy ring, FBI records show.

More than 200 pages of documents covering a period of late 1999 to November, 2001 -- including transcripts of FBI wire taps -- were reviewed by The Blade. About a dozen of those records relate to Simpson.

The reports -- including witness statements and surveillance of his ranch-style home -- paint a vastly different picture of the man who moved to the Miami suburb of Kendall to keep a low profile and be a soccer dad.

Despite requests, he was unavailable to talk about the latest accusations swirling around him. His lawyer, Yale Galanter, said his client was not involved in drugs, nor did he ever allow a drug dealer to live on his premises.

"There is no link between them," he said.

Dubious accusations

To be sure, the allegations against Simpson are coming largely from three key members of a drug ring that imported hundreds of thousands of Ecstasy pills from the Netherlands.

The three suspects, Anderson, Galvez, and John Thorburn, 32, have pleaded guilty to their roles in the case that led to the high-profile search of Simpson's beige, Spanish-style ranch home on Dec. 4.

Though agents said they did not find Ecstasy in the home, police inventory records show that four bags of suspected marijuana, cocaine residue, two drug pipes, and a can with marijuana residue were turned up by agents.

During a six-hour search, agents seized several pieces of satellite dish equipment from the home.

The U.S. attorney's office in Miami refuses to comment.

"We just don't confirm investigations," said Barry Sabin, the lead assistant U.S. attorney in Miami.

Most of the defendants in the drug ring -- a total of nine -- have pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges and will be sentenced May 20 and June 4 by U.S. District Judge Paul Huck. One suspect is believed to be in Brazil.

One former defendant, Toledo developer Mark Nowakowski, was acquitted by a federal jury in Miami on March 14 -- with people on both sides of the case now saying there's no evidence that the developer was selling drugs.

But ironically, it was his cell phone -- used by a friend -- that helped lead authorities to Simpson, according to federal wiretap records.

Initially, the Pro Football Hall of Fame running back was not part of the federal investigation into Ecstasy.

In fact, when the Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI began their probe in 1999 -- now known as Operation X -- Simpson was still living in California.

But several months after the former athlete bought his home in the Miami suburb in September 2000, FBI agents heard his name in telephone wiretaps, according to interviews and records.

By February 2001, plainclothes investigators were conducting surveillance of his 4,343-square-foot home and, later, eavesdropping on cell-phone conversations between Simpson and Anderson.

In several instances, the 6-foot-2-inch former actor was seen with Anderson at the Simpson home, and making trips to South Beach -- the popular strip of clubs and art deco hotels in Miami Beach.

Simpson's lawyer, Galanter, says his client is being depicted as a drug user by people who don't even know him. Simpson is just trying to raise his children, Sydney, 16, and Justin, 13, without any of the distractions that he experienced in California after his acquittal, Galanter said.

"It's as normal as life could possibly be for someone with the name O.J. Simpson," the Fort Lauderdale attorney said.

For six months, agents not only watched Anderson, but also tapped his phone.

Records show that they soon learned that he was a companion to Simpson, as well as a dealer in an Ecstasy ring.

Others would smuggle the drug into the country from the Netherlands -- 200,000 pills in 2001 -- and Anderson would help sell it.

Though Anderson sometimes stayed at Simpson's guesthouse -- next to the main house and pool -- he actually met the former actor when Simpson was visiting the area and looking for a home in 1999, records state.

Dealer's recollections

Another person who met Simpson around the same time was Galvez, also known as Gigi.

The 36-year-old woman told FBI agents during extensive interviews on Jan. 11 and Jan. 14 that she was introduced to Simpson by Anderson at a sushi restaurant in the fall of 1999.

Later, at Anderson's behest, she began selling cocaine regularly to Simpson and his onetime girlfriend, Prody, the dealer told agents. Anderson and Galvez would eventually become trusted drug suppliers to Simpson during his first two years in South Florida, they told agents.

By early 2000, Prody was living in the Miami area, and Simpson would stay with her until he bought his house. At the time, he was steeped in a custody battle in California with the relatives of his slain former wife -- a dispute he eventually won.

"When Simpson visited Miami, both Prody and Simpson called Galvez for cocaine, and would visit Galvez at her apartment to pick up cocaine, " her FBI interview states. Galvez even showed agents that she had Simpson's cell-phone number logged in her cell phone caller ID and memory. Galvez went on to tell agents that during the course of her friendship with Simpson, he offered to get her a "counterfeit" satellite dish card. And when Galvez gave birth to her daughter in January, 2001, Simpson brought her a stuffed Panda, she said.

For a time, Simpson and his girlfriend were popping into her life at all hours -- much to her dismay, reports said.

"Simpson and Prody arrived at Galvez' house approximately three to four times during the early-morning hours to buy cocaine from Galvez," her statement reads. "Galvez did not let them in the house due to the odd hours and the fact that Simpson and Prody were already high on drugs."

Problems arose in October 1999, when Simpson called police to complain that Prody was "on a cocaine binge" with a former Los Angeles Dodgers player, and was not at home, according to a police report. Later, he said it was all a misunderstanding: He was talking about another person -- not Prody.

Two months later, Simpson was invited to a party thrown by drug dealer John Thorburn, 34, at his fashionable high-rise apartment in Miami Beach.

Another known figure on the South Beach club scene, Thorburn told FBI agents early this year that he and the former actor snorted cocaine through the evening with two other guests. "The cocaine was taken in Thorburn's bedroom," according to the dealer's statements.

Simpson's move to Fla.

After winning his custody case, Simpson was mired in debt when he moved to Miami in May 2000. His $10 million fortune was eroded by his legal fees from his 1995 criminal murder trial, and, two years later, he was found liable for the deaths of his former wife and Goldman. When Simpson was ordered by the California court to pay $33.5 million to the surviving relatives, his lawyers said he was broke.

While he lost his accumulated wealth, however, he still had a source of income: a $20,000-a-month pension from his National Football League playing days, money that can't be touched by the courts. To further protect his assets, Simpson said he moved to Florida because of a state law that forbids the seizure of a person's home to pay a civil penalty, according to several published interviews.

But it was a rough start. At first, he was involved in public spats with his girlfriend, Prody, whom he met in California.

In May 2000, security guards at the Wyndham Hotel near Miami International Airport called police to a late-night dispute between the couple -- where Prody allegedly kicked and slapped the former actor. He refused to press charges.

In September -- the same month he purchased his home for $575,000 in Kendall -- he was accused by his girlfriend of breaking into her Miami home, erasing a message on her answering machine and stealing a letter, a police report states. She did not press charges.

That fall, Simpson enrolled his two children in the Gulliver Academy, one of the oldest private schools in the area.

During an impromptu news conference near the school, he asked reporters to respect his children's privacy.

"We just want to go about our normal lives," he said.

But according to FBI reports, life was anything but normal.

Galvez, the cocaine dealer, was becoming frustrated with Simpson and his girlfriend. They were knocking at her door at all hours, she told agents.

Eventually, Galvez said she told Simpson he was welcome at her home -- but not Prody.

On Dec. 4, Simpson ran into his own problems that would spill over into the courts. In a dispute with another motorist in Kendall, he was accused of exiting his vehicle, reaching into the open window of the other vehicle and grabbing the driver's $300 sunglasses, while scratching the man's forehead.

Simpson was charged with a felony and misdemeanor in what became known as the O.J. Road Rage case.

Several local defense lawyers weighed in, saying it was a case of overkill. Simpson called a news conference, saying he was being singled out unfairly because of the controversy surrounding his double-murder acquittal.

"I want to test this case [in court] to show people what kind of life I live," he said.

Around the same time of his arrest, he met Galvez, Anderson and two others for dinner at the Bahama Breeze, Galvez told agents.

Later that night, Simpson began snorting cocaine -- and continued through the early morning, she said. From the restaurant, they went to the Pink Pony strip club and later to other strip clubs: Stir Crazy and Tootsie's.

Eight months later, Simpson took his road rage case to trial in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court and was acquitted of all charges on Oct. 24.

On the morning of Dec. 4, 2001, O.J. Simpson was getting his children ready for school when he answered the doorbell in his bathrobe. He was greeted by federal agents with a search warrant.

After more than two years, Operation X -- the investigation into Ecstasy and the sale of illegal satellite dish cards -- was nearly over.

With a television helicopter hovering overhead and news reporters standing by, 15 agents spent the next six hours combing through Simpson's home.

While the search was under way, other agents fanned out across the Miami area, arresting eight people, including Galvez, Anderson, Thorburn and Nowakowski. All were charged with conspiracy with intent to distribute Ecstasy.

Five months after the raid on Simpson's home, prosecutors say the case is still under investigation. Questions abound over whether anyone else will be charged, or whether the case will end with the sentencing of four defendants, including Anderson and Thorburn, on June 4. They face up to 20 years on the conspiracy charges.

Simpson's lawyer says he has been watching the activities of federal prosecutors in this case.

"I am in the very fortunate position that my client has not been arrested," Galanter said in an interview last month. "Not only has my client not been arrested, but it is clear now, many months after Dec. 4 [when Simpson's home was searched], that the feds didn't find anything of any narcotics-related illegal activity in the house."

Prosecutors refuse to talk about the inventory list, which shows that marijuana and other suspected drugs were found on the property, or whether they were looking into taking action on the counterfeit satellite dish cards -- a federal offense that carries a penalty of up to five years in jail.

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