Back on the outside: Blount drug kingpin Jerry Allen LeQuire may be paroled early next year
By Melanie Tucker | (email@example.com)
Blount County’s most notorious drug kingpin — a man who funneled 33 tons of Colombian cocaine into this country through Florida three decades ago — may finally be coming home.
Jerry Allen LeQuire will turn 70 in August behind bars at McCreary Federal Prison in Pine Knot, Ky. He’s serving 60 years for smuggling drugs and running a cocaine enterprise starting in the early 1980s.
He was convicted in the U.S. District Court for Middle District of Alabama of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act on drug conspiracy charges. But this Blount County native could find himself before a parole board in early 2014 and some, including LeQuire himself, think the doors will finally swing wide.
Getting to know him
LeQuire has been housed at a few maximum security facilities over the years, including one in Atlanta. But he’s been at McCreary for about six years. Visitors have been few. But one man, Richard Biggs, has been to see him on numerous occasions over the past several months. LeQuire, Biggs said, hasn’t changed all that much. His weight has remained a constant, kept there with 50 sit-ups and 30 chin-ups daily. Even when looking at photos taken of the convicted drug smuggler from decades past, Biggs sees something he recognizes.
“He’s still got that same smile,” Biggs said. “I’d recognize it anywhere.”
Biggs isn’t family. They don’t come. He’s a man who has known some of the details of LeQuire’s remarkable life and found them intriguing, to the point he wanted to meet the man who still elicits conversation around Blount County, even 30 years after he made his mark. Biggs grew up here, graduating from Everett High School in 1956.
And after visiting LeQuire a few times, Biggs decided he would love to tell his unbelievable tale of life on the edge. He’s writing a book, which he’s calling “Darkness of the Mind: A Small-Town Man’s Journey with the Medellin Cartel and the CIA.”
“I knew about him because he is from here,” Biggs said. “Someone had mentioned to me there are so many subsets to the story. So I started looking into it. I was going to write a portion of the story, maybe an article.”
Biggs contacted LeQuire in prison and asked if he could “dig up bones.” LeQuire then called him and said he was interested in sharing his story.
“We just started talking,” the author said.
“First I got fascinated by him,” Biggs explained. “I had never met anyone who has had no regard for consequences. Nothing. He was just an outlaw from the get-go.”
Biggs has been writing for several years and has published some travel articles. He wrote another book telling the story of the woman who founded the Mission of Hope, called “There is No Hope Here.” It is currently available at places like Hastings and Amazon. He’s also working on a spiritual book entitled “Visits With God.”
In the beginning
The drug smuggling began in late 1981 or early 1982, court documents show. The evidence at trial revealed a well-orchestrated conspiracy in which LeQuire arranged for personally owned planes to fly from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. into South America for the purpose of transporting large amounts of cocaine back into the U.S.
Upon arriving in Colombia, LeQuire’s planes were loaded with duffel bags of cocaine and refueled for the return flight, the court documents said. The planes would fly at low altitudes until they reached an airport in Alabama, Tennessee or Georgia.
The planes would land after sunset and remain on the ground only long enough for the duffel bags to be pushed onto the runway, the documents further state. The entire procedure took only minutes.
On Aug. 3, 1983, 711 pounds of cocaine was seized by the federal authorities at Dannelly Field in Montgomery, Ala., the largest single haul of cocaine in Alabama history. Street value was estimated at $200 million.
LeQuire pleaded guilty to counts of possession of cocaine and importation of cocaine on April 23, 1984. A jury found LeQuire and several others from Blount County — Charles Allen LeQuire, James Thomas LeQuire, Bonnie Sue Anders, Michael Jenkins, Robert LeQuire and Harold Ward — guilty in 1988 of conspiracy to violate RICO. Two other defendants, Gene LeQuire and Mike LeQuire, were found not guilty.
In addition, LeQuire was convicted of conducting an enterprise’s affairs and of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise. He was consequently sentenced to a total of 60 years and fined $500,000.
LeQuire admits to his drug smuggling crimes, but he denies having anything to do with a bombing attempt in Atlanta while behind bars for the drug convictions.
LeQuire, three of LeQuire’s brothers (Gene, Thomas and Michael), his son, Chuck, and Michael Jenkins were charged in February 1990 of plotting to blow up a nuclear power plant, an East Coast airport, power transmission towers, a dam and a U.S. naval vessel. They were then allegedly going to trade information on these bombings for the release of LeQuire, saying it was a terrorist plot. They were all found guilty of conspiracy in October 1991.
LeQuire appealed his 1988 conviction on drug charges, but the conviction was upheld by a Court of Appeals in October 1991.
The only other person to visit LeQuire in recent years, Biggs said, is a cousin. His son is in prison and his ex-wife went into the Witness Protection Program after testifying against LeQuire. His brothers and others were also convicted of drug charges, and although Biggs talks about that in his book, he doesn’t use their names.
Of locals here who remember when LeQuire ran his multimillion-dollar empire, most talk about the rumor that $280 million of his money was supposedly buried somewhere in Blount County. The farm where the money was allegedly buried in southeast Blount County was auctioned off in 1990.
LeQuire doesn’t talk about that missing money. That’s fine with Biggs, who said he doesn’t want anybody thinking he can lead them to the alleged buried treasure.
Talking to The Times
LeQuire did talk to the media in July 1991, specifically to Daily Times reporter Anna C. Irwin. Irwin, who has since passed away, traveled to the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta with photographer Dave Hickey. The stories and photos ran as a two-part series. Just like now, he admitted to being a drug smuggler, or hauler as he liked to describe it. He also didn’t have much to say back then about the buried millions.
LeQuire talked a lot about his mother in that interview with Irwin. She is now deceased.
There have been at least 100 hours of conversations back and forth between these two, Biggs said. They trade emails and talk on the phone. Biggs’ latest visit to Pine Knot, located about 90 miles from Knoxville, was just a couple of weeks ago.
At one of his stints in a different maximum security prison, LeQuire was incarcerated with the head of the Cali cartel, several members of the Medellin cartel, John Gotti, New Jersey mob boss Nicky Scarfo and others, Biggs said.
“Because of his refusal to testify against any other drug people — not a single one — he is well-respected within this group,” Biggs explained.
LeQuire’s attorney was the famous F. Lee Bailey, and early on he tried to cut a deal for LeQuire if he would name names. LeQuire refused, and he never took the witness stand.
As for looking back at what he did and wishing he had made different choices, Biggs said there doesn’t seem to be any of that inside LeQuire. “He has no regret about what he did — no remorse,” Biggs said.
Can’t walk away
In the prologue of his book, Biggs tells the story of one of his first meetings with LeQuire. He asked the convicted felon why he didn’t just stop when he had bucket loads of money and walk away.
“He looked at me and smiled,” Biggs wrote. “Think of a six-inch pipeline flowing constantly with hundred dollar bills and you have control of the valve. Would you turn it off?”
Biggs answered with a shrug.
So far, Biggs has written some 40,000 words for print and said the story keeps on going. LeQuire was an excellent pilot, Biggs writes, and said LeQuire spent a year in Colombia where he knew all the players. LeQuire told Biggs his undoing came when a man who was working for the CIA convinced LeQuire he should buy his own airport.
“He got Jerry some airplanes,” Biggs said. “He got pilots for Jerry. The operation just thrived. He had so much money he didn’t know what to do with it. He had $20 million stashed in a closet at his home in Florida because he didn’t know what to do with it.”
The friend told LeQuire he knew of an airport he could buy for $750,000.
“Jerry gave him cash,” Biggs said. “He didn’t know Hank Maierhoffer was a CIA agent. The airport belonged to the CIA.”
Maierhoffer is dead and he is named in court records, so Biggs felt OK about using his name in the book.
The stuff of movies
Biggs makes allegations in his book about the CIA and ties to drug smuggling. He even said he contacted the CIA to tell them about the book. The CIA told him if he got his information through public knowledge, they have no problem with the book, Biggs said.
An obvious question might be why would LeQuire agree to have his story told. Ego is Biggs’ answer.
Biggs said the story really starts in 1979 and LeQuire had already spent time in jail for shooting into the back of a vehicle — multiple times. “He learned very early that a .38 beat a fist anytime.”
Biggs said although LeQuire is very hopeful he will be released in early 2014, the convicted drug kingpin hasn’t said where he might go. “I think there are a lot of people who are afraid of him,” Biggs said. “But a lot of people are dead now.”
Biggs did ask LeQuire how many people had he killed, to which LeQuire replied, “How many people did I try to kill?” might be a better question, LeQuire said. “I am a horrible shot.”
Biggs doesn’t have a publisher for his book yet, but he believes it’s a tale readers would devour. Especially people living in this area who knew of LeQuire and his plunge into the dangerous but lucrative world of cocaine.
“It is an intriguing story,” Biggs said. “It’s an unbelievable story.”