Michael Lock’s Milwaukee…………Part II
Written by Urban Mogul Life on August 11, 2010
Second of five parts
Eugene “Mickey” Chaney spent the last day of his life delivering tulips, lilies and daffodils.
After he finished his day job, Chaney was supposed to meet with a big Milwaukee drug dealer, Michael Lock – a man investigators believed was moving 10 pounds of cocaine a week.
Chaney’s co-workers at the wholesale flower shop knew he had been in trouble before. But they didn’t know Chaney was selling drugs on the side.
Chaney, 43, had gotten out of federal prison two years earlier. He had gambled with Lock and they made a few dope deals together before Lock proposed pooling their money on a big buy.
Chaney stopped home and quickly counted out $100,000. He rushed out the door, still wearing his flower delivery shirt.
He went to a house Lock owned on N. 53rd St. As he stepped through the door, Chaney was tackled.
The old-school dope dealer laughed at first. His smile disappeared when Lock pointed a gun in his face.
Lock’s men bound Chaney in duct tape and started beating and kicking him.
Afterward, Lock and two henchmen, Carl “Uncle Ed” Davis and Donald “Killer Coop” Cooper, loaded Chaney into a truck and took him to another house Lock owned a mile away on W. Fiebrantz Ave.
A grave was waiting out back, next to the concrete slab that covered another drug dealer killed eight months earlier. After that first body was buried, Lock had placed a pit bull kennel on top of the slab.
It was dark. They pulled into the garage. Cooper dragged out Chaney. He begged for his life.
Cooper told Davis to lower the garage door. As it came down, Cooper pulled a plastic bag over Chaney’s head.
Lock and his uncle stood outside, their backs to a Milwaukee fire station across the street. They heard the sickening sound of a man struggling to stay alive. Be cool, Lock told his uncle.
After a few minutes, the door rose. Cooper stood inside, alone. Chaney was already in the backyard grave.
Based on how long Chaney was suffocating, investigators think he may have been alive when he was put into the hole.
Davis shoveled in dirt and poured more concrete. A second dog kennel went up.
A Lock associate who lived near the Fiebrantz house asked Cooper whatever happened to Mickey.
Killer Coop smiled.
“You walk past him every day,” Cooper said.
Lock’s brazen elimination of Chaney provided investigating law enforcement agencies an opening to take down his growing criminal enterprise. But authorities failed to make key connections.
Chaney vanished on April 7, 2000.
His family was certain he was murdered. City police commanders figured Chaney was dead – but they had no body.
They did have one key piece of evidence. Chaney was using his daughter’s cell phone – and was hiding that fact from his probation agent. He forgot the phone at his house when he left with the $100,000. The last number dialed was Lock’s.
Eleven days after Chaney disappeared, Milwaukee homicide Detective Cameo Barbian-Gayan interviewed Lock. He told the detective his number was on Chaney’s phone because he was going to build Chaney a fence. He said he had no idea where Chaney was.
Barbian-Gayan didn’t know that a county drug task force was already investigating Lock.
A few days before the detective’s interview, the task force happened to be sifting through Lock’s trash at the home on W. Fiebrantz Ave. where both murdered drug dealers were buried. Authorities were looking for evidence of drug dealing and money laundering.
City homicide detectives didn’t know about the drug task force or its search. The drug task force didn’t know Lock was a suspect in Chaney’s disappearance. And neither the police nor the Sheriff’s Department knew that the FBI had recently recorded wiretapped conversations that may have linked Lock to Chaney’s murder.
Each agency closely guarded its own case, worried that leaks might tip off Lock. Had they shared information, some of those involved believe Michael Lock’s reign could have ended much sooner than it did.
“We lost him. He fell between our fingertips,” said Jeffrey Doss, a veteran investigator of the district attorney’s office, who was on the county drug task force.
Detective Barbian-Gayan wrote a two-page report on her Lock interviewand filed it. She and her bosses suspected Chaney was dead, but they didn’t have much evidence.
Chaney’s family felt the police didn’t push hard to solve the case because he was a drug dealer.
‘Looking at the sky’
Federal agents also had reason to believe Chaney was dead. And it wasn’t just a hunch.
The FBI had recorded a call of someone believed to be inside Lock’s organization saying that Chaney was “looking at the sky,” slang for dead, according to a source familiar with the investigation. The recorded voice may have been Lock himself.
Other informants told federal probation agents that Chaney had been kidnapped, bound in duct tape and killed after a drug deal gone bad, according to probation records.
Shortly before he was murdered, Chaney was being watched by local U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
When Chaney missed an appointment with his probation officer, she called DEA agent Rodel Babasa to alert him. Instead, she got a call back from FBI agent Matt Gibson, who said he had reason to believe Chaney was killed in a “drug deal gone bad.”
Gibson didn’t divulge much more to the probation officer. None of the information from federal drug agents was shared with homicide detectives investigating Chaney’s disappearance. Such information might have pointed investigators to people who knew more about the murder.
Barbian-Gayan, who has retired, did not return calls for comment. The FBI wouldn’t comment. A DEA official said the agency had no information about Chaney’s disappearance.
Even after Chaney’s remains were discovered five years later, federal agents did not share their information with homicide investigators.
Milwaukee police Officer Dean Newport, who tracked Lock for years and became the lead investigator in 2005, said the FBI’s leads could have helped link Lock to Chaney’s death earlier.
“That would have been nice to know,” Newport said.
Pulled over with gun
Newport saw stopping Michael Lock as a challenge. And he loved challenges.
He joined the Coast Guard, hoping for worldwide adventure. He didn’t get far. The Wisconsin native was stationed in Milwaukee. When his tour of duty ended, he went to work for a private ambulance company – a job that sent him racing around Milwaukee during the height of the city’s crack wars, patching up people full of bullet holes.
He decided he’d rather chase the bad guys.
Newport joined the Milwaukee police force in 1995, but the routine work – ticketing speeders, answering barking dog complaints and quelling bar fights – never satisfied him. He had a detective’s instincts and was intrigued by the idea of building bigger cases. He began amassing reams of notes about local criminals.
As a beat cop in 2000, Newport learned from fellow officers that Lock was considered a major Milwaukee drug dealer. Newport began keeping his own notes on Lock.
One night in October he and his partner spotted Lock on N. 51st Blvd. and pulled him over for an unpaid citation.
Lock told Newport he was coming from church. He mentioned that his brother and cousin were Milwaukee police officers.
Newport and his partner found a loaded 10 mm Glock handgun under the front seat and arrested Lock. They took the case to John Chisholm, then an assistant district attorney and head of the gun unit.
Chisholm told them that to convict under Wisconsin law, he had to prove Lock knew the gun was there, with a glance or other gesture. Fingerprints also could prove it. The cops didn’t have any of that.
They also didn’t know about Lock’s entire criminal résumé. By that time, other investigators had gathered evidence tying Lock to big drug deals, money laundering and prostitution.
Chisholm wasn’t aware of any of that. All he saw was a guy with a mostly clean record.
The best Chisholm could have gotten was a conviction for carrying a concealed weapon, a misdemeanor. A first-time conviction typically brings probation or a short jail sentence.
Newport wasn’t happy. He argued that all indications were that Lock was a major criminal. This would be a way to gain leverage.
Chisholm said if that were true, Newport needed to bring him a better case.
Today, the veteran prosecutor stands by his decision not to charge Lock.
“It couldn’t be proven,” Chisholm said. “You can’t give into the temptation to go short, to cross any lines.”
Chisholm admits investigators missed other chances to derail Lock but says the crime boss made some of his own breaks.
“He’s smarter than the average guy, more ruthless than the average guy and better connected,” Chisholm said. “Clearly, he was taking advantage of gaps in our system.”
County case closed
Lock got another break in mid-2001 when the county drug unit abruptly closed its two-year investigation into his operations without a single charge filed.
The task force believed Lock ran a wholesale cocaine trafficking business, an extensive prostitution ringand a money-laundering operation. Informants, surveillance and financial records backed it up. They had launched a secret John Doe inquiry, reserved for the biggest cases. They were getting close.
“This guy was big time,” said retired sheriff’s Detective Daniel Ornelas, chief investigator on the Lock case. “He had tentacles everywhere.”
So why was the case abandoned? Today, former members of the drug unit and the sheriff’s command staff are pointing fingers.
Ornelas, a longtime drug investigator, said he knows of no other drug-related John Doe case that was closed down in the same way. Ornelas’ supervisors at the time included two current members of Sheriff David A. Clarke’s command staff, Inspector Kevin Carr and Capt. Anthony Delgadillo. Both declined to talk for this article.
Ornelas said the responsibility for closing the Lock investigation rested at the top, with then-Sheriff Lev Baldwin. Ornelas was ordered off narcotics, which forced him to drop the Lock case.
“Baldwin knew it was a good case,” Ornelas said. “There was no reason whatsoever to shut down that investigation. None. They shut it down, boxed it up and pretended it never happened. It made zero sense.”
Baldwin, who retired in 2002, said he doesn’t remember the Lock case. He said if Ornelas had the goods on Lock, it was his responsibility to make sure someone ran with it.
“They wouldn’t cancel a good case, not under my watch,” Baldwin said.
Ornelas said once he was transferred, that wasn’t his responsibility.
“They could have done something with the case. That was their responsibility, not mine,” Ornelas said. “They kicked me out. I had no say.”
Willie McFarland, Baldwin’s second-in-command, said he doesn’t remember the Lock case either. But he remembers thinking Ornelas had been in the drug unit for too long.
Asked recently why the Lock case ended, Clarke’s spokeswoman Kim Brooks said, “Our investigation found no evidence that he was dealing drugs.”
Doss, the investigator for the district attorney, was shocked to hear that anyone in the sheriff’s office could think that Lock wasn’t dealing drugs.
“It was just the opposite. We knew he was a drug dealer and a pimp. Everyone did. It was hard to get at him because he used other people,” Doss said. “He never touched anything. The guys who last longest operate that way.”
Stalked, robbed dealers
Lock, meanwhile, continued his vicious work.
Generally, criminals in the drug trade either deal drugs or rob those who do. Because he plotted his operations with such precision and had the muscle and connections to thwart any retaliation, Lock did both.
He picked his targets carefully.
Lock found flashy dealers everywhere – at strip clubs, bars and dogfights.
He started with surveillance, typically assigning the task to Louis Jackson. Jackson tailed his subjects for weeks. He learned where they kept their dope, where their children went to school, where their mothers and girlfriends lived. He took rolls of pictures.
Lock would set up a drug deal with his targets and then ambush them.
Lock and his crew blindfolded the victims with duct tape and twisted wire around their ankles and wrists. They took their cash and cocaine. He’d give them one chance to call for more money and drugs. If a dealer played games, Lock’s crew might visit the dealer’s mother or other relative.
Lock’s crews beat victims with hammers, scalded them with hot grease and burned their feet with propane torches.
For tough cases, they poured warm steak grease in the victim’s pants crotch and brought in a pit bull.
“That got you to thinking,” Jackson said.
‘This is what we do’
In 2002, Lock heard that Leoporium “Leo” Ford was flush with cocaine and money. He ordered surveillance on Ford, then arranged through a middleman to buy cocaine from him.
Normally wary of new people, Ford had a rule never to go into a house without the middleman who set up the deal.
Ford had his cousin with him and figured he was safe with a second person.
As Ford stepped into Lock’s house on 53rd St., one of Lock’s men pointed a TEC-9 semiautomatic pistol in Ford’s face.
“You know what time it is?” the man said.
Ford handed over a pound of cocaine.
Lock’s crew told him to call for more drugs and money. Ford balked. They tied him up with wire hangers and duct tape and blindfolded him, savagely kicking and punching him. They slashed his clothes.
Ford smelled chicken grease from another room. His captors began dripping scalding grease on him in a slow torture.
“You know who we are?” one of Lock’s men said. “We are the Body Snatchers. This is what we do.”
Ford’s cousin, meanwhile, was getting beaten up in the basement.
Ford ordered one of his guys to get a few thousand dollars more and made it out of Lock’s house alive – probably because one of Lock’s men knew Ford’s cousin.
As Lock trolled for dealers like Ford, federal agents continued to investigate.
He proved a tricky target even for the FBI and the DEA. Lock switched deal locations at the last minute. He set up counter-surveillance. He wrote out messages to avoid being caught on tape.
Undercover agents finally got to Lock and set up a drug buy. They arrested him and his uncle with 9 ounces of cocaine in May 2002 – at least eight years after Lock started dealing drugs.
Lock now faced decades in prison.
But he would slip away again, thanks to a sweet deal from the FBI.