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Try as he might, Otis Thrasher can't help but laugh.
It's only been a few days since surgeons removed his cancerous prostate gland, and the last thing the recently retired and highly decorated Arizona Department of Public Safety narcotics officer wants to do is launch into a full guffaw.
But stretched across his bed in his new west Valley home recently, Thrasher alternately laughs and grips his lower stomach as his freshly sliced abdomen pulls against stitches.
"Goddammit, you're killing me!" Thrasher yells as he repeats two more excruciating laughing jags.
Thrasher's laughter is spurred by questions about his first meeting with Phoenix businessman Marvin R. Weide, former chairman (1993-97) of the Maricopa County Republican Party and current commander of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's 400-member Executive Posse.
Their chance meeting occurred under most unusual circumstances. The encounter left Thrasher amused and disgusted and the normally loquacious Weide quiet.
It's not Weide's nature to embrace silence, especially when the topic is the war on drugs.
Weide was among the first to endorse a much-ridiculed 1993 Arpaio scheme to place a dragnet around Maricopa County's borders to search incoming vehicles for illegal drugs.
"I think the community has just about come to the point where everybody wants to be a part of ending this drug scene," Weide told a Phoenix daily newspaper at the time. "I think the mood is right for it [the checkpoints]. We're going to take our streets back. And I think we're going to take them back in every area."
Despite Weide's enthusiasm, the plan, which appalled constitutionalists, never got off the ground.
But that didn't curb Weide's verbal swagger. In January 1995, Weide bragged in a Village Voicearticle that he and his fellow posse members had donned their Clint Eastwood chaps and were going to rid the Phoenix streets of dopers and whores.
"What we say to these people is the posse is out on the streets and we're here to fuck you up," Weide is quoted as saying.
These days, Weide is in no mood to dispense antidrug hyperbole.
"Well, I'm not real anxious to talk to you," Weide tells New Timesbefore hanging up the phone. He also refused a second telephone request for an interview and declined to reply to a letter faxed to his home.
Weide's reticence is understandable.
That's because a sprawling North 40th Street warehouse his family owns and that he uses for an auto-parts business, as a posse operations base and reelection campaign center for Arpaio was for 21 months an integral link in what federal authorities allege is one of the largest marijuana importation and distribution enterprises ever.
Federal records and interviews reveal that Weide's warehouse was among at least three sophisticated distribution centers operated by Glen Moore Rice Jr., possibly the biggest American marijuana dealer in history.
Rice was captured on February 17 in a Dallas hotel room. The next day, Otis Thrasher and U.S. Customs Service criminal investigators searched Weide's warehouse and found an "obvious marijuana processing warehouse site" capable of processing thousands of pounds of marijuana at a time, according to federal court records.
Thrasher met Weide moments after entering the warehouse and would interview him several times during the next few days. Despite his posse training and rank, Weide denied then, and continues to deny now, any knowledge of the drug operation even though he conducted business operations and assembled Arpaio campaign signs in another part of the same warehouse.
Thrasher says he found no evidence linking Weide to the dealers, but is astounded that Weide did not recognize that something was amiss--especially since Weide was receiving $4,100 a month in rent from a supposed furniture business that never had more than a handful of cheap couches in stock and operated primarily at night.
Thrasher says Weide's responses to questions left him with a low opinion of Arpaio's top posse man.
"Weide is a bum!" Thrasher says with a chuckle before instinctively grabbing his aching stomach.
After chasing 51-year-old Glen Moore Rice for 15 years, federal narcotics officers finally got a break last winter.
The ease of the arrest and the carelessness of Rice and his alleged accomplices make one wonder how they remained fugitives for so long while allegedly importing hundreds of tons of marijuana into the United States.
Federal attorneys in Waco, Texas, tracked Rice and his gang for years. They allege that Rice's organization made massive shipments of marijuana from Mexico to the East Coast, and smuggled millions of dollars in cash into Texas by truck and on commercial airliners, and then on to Mexican marijuana suppliers.
"Understand something," says assistant U.S. attorney Jake Snyder in a telephone interview from his Waco office. "I'm not joking when I say this is the largest gringo weed dealer in the world."
Rice, who looks more like a country preacher than marijuana kingpin, made a mistake when he met his Mexican wife, Guadalupe Quiroz, in Dallas last February. The U.S. Customs Service already knew that Quiroz had entered the country. Now, they were waiting for her to leave.
On February 17, Quiroz arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to catch a flight to Mexico. She was accompanied to the airport by James Earnest Gregory, a Rice lieutenant who authorities allege headed up Rice's drug distribution centers in Phoenix and Dallas.