VOL. 127 | NO. 34 | Monday, February 20, 2012
Miss. Drug Kingpin Talks of Life on Run in Mexico With Petties
By Bill Dries
When Dave Warner learned police and federal agents were searching his house in Mississippi in 2004, he ran. And while he was on the run, he got a phone call from Memphis drug kingpin Craig Petties who said Warner could come live in Mexico where Petties had fled two years earlier.
Warner and Petties were two Americans on the run in a small community of 16-20 people living in exile. And they worked directly with the Mexican drug cartel leader known as La Barbie.
Warner testified Friday, Feb. 17, about Petties’ connection to the cartel as well as his year on the run with Petties in Mexico in the drug conspiracy, racketeering and murder for hire trial of Clinton Lewis and Martin Lewis in Memphis Federal Court.
Petties had changed from the drug kingpin Warner got to know in the late 1990s in Memphis through Antonio Allen, a member of the Petties drug organization.
Warner had been a drug dealer in the southern part of Mississippi who came to Memphis for drag races and through Allen he met Petties and became part of their group as they partied at Memphis nightspots and eventually began working with each other in the drug trade.
“We all knew we had basically similar occupations,” Warner said.
Warner sold cocaine to Petties two or three times and later Petties began supplying Warner who grew his operations in Mississippi centered in the small town of Prentiss, where Warner had lived his whole live until he fled to Mexico in 2004.
Warner testified that he was ready to get out of the business twice at least temporarily because he was attracting too much attention.
“I told Craig I was ready to back away,” he said of a conversation they had in 2002. “I had gotten a lot of warnings that I was on the radar.”
Petties knew many of the people Warner worked with and Petties began working with them but still urging Warner to do “one more package, one more package, one more package.”
Warner described his growing role in the drug trade as becoming “a dominant factor in Mississippi.” And he was on the radar of authorities.
Warner was tipped that his house had been raided and there was a warrant for his arrest. He fled to Dallas at first.
Asked by defense attorneys who told him, Warner said he didn’t remember their names.
With instructions from Petties, Warner walked across the U.S.-Mexico border from Laredo, Texas into Neuvo Laredo and flew from there to Acapulco where Petties was living. Petties had already rented Warner a home there.
“We were a community of individuals on the run,” Warner said of the other Americans he got to know there. He and Petties still stood out. “We were probably the only black guys in the whole city on a regular basis.”
He also noticed a change in Petties who was staying up to date on the series of drug busts and arrests in Memphis that were unraveling the organization even as it was selling millions of dollars worth of cocaine.
“His whole demeanor had changed,” Warner recalled. “He wanted to be like the cartels. The scary part was … we had never talked about having anything done to anybody.”
The first conversation about violence was when Petties found out some suspects cooperating in the federal investigation of Warner in Mississippi were out on bond.
“He asked if I wanted to have something done to them,” Warner testified and said he told Petties, “What are you talking about? What about the guys still in prison? … That’s the difference between me and you.”
At first Warner thought Petties was “talking above his head.”
“If anybody ticked him off, he got to the point where they got to go,” Warner said. Meanwhile, Warner was learning of the violent deaths of several members of the organization back in Memphis.
A later conversation with Petties, Warner recalled as “shocking” and the saddest day of his exile in Mexico aside from his capture there. Petties admitted that he had had Antonio Allen killed.
“That was my partner,” Warner said of Allen. He challenged Petties on how Petties knew Allen had cooperated.
“He had connections with the city,” Warner said of Petties. “He spoke on that extensively. … He said he definitely knew.”
Allegations of connections to law enforcement who told Petties and others in the organization who was cooperating has been an undercurrent in the testimony of several witnesses in the trial. That includes people who were at meetings in Memphis with Petties where plans to kill Allen and others were discussed.
Orlando Pride testified that Geraldine Galloway, the president of a bail bond company, told Petties of those cooperating and that Petties claimed in Memphis that he had the information “in black and white.”
Allen was cooperating and had worn a wire in the federal investigation of Petties.
In Acapulco, Warner met the Mexican drug kingpin known as “LaBarbie” – Edgar Valdez-Villareal -- with an introduction from Petties. Valdez was second in command to Arturo Beltran-Leyva, the head of a faction of the splintered Sinaloa drug cartel.
Warner quoted Valdez as telling him, “You’re at home now. The city’s ours. You don’t have to worry about police here.”
“We carried guns,” Warner said. “We drove all stolen vehicles.”
Warner recalled getting pulled over by the police in Acapulco and putting an associate of Valdez on his Nextel phone to talk to the officer. The officer then apologized for pulling Warner over.
It was a dramatic transition for Warner.
“I was totally ignorant of the facts of cartels,” he said. “Tuesday, I’ve got 200 agents in my home trying to get me. Thursday, I’m in another country.”
But there were challenges to the new way of life.
Warner and Petties fled the Acapulco area in 2005 after they were tipped that agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration were on their way to the area.
Warner was captured July 8, 2005 by Mexican authorities. He said they had tracked his location to Toluca, Mexico, about 20 miles outside Mexico City, from his Nextel phone. They set up surveillance in a lot across the street from his house in a lot where a house was being built. One day, two workers asked for a drink of water and as Warner bent over to pick up a garden hose, the two officers, posing as the workers, grabbed him and put him under arrest.
Petties was captured in Mexico in January 2008.
Warner is one of several witnesses who have testified or are expected to testify at the trial who are being held at the federal prison in Mason, Tennessee.
“Every night everybody is talking about the case,” he said of other prisoners there when asked about it by defense attorney Marty McAfee who asked him to name the others and what they talked about. “You want me to name all 200 people at Mason? It’s nothing to brag on, what I’m doing. Let’s break it down that way.”
The trial resumes Tuesday, Feb. 21, after Monday’s federal holiday.