Bobby Cole was a professional drag racer and race promoter known as a kind of arbiter of differences among drivers and someone who helped those in financial straits with loans of cash or one of his trailers.
Cole was also using his trailers to ferry millions of dollars worth of cocaine into Memphis for one of the most powerful and violent drug organizations in the city’s history and millions of dollars from the sale of the cocaine back to Mexico.
It was a game he knew well. He did federal prison time in the 1980s when he was 19 for drug conspiracy.
Cole, now 43, was sentenced Monday, Oct. 29, to eight years and one month in prison for his role in the multi-state drug organization headed by Craig Petties.
Cole is the first defendant indicted as part of the largest and most violent drug organization ever tried in Memphis federal court to be sentenced.
Memphis federal court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays is scheduled Friday to sentence another admitted member of the drug organization, Clarence Broady, who killed several people for the organization and admitted it during his testimony in the trial earlier this year of Martin Lewis and Clinton Lewis. The Lewises were the only two defendants charged in the case who did not plead guilty and went to trial. Both were convicted by a jury of drug conspiracy, racketeering and murder-for-hire charges and are awaiting sentencing.
Mays’ schedule also included a sentencing hearing Wednesday that bore the case number of the Petties’ indictment. No name was listed as the defendant to be sentenced and the hearing was sealed to the public.
Cole was a defendant in one of eight sets of indictments in the Petties drug case. He pleaded guilty to a single count of racketeering conspiracy in a later separate criminal information. An information is when a defendant is charged and pleads guilty in the same action.
Mays sentenced Cole taking into account his cooperation with federal authorities at a late stage in the investigation into the multi-state drug organization run by Petties.
Cole’s information was more along the lines of corroborating what other more important witnesses told federal prosecutors and investigators, said Assistant U.S. Attorney David Pritchard.
“This was an extremely violent organization where you don’t have to speculate about what might happen to someone who cooperated. I do think the risk factor here takes it out of the ordinary.”
–Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays
But Mays said there was a level of danger for Cole nevertheless, citing the murders of people the organization merely suspected were cooperating with law enforcement.
“This was an extremely violent organization where you don’t have to speculate about what might happen to someone who cooperated,” Mays said. “I do think the risk factor here takes it out of the ordinary.”
There was no evidence Cole was ever involved in any of the violence that Mays at another point in the hearing described as bringing “Mexican-style drug gang tactics into the Western District of Tennessee.”
The dramatic backdrop for the case earned Cole some consideration because of his cooperation. But it also worked against him because although he was not part of the violence, he was a leader within the drug organization.
“It involved many, many people,” Mays said of the drug case that named more than 40 people in a set of eight indictments that grew in detail over a six-year investigation.
“It involved extreme acts of violence and no one knows how much cocaine.”
For purposes of sentencing guidelines, Pritchard and defense attorney Randall W. Pierce agreed that Cole was responsible for shipping something less than 150 kilograms of cocaine in dozens of shipments, each shipment in a batch of 20 kilograms with each kilogram valued at the time at $20,000.
Cole began running drugs and drug money for the organization in about 2005. He was one of several upper-level members of the organization who talked directly with Petties in Mexico via one of several Nextel phones that Petties assigned to the upper-level members of the organization.
“He was someone who was trusted by Mr. Petties. He had direct contact with Mr. Petties,” Mays said. “Mr. Cole was not as culpable as some. He was more culpable than others. He was a major player. … And the organization survived in part by terror – by killing people.”
Two months before Petties was captured in Mexico, federal agents raided Cole’s home in Hickory Hill as well as a garage Cole operated near Memphis International Airport.
They didn’t arrest Cole then, but they seized more than $140,000 in cash as well as a racecar Cole owned and other vehicles with an estimated value of $500,000.
Cole’s attorney filed suit to get the money back. Federal agents then began detailing their case against Cole.