by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
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BANNED BY EDICT from smuggling drugs, the Italian American Mafia missed out on the most lucrative crime wave of the twentieth century. It was left to others to profit from the $100 billion a year market in cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamines. Those best placed, by geography and criminal tradition, were the loose-knit groupings of the South, known to law enforcement as the "Dixie Mafia."
The term was first coined by Rex Armistead, the Director of the Organized Crime Strike Force in New Orleans in the 1970s.  Less famous than the Cosa Nostra, the Dixie Mafia was, and still is, far more dangerous. During a ten year period from 1968 to 1978 when the Italian Americans were in the headlines for a spree of thirty murders, their redneck counterparts quietly dispatched 156 victims.
"There wasn't a well from Mississippi to West Texas that didn't have a dead body floating in it," said Armistead. "The big difference was the lack of ceremony. It was just 'I'm going to get rid of Ambrose today; I don't need permission; and I go out and do it.' As simple as that. And that's the end of Ambrose. It hasn't changed much either."
The Dixie Mafia formed a ring of interlocking interests that covered Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Tennessee, and above all Arkansas. Their spiritual capital was Bill Clinton's hometown of Hot Springs, famous for its racetrack, its ornate bathhouses, its casinos, its prostitution, and its epic defiance of Prohibition.
The coat-and-tie yuppies of the modern Dixie Mafia are the children and grandchildren of bootleggers, a provenance they share with Bill Clinton. The trade has evolved. Clinton's grandfather used to serve moonshine from behind the counter of his store in Hope. Now the business is a high-tech operation involving fleets of aircraft, off-shore banking, and deep reach into the U.S. federal government.
Armistead warned me not to push my luck anywhere in the old Confederacy, but especially not in Arkansas. That counsel was on my mind as I drove through the backroads of the state with a box of documents slipped to me by dissidents in law enforcement. I had been given comprehensive intelligence files from the Criminal Investigations Division of the Arkansas State Police, going back as far as the early 1970s. I was told to copy what I needed, check that I was not being followed, and return the archive within 24 hours. I did exactly that, and as I fed the stack of papers into a photocopy machine at a Kinko's in Little Rock, I was scarcely able to believe what I was seeing. Among the famous names of the Arkansas oligarchy that jumped out from page after page of criminal intelligence files was Don Tyson, the billionaire president of Tyson Foods and the avuncular patron of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.
A gruff barrel-chested man with a cropped beard and a reputation for ruthless business practice, Don Tyson is one of the great characters of Arkansas. He presides over the biggest chicken processing operation in the world from his "Oval Office" -- a replica of the real one -- with door handles in the shape of eggs. He usually wears khaki overalls with "Don" stitched on his breast pocket, and gets his hands dirty working side by side with his 54,000 employees. It is said that half of all American people eat a piece of Tyson chicken every week. The family business, based in Springdale, has grown at an explosive rate since the 1960s, swallowing up rival companies in a relentless quest for market share. "There's no second place. First place is the only place in the world," says Tyson.
But it was a high-wire act getting there. By 1979 the company's debt-to-equity ratio had soared to 1.3 at a time when interest rates were soaring. Already faced with a mushrooming debt service cost, Tyson was then hit by a severe cyclical downturn in the poultry industry. "It's like an airplane running out of gas," said Tyson at the time. "I can feel it. The engines are getting rough." But somehow he managed to prosper. Over the next five years Tyson foods was one of the fastest-growing Fortune 500 companies in the country. The turnaround was a feat of magic, a testimony to his inventive spirit.
The documents I was looking at made me wonder about the origins of his liquidity. Here were files from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, marked DEA SENSITIVE, under the rubric of the "Donald TYSON Drug Trafficking Organization."
One was from the DEA office in Oklahoma City, dated December 14, 1982. It cited a confidential informant alleging that "TYSON smuggles cocaine from Colombia, South America inside race horses to Hot Springs, Arkansas." It cited the investigation tracking number for Don). Tyson, a/k/a "Chicken Man," as Naddis 470067. A second document from the DEA office in Tucson, dated July 9, 1984, stated that "the Cooperating Individual had information concerning heroin, cocaine and marijuana trafficking in the States of Arkansas, Texas, and Missouri by the TYSON Organization." The informant described a place called "THE BARN" which TYSON used as a "stash" location for large quantities of marijuana and cocaine. '''THE BARN' area is located between Springdale and Fayetteville, Arkansas, and from the outside the appearance of 'THE BARN' looks run down. On the inside of 'THE BARN' it is quite plush."
The files contain raw police intelligence. Such allegations have to be treated with great caution. But these DEA informant reports are buttressed by a much bigger collection of state intelligence documents. Files marked "Very Confidential" trace allegations about Tyson and drug trafficking as far back as 1973.
A memo by the Criminal Investigative Section, dated March 22, 1976, states that Don Tyson "is an extremely wealthy man with much political influence and seems to be involved in most every kind of shady operation, especially narcotics, however, has to date gone without implication in any specific crime. TYSON likes to think of himself as the 'King of the Hill' in northwest Arkansas, and quite possibly this might not be erroneous." The memo was triggered by a dispute between Tyson and the Teamsters Union over allegations of drug dealing and prostitution at a Teamsters' -owned hotel leased by Tyson.  Two sets of documents refer to alleged hit men employed by Tyson to kill drug dealers who owed him money. Another report alleged that Tyson was using his business plane to smuggle quart jars of methamphetamine. All told, it was a staggering portrait of a drug baron. 
None of the allegations led to criminal charges, and it would soon become clear why. Police officers who tried to mount a case against Tyson were destroyed by their superiors in the State Police. The first to try was Beverly "B. J." Weaver, then an undercover narcotics officer in Springdale. Working the streets and bars of northwest Arkansas, disguised as a deaf woman, she collected detailed intelligence on Tyson's alleged smuggling network.
"There were loads going out with the chickens," she explained.  "They'd put the coke in the rectums of the chickens, live chickens. That's how they'd move it."
As the allegations from her informants mounted, she requested the intelligence files on Don Tyson. That is when her problems began. Her colleagues in the Springdale office -- who she now believes were "on the take" from the Tyson machine -- put out the word that she was "not stable," that she had "flipped out." Then it got rough. "They started passing out my photo on the streets, which put my life in danger. I became paranoid. I didn't trust my phone line. There was nobody I could really trust."
She drove to Little Rock to seek the support Colonel Tommy Goodwin, the commander of the State Police. He brushed her off. "You narcs are all paranoid," he said. "You see too many shadows in the dark." 
By 1987 her position was untenable. Her career in ruins, she resigned from the police and found a job as a security guard in the Bahamas. "I went as far away as I could go, just to fade into nothing," she told me.
After she left, the State Police drove the knife in even further, accusing her of making off with police funds, a charge she vehemently denies. She felt so ashamed she could not face her own family. "For seven years I haven't been home again," she said, weeping.
When I visited her in 1994 she was working at the cosmetics counter of a department store in Florida. Brittle, highly emotional, she had not come to terms with her ordeal. "I believed in what I did, and I was proud of what I did," she kept saying, plaintively. But they had broken her spirit.
The next to take up the challenge was Trooper J. N. "Doc" Delaughter, then 38, who drew on Weaver's work to launch a second investigation of Don Tyson in 1988. A soft-spoken man, with a cherubic face and golden hair, he had been elected Sheriff of Arkansas's Nevada County four times before joining the State Police. He came from a wealthier background than most officers in the force. With a modest inheritance from his father, and an extra stipend from his duties as a captain in the Arkansas National Guard, he enjoyed a degree of independence that was extremely threatening to the old-boy network. He also had ties to federal officials through his service in the National Guard. In July 1988 friends in the Guard set up a meeting with Michael Fitzhugh, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, who agreed that the allegations against Tyson were serious enough to warrant a full-scale investigation. 
The next day Delaughter fired off a memo to the chief of Criminal Investigations at the State Police. "The conversation was centered around Don Tyson's illegal use and distribution of cocaine. Mr. Fitzhugh told this investigator that he was interested in prosecuting a criminal conspiracy to process or distribute a controlled substance. Mr. Fitzhugh went on to say that he wanted a combined investigation team of the FBI, DEA, IRS, and the State Police." 
The memo set off alarm bells at the headquarters of the State Police. Sergeant Larry Gleghorn warned Delaughter that he would be hammering "the nails in his own coffin with this department" if he persisted.  Delaughter was pulled off the case soon afterward. The Tyson matter would be transferred to the Springdale office, he was told by Major Doug Stevens, the head of criminal investigations. That was the end of it. The U.S. Attorney said that he did not know why the probe fizzled out, when I interviewed him years later. "The ball was in their court. For whatever reason I never heard another word from them about the thing," he said. 
The State Police commander, Colonel Goodwin, said that "there was not enough information to start an investigation." Asked about the DEA intelligence documents, he told me that "they weren't in the Tyson file back then."  This was not true. The DEA files were already available to State Police investigators.
For Delaughter it was the end of his career in law enforcement. He was transferred to highway patrol, and his department began a nitpicking scrutiny of everything he did. When that did not provoke his resignation, they sent him off for a mental evaluation. It was the B.J. Weaver treatment, tainting him with comments about his mental stability. The police psychologist deemed him a "danger to society" on the grounds that he had "built up a lot of anger" and was confrontational.  It was recommended that Delaughter be suspended from service. An evaluation by a private psychologist disputed these findings, but by then Delaughter knew that he was beaten. He resigned in 1990 and went into the lumber business.
"Trying to bring these guys down is not conducive to a good career," he said, with a wry smile as we sat drinking beer on the veranda of his remote lakeside cabin. "You develop leprosy. Fast."