The real Rick Ross is not a rapper. Ross began selling cocaine after his illiteracy prevented his earning a tennis scholarship for college. He began spending time with an upholstery teacher at his school who revealed he dealt cocaine and offered Ross some to sell. Ross eventually began to ask for quantities to sell that exceeded what the teacher was willing to procure, so he turned to find a new dealer.
Through a friend, Ross was introduced to a connection of two Nicaraguan exiles, Oscar Danilo Blandón and Norwin Meneses Cantarero, to purchase cheaper Nicaraguan cocaine. Ross began distributing cocaine at $10,000 less per kilo than the average street price, distributing it to the Bloods and Crips street gangs. Ross eventually purchased his cocaine directly from Blandón and Meneses instead of going through the connection. By 1982, Ross had received his moniker of “Freeway Ricky” and claimed to have sold up to US$3 million worth of cocaine per day, purchasing 455 kilos of cocaine a week.
Ross initially invested most of his profits in houses and businesses, because he feared his mother would catch on to what he was doing if he started spending lavishly on himself. In a jailhouse interview with reporter Gary Webb, Ross said, “We were hiding our money from our mothers.” He invested a portion of the proceeds from his drug dealing activities in Anita Baker’s first album.
With thousands of employees, Ross has said he operated drug sales not only in Los Angeles but in places across the country including St. Louis, New Orleans, Texas, Kansas City, Oklahoma, Indiana, Cincinnati, North Carolina, South Carolina, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Seattle. He has said that his most lucrative sales came from the Ohio area. He made similar claims in a 1996 PBS interview. According to the Oakland Tribune, “In the course of his rise, prosecutors estimate that Ross exported several tons of cocaine to New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and made more than $600 million in the process.” Adjusting for inflation using the Consumer Price Index, this becomes more than a billion dollars.
Much of Ross’s success at evading law enforcement was due to his ring’s possession of police scanners and voice scramblers. Following one drug bust, an L.A. sheriff remarked that Ross’s men had “better equipment than we have.”
According to the October 2013 Esquire article, “Between 1982 and 1989, federal prosecutors estimated, Ross bought and resold several metric tons of cocaine. In 1980 dollars, his gross earnings were said to be in excess of $900 million – with a profit of nearly $300 million. Converted roughly to present-day dollars: 2.5 billion gross and $850 million in profit. As his distribution empire grew to include forty-two cities, the price he paid per kilo of powder cocaine dropped from as much as $60,000 to as low as $10,000. ”
Ross’s capture was facilitated by his main source, drug lord Oscar Danilo Blandón, who set up Ross. Blandón had close ties with the Contras, and had met with Contra leader Enrique Bermúdez on several occasions. Blandón was the link between the CIA and Contras during the Iran-Contra affair. Gary Webb interviewed Ross several times before breaking the story in 1996. Ross claims that the reason he was unfairly tried initially was because of his involvement in the scandal. Blandón received a 24-month sentence for his drug trafficking charges, and following his release, was hired by the Drug Enforcement Administration where he was salaried at US$42,000. The INS was ordered to grant Blandón a green card, despite the criminal convictions, to allow him to work for the DEA.