Be sure to take time to read The MMQB's long look at the fall of Sam Hurd, the former Cowboys and Bears receiver who will be sentenced today after pleading guilty to drug trafficking back in March. Michael McKnight's story outlines the complex series of events that led two years ago to Hurd's arrest outside a Chicago restaurant, from which he'd just emerged swinging a gift bag containing a kilo of cocaine.
The story details much of what's happened to Hurd since. But McKnight's piece can also be read as a brief against the dirty dealings undertaken by the federal government as part of its War on Drugs. Hurd did some dumb and very criminal shit, got in over his head, and got caught—that much is not in dispute, not even by Hurd himself. But as McKnight argues, he'll likely get an unduly harsh sentence—life in prison with no parole—because of the uncorroborated word of two other witnesses who are looking to save their own asses. [Update: Hurd wound up getting 15 years in federal prison.]
But let's start with the weed. Hurd, it seems, loves to smoke weed. He fancies himself a connoisseur. He's eloquent on the subject—just reading his quotes about the stuff is enough to give you a contact high. During college days at Northern Illinois, Hurd once took as much as two pounds of weed from his home in San Antonio back to school to share with his teammates. Not long after he got to the NFL in 2006, Hurd learned that the league tested players for marijuana at approximately the same time every year, a secret known by only a few of the Cowboys' veterans. Hurd freely admits to McKnight that, during the last three or four seasons of his career, he smoked weed "all day, every day, and I didn't want to hear anyone trying to tell me I had a problem." He also says he frequently had high-grade bud frequently shipped to home from California, which he would then share with his teammates at cost:
Hurd's is the voice of a postmodern NFL in which "at least half" of all players, by Hurd's "conservative estimate," smoke marijuana at some point during the season, and members of two teams, the Broncos and Seahawks, live and pay taxes in marijuana-legal states. Players smoke (or vaporize) cannabis for various reasons, according to interviews with NFL veterans: to get out of bed easier, to manage stress, to relax, to alleviate pain or simply to get high. Hurd began smoking heavily while rehabbing after ankle surgery in 2008. He never knew a day when his job wasn't on the line, so once he got healthy again he smoked to reduce stress. But mainly he smoked to get high.
In the summer of 2011, Hurd made two trips to California to secure a pair of marijuana deals—one for $50,000, another for $55,000—just before the end of the NFL lockout. As McKnight details, those transactions eventually put Hurd on the radar of investigators, culminating with his arrest a few months later. Hurd was indicted in January 2012 after attempting to buy large quantities of cocaine from two men. He had no idea it was a sting operation, or that one of the the men with whom he was negotiating was an informant, while the other was a federal agent.
Hurd was out on bail a few months later and had moved his wife and son into his sister's home in Georgia when phone records show he got three calls in five minutes from his cousin, Tyrone Chavful. This after Chavful had just taken a call from a marijuana trafficker with ties to the Mexican cartels. Minutes later, Chavful, who already was a convicted trafficker, was arrested. Here's McKnight:
Hurd answered Tyrone's third call at 3:10 p.m. The government would later contend this was Hurd speaking with his drug-trafficking partner about their incoming haul of cocaine and weed. Sam Hurd has no response for this other than to plop his forehead into his hands, his broad grin belying the seriousness of the matter. "Was he calling me to ask me for money? Probably," Hurd says. "He probably thought I was big in the game because of what happened at Morton's, just like everyone else thought, and he figured I could help him out of the spot he was in. But to say that I was moving pounds of weed and kilos of cocaine with a guy who had already been caught a bunch of times—while I was under indictment on this big cocaine case that had just ended my career—I mean, it's crazy."
At Hurd's detention hearing, his lawyer Jay Ethington gave one explanation as to why Tyrone might have told Alarcon and Padilla that Sam Hurd was his drug partner. "[Tyrone is] a convicted felon," Ethington said. "He's been in prison, he's been released, and he's pretty savvy of the system I would guess. He's trying to benefit himself, and that's it."
By that time Tyrone had also told agents Hurd had bought 30 pounds of marijuana from him the previous month by paying $10,500 in cash, carrying the load out of the T-shirt shop in a big blue Igloo freezer and loading it into Jawanda's black Mercedes. The corroboration ICE provided in court documents—a drug test he failed around that time—is not conclusive. Yet all of these heaping drug quantities have been factored into Hurd's proposed life sentence.
Two weeks later, another weed trafficker—from whom Hurd had made those two major purchases of marijuana in July 2011—was arrested. This trafficker, identified in the story as Capri, immediately began telling an agent "that he had information regarding Hurd," according to the agent's report of the interview. McKnight explains:
Unlike Hurd, whose only prior was a misdemeanor battery charge (deferred adjudication) for a fight at a party in college, Capri knew the system. Like Tyrone, Capri had faced felonies before, including convictions for harassment and weapons possession. And like Tyrone, he made statements to ICE that would be factored into the recommendation that Hurd be sentenced to life—with the same inadequate corroboration. He told ICE agents that he'd watched Hurd snort cocaine at V's house in California and that he saw white powder under Sam's nose on another occasion at Hurd's house. In Capri's second conversation with the agents, 10 days after the first, he said that Hurd had asked him for a cocaine connection when they first met.
Capri's allegations would come as a shock to three eyewitnesses to the moments he had described. V, whose given name is Vazgen Galadjian, and former Cowboys players Patrick Watkins and Quincy Butler each told Sports Illustrated, independent of one another, that they never saw cocaine around Sam Hurd, that they never heard cocaine discussed around him, and that they never heard Sam even say the word cocaine.
The feds have not bothered to contact V., Watkins, Butler, or Hurd's brother, Sammal, who has been described as Hurd's accomplice by Capri, Tyrone, and another person involved with Hurd. McKnight, meanwhile, did talk to Capri. Here's how that exchange went down:
During a recent phone call from the Texas prison where he is being held, SI asked Capri whether Sam Hurd had spoken to anyone about cocaine during their two trips to California. He replied, "I can't tell you that. I don't know. I don't know about that one."
Was Hurd involved in the cocaine business? "He's indicted for it. That speaks for itself. … I never seen him do any transactions with cocaine."
Did you witness Sam conducting cocaine business in California? "Nah, I haven't seen that. I won't lie about that. I haven't seen that."
And yet the cocaine quantities Capri has attributed to Hurd during conversations with the government have been used to justify Sam's proposed life sentence.
There are some additional fascinating details in this story, including the moment in prison when Hurd realized his cell was right next to Darryl Henley's. Henley is the former Rams cornerback convicted 18 years ago of cocaine trafficking. Seriously, read the rest of McKnight's story here.
Image via AP