Editor’s note: This story contains profanity.
His cousin on trial on felony drug charges, as convicted criminals and informants testified in the case, Roosevelt Smoaks II took matters into his own hands. He left the courtroom in disgust, walked toward the courthouse terrace and opened Facebook on his phone.
For nearly 20 minutes, in a profanity-laden Facebook Live broadcast, Roosevelt, 34, unloaded a lifetime’s worth of angst and frustration that reflected his own serious run-ins with police, prosecutors and judges over at least the past 15 years. Wearing stylish aviator sunglasses, mint-green slacks and a pink v-neck pullover sweater, he threatened to kill anyone testifying against his family that day in Courtroom 3A of the Alachua County Criminal Justice Center.
“I be wanting to God damn reach and grab a gun and shoot every God-damned body,” Roosevelt said into his phone. He described plans to “put the four-four to your head,” – a reference to a particularly large and powerful pistol, a .44-caliber – and bemoaned that the courthouse “mother-f***ing metal detectors” prevented him from walking inside with a gun. “I’d wet this bitch up,” he said. “You know the thing about snitches, dog.”
At one point, walking the downtown Gainesville neighborhood, Roosevelt interrupted his roving broadcast to buy Newport 100s at a nearby convenience store and ask for change in quarters to plug the parking meter.
Within minutes, the threatening Facebook Live broadcast – which was later deleted but obtained by Fresh Take Florida – came to the attention of worried prosecutors inside the courtroom and Gregory T. Smith, an Alachua County Sheriff’s Office detective who had been on the trail of members of the Smoaks family as part of a drug task force since at least 2014.
A key prosecution witness and another relative of Roosevelt’s, Lalicia Epps, told the detective that Roosevelt was speaking about her in the video and she feared Roosevelt would harm her. The judge in the drug trial, Mark W. Moseley, ordered Roosevelt arrested on felony charges of witness intimidation as he returned to court as testimony in his cousin’s case resumed. Roosevelt had referred in the video to the judge with his gavel as “that cracker with the big old thing that’s going to hit that mother-f***ing thing.”
The shocking episode in November outside the Alachua County Courthouse in north central Florida was a twist in what authorities say has quietly become one of the largest marijuana and cocaine investigations across the region, at least by the number of people arrested, charged or convicted. It has already resulted in at least 48 arrests over the past three years. More arrests are expected.
Detectives say some Smoaks family members are key players. There have been no news releases nor press conferences to draw attention to the busts, which have consumed the attention and resources of the regional drug task force. The drug network the government has so quietly been dismantling was so expansive that prosecutors so far charged at least 30 people with criminal racketeering.
This reporting is based on a review of more than 1,000 pages of court records and information from interviews over months with more than a dozen attorneys, witnesses and family members of those charged in the case.
Randolph and Charlotte Smoaks, the parents of Roosevelt and Raymond, do not dispute their sons were dealing drugs, but they said in an interview the criminal charges their sons face were inflated.
Investigators described Raymond, 31, as a top distributor of cocaine. At least three times in early 2017 authorities arranged undercover cocaine purchases from Raymond, according to court records. Other times police stopped individuals for traffic infractions who had visited Raymond to buy drugs and found cocaine in their vehicles or their pockets, court records said. It was unclear whether Raymond ever grew suspicious that so many of his alleged customers were almost immediately pulled over by police down the street and their vehicles searched.
Raymond was convicted in April on charges of racketeering, cocaine trafficking and unlawful use of a communications device, and sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of more than $150,000. He is serving his time in a minimum-security work camp along Florida’s northern border. He could be released as early as October 2022.
“The case was full of lies,” Raymond wrote to a reporter from prison. He accused authorities of using illegal investigative tactics but did not specify them, and said he never cooperated with investigators. “That’s why I’m here in prison,” he added. “Lots of things are misleading in the case.”
Charlotte emailed the judge in February to say that her sons’ court-appointed lawyers weren’t helping and asked for new lawyers and more time before trial. “Please help my sons,” she pleaded. “I don’t know who else to talk to.”
“Raymond didn’t do all this stuff they’re saying,” Charlotte said in an interview. “My kids are being railroaded.”
The records and interviews reveal some of the high-tech and secretive tactics used by drug enforcers – including hidden transmitters, cell phone wiretaps, surveillance cameras and sweetheart plea deals offered in exchange for testimony. The case also includes intriguing goof-ups and lapses by authorities and suspects alike:
- A sheriff’s deputy on the same task force during the investigation, Anthony Simoneaux, was himself convicted in June 2018 of stealing $9,900 in drug cash months earlier, placing it in a boot and hiding it in nearby woods. He was fired, and Moseley sentenced him to five years of probation and 250 hours of community service.
- When investigators hid a surveillance camera to watch suspected drug sales at a home owned by the grandmother of the Smoaks brothers, a tree ended up obscuring their view. (A clip from the video is below.)
- After authorities arrested Roosevelt on witness intimidation charges, he called his girlfriend from jail with his Facebook password to delete the incriminating video he had made on the courthouse plaza, according to court records. Later, he told his brother Denzell that the video “evaporated.” The jail’s phone system recorded those conversations, and by then authorities already had saved for themselves a copy of the video.
- Terrell Patterson, 34, described by authorities as a key suspect in the drug ring, took his BMW 750 to a tire shop in Jacksonville to install large wheels and tires, causing investigators to rush to the shop to remove a hidden tracking device before it could be discovered.
The origins of the case extend back nearly a decade, when dealers kept popping up, predictably, at the same location in Gainesville, a home on Northwest 7th Terrace owned by the grandmother of the Smoaks brothers.
Grandmother Delores Taylor, 86, said she called police many times to help her evict the brothers for their drug sales; she also has spelled her name Delois and Deloris in public records. A police search in 2008 found a small amount of crack cocaine. Raymond pleaded no contest in the case in February 2009 to felony cocaine possession under an agreement that imposed two years of drug offender probation but no time behind bars.
Other arrests involving the family followed over the years.
In 2015, Khalil Taylor, a 38-year-old cousin of the Smoakses, was arrested and charged with selling $300 worth of crack from the home. He was convicted of a lesser charge of felony cocaine possession in September 2016 and sentenced to five months of community control, a form of house arrest.
In 2016 Roosevelt Smoaks was arrested in the sale of $20 worth of crack cocaine from the home. Judge Moseley – the same judge he would later deride in his Facebook video – sentenced him in March 2017 to five months in jail and six months of probation.
Smith would later testify that despite the task force’s best efforts, the team had failed to stem the flow of narcotics coming from the home. Arrests weren’t working, he said.
“They were out a very short period after, and they were selling drugs again,” Smith later testified.
In January 2017, local detectives arrested a man on drug charges, Eric Thompson, whom they said agreed to tell police what he knew about the area drug scene in exchange for leniency. Thompson has felony drug convictions dating back at least to 1995, and was sentenced in January 2010 to five years in state prison for selling cocaine. Thompson said Raymond Smoaks was a major cocaine dealer and said Terrell Patterson was Raymond’s supplier.
Patterson was convicted in January 2010 of felony cocaine trafficking and sentenced to three years in state prison and a $50,000 fine, but he has not been arrested as part of the latest investigation. In an interview, Patterson denied being involved in the investigation and said he didn’t know any of the Smoakses. Patterson did not explain why his statements were directly in conflict with court records.
Smith, the investigator, said Patterson hasn’t yet been arrested because he was cooperating with authorities. “My intent is to fully charge him whenever he is done,” Smith said.
Originally, police planned to ask Thompson to buy drugs from Patterson, but Thompson had just been arrested. Patterson changed phone numbers and began avoiding Thompson. After hitting a roadblock, the task force decided to concentrate instead on Raymond Smoaks and use him to implicate Patterson.
For months, investigators arranged for informants to buy cocaine from Raymond Smoaks, for a total of $3,300, according to court records. They obtained a warrant to trace who was calling his phone and who he was calling and texting. Over five weeks, they traced nearly 10,000 calls and texts. Their preliminary investigation led the task force to open a racketeering investigation.
Judge Moseley – who would incur the wrath of Roosevelt Smoaks months later – approved a warrant to allow authorities to eavesdrop on Raymond’s phone conversations, not just trace who was calling.
Meanwhile, the task force secretly installed a video camera aimed at the home of the Smoaks’ brothers’ grandmother, Delores Taylor. A tree obscured much of the view, but it gave detectives a general idea of what was taking place around the home.
Over two months, investigators watched and listened but made few arrests. Phone calls involved selling or buying drugs, mostly cocaine and prescription medications.
By late summer, Smith and the task force had accumulated what they believed was enough evidence and stormed homes across the city.
At the grandmother’s house under video surveillance, two vans filled with police arrived. Authorities surrounded the home as officers broke through the front door. Two young boys on the porch were whisked away by police to a nearby Zaxby’s. The search turned up 4 grams of crack cocaine, 8 grams of powder cocaine, a handful of prescription pills, a half-pound of marijuana, and a single .40 caliber round of ammunition.
The same day, authorities searched the home of Khalil Taylor and the home of Raymond Smoaks’ girlfriend, Angel Lewis. At Taylor’s apartment, the search found one gram of cocaine, two cocaine presses, a digital scale and a 9mm round. In Lewis’ apartment, they found a loaded .40 caliber Glock pistol and $1,193 in cash.
Later, investigators met with Raymond Smoaks and his lawyer to seek Raymond’s cooperation. Smoaks said he didn’t sell drugs. Authorities played for him some of his recorded phone conversations. After listening, Raymond agreed to help.
But when detectives asked about his cousin, Khalil Taylor, Raymond said he wouldn’t speak to investigators about his family. The meeting ended.
Weeks after the citywide raids, Deon Jones, a customer of Terrell Patterson, called to ask about buying cocaine, court records said. According to a wiretap transcript, Patterson told Jones he had only 7 grams to sell. Later that same day, police pulled over Patterson in a traffic stop then searched his home that night. Facing charges of drug-trafficking, racketeering and money laundering, Patterson promised to cooperate.
In all, authorities arrested at least 48 people – including 36 charged with racketeering, which can carry 30 years behind bars. Twenty-five people accepted plea agreements. At least 15 were sentenced to prison.
The attorney for Khalil Taylor, Ron Davis, said the threat of lengthy prison terms persuaded many people in the case to plead to lesser charges rather than face trial.
Taylor’s trial was interrupted by the Facebook Live broadcast from Roosevelt Smoaks. After Roosevelt’s arrest, Taylor accepted a highly unusual plea offer in the midst of his trial that resulted in a seven-year prison sentence.
When he imposed the sentence, the judge downplayed Taylor’s significance – and the others arrested – in the region’s drug trade. The amount of cocaine and marijuana seized in the sweeping investigation has been small.
“Do I think that you all are the cartel for Gainesville?” Moseley asked. “No… Did I hear anybody talk about bricks or $50,000 transactions? I didn’t hear any of that…. Everything I heard was small-time… I don’t have any reason to believe that we’ve shut down Gainesville’s drug operation by catching you and your brother and the other individuals.”
Moseley said through a clerk that he could not discuss the drug investigation with a reporter because he expected to adjudicate more related cases.
Raymond Smoaks was facing up to 150 years in prison in his case. Weeks before his trial was to begin, his lawyer negotiated a plea deal for five years in prison and five years of probation. With credit for time he already served, Raymond will spend about three-and-a-half years behind bars.
Roosevelt, who prosecutors said once threatened to kill anyone who testified against his family, initially said he would accept no more than 18 months in prison in exchange for pleading guilty. Over months this summer, Roosevelt twice turned down plea agreements with prosecutors that would send him to prison for four years.
Roosevelt replied in writing to a reporter’s inquiries from behind bars. He denied selling drugs during the past two or three years, said the witness-tampering charges were false and said he was only targeted by authorities to put pressure on his brother Raymond.
During a case management hearing in June, prosecutors said they intended to show the judge the threatening Facebook Live video and identified at least 47 people in court papers as lined up to testify. Prosecutor Michael Becker also noted in court that Roosevelt’s younger brother, Raymond, would be among those taking the stand in the case.
Weeks later, Roosevelt – who had once railed in the Facebook video against “snitches” who testify against others – unexpectedly accepted the four-year prison term. He said in an interview that his attorney tricked him into accepting the plea deal.
One of the conditions of his plea: Full cooperation with prosecutors, including testifying in any future drug cases.