After a prompting from a commenter in yesterday’s “Double Dutch Bus” video post, here is a history lesson in the small role that Frankie Smith played in uncovering the “Yuppie Conspiracy” (dubbed as such by Federal authorities) run by Larry Lavin, West Philly dentist and $5M/175 lbs.-of-cocaine-per-month drug dealer (mug shot at right).
From 1978-1984, Larry Lavin masterminded his huge cocaine-distribution ring which included 3 graduates of UPenn dental, two lawyers, four stockbrokers, an airplane pilot, a high school English teacher, an elementary school principal, record company executives, accountants, a New Jersey state auditor, a psychologist, a registered nurse, and a variety of businessmen. Much of this was done while Lavin was in dental school at UPenn and living on Osage Ave in West Philly. According to the FBI page on Lavin, “During the course of the investigation, 85 kilograms of 95 percent to 99 percent pure cocaine with a street value of $20 million, 15 cars, an airplane, a boat, four residential properties, jewelry, gold, silver, and various weapons were seized. A total of $2.2 million in cash, $528,000 of which was found buried in the ground, was also recovered.”
How did he do this? “Lavin’s workers used a beeper stem, scrambler-phones, and recording detection devices to avoid detection by law enforcement authorities.” As anyone who’s ever watched The Wire can tell you, though, white guys don’t know how to cover their tracks.
Now, for the Double Dutch Connection: While still in dental school, Lavin was raking in millions of dollars and needed outlets to dump this money in without arousing suspicion. One such investment, proposed through friend and co-conspirator Mark Stewart, was WMOT-TEC Records (which was situated in the Wellington Building on 19th St., right off Rittenhouse Square). WMOT-TEC, which had distribution through CBS Records, released Frankie Smith’s “Double Dutch Bus” in 1981; upon release, the track’s popularity grew steadily on the Billboard soul charts. In his 2000 book Doctor Dealer (Grove Press, $15), Mark Bowden writes, “Months later, Larry found out that Mark had incurred fabulous expenses in L.A., mostly in rental costs… not the least of which was leasing himsef a new Ferrari… CBS meanwhile, reporting substantial sales from ‘Double Dutch Bus,’ was charging so much for pressings, promotion, and distribution that the net profit on sales, Larry’s one source of return on all these investments, was close to zero.” Frankie Smith was owed about $30,000 in royalties, and he sang his complaints like a canary. Frankie Smith reported Lavin to the IRS, which set Lavin’s ultimate fate, you will pardon the pun, snowballing.
While Frankie Smith wasn’t getting paid, Stewart was enjoying the high life.
“Between January and September of 1981, Stewart deposited approximately $3,354,000, including $1,440,000 of WMOT funds, into an account at Bank Leumi denominated the Mark Stewart Real Estate Escrow Account (“Escrow Account”). Stewart’s deposits of WMOT funds were made without the knowledge or approval of WMOT’s other officers and directors. During this very same time period, Stewart transferred approximately $440,000 from the Escrow Account to Dr. Lawrence Lavin. Lavin used this money to purchase such items as luxury dwellings, an automobile, a swimming pool, and a seat on the Philadelphia Stock Exchange.”
(quoted from the appeal case between WMOT and Lavin in 1991)
As expected, cocaine fit in seamlessly with Lavin’s lifestyle, and with what we imagine ’80s corporate life was like. Mark Bowden writes, “Moral objections to drug dealing never entered Marcia’s mind, or Larry’s or any of his friends; Dealing cocaine was nothing like dealing heroin. Coke was a party drug, a harmless, quick stimulant in great demand, not by derelicts and street people intent on destroying their lives, but by some of the brightest, most promising, most successful people they knew… whatever social rewards Larry had gotten at Penn for dealing marijuana were multiplied tenfod by dealing cocaine.”
In 1984, Lavin was indicted. He then escaped his home in Devon with his wife and two children to Virginia Beach where he was caught a year and a half later, “He was caught, in part, due to a line in a letter written to his in-laws about how a bear served his son cake at a birthday party.”
On September 4, 1986, Lavin pled guilty to operating a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, tax evasion, and other charges and was sentenced to consecutive prisons terms totaling to 42 years. According to his Wikipedia page, Frankie Smith “is currently working as a delivery driver for AC Reproductions in Philadelphia, PA.” We can assume he never got and continues to not receive his royalties. But goddamn that track is still hot. White hot.
— K-Fai Steele