The Highs And Lows Of The Cocaine Cops
East New York during the late 1980s was one of the deadliest places in the country. Plagued by drugs and violence, homicides averaged 3,500 per year. At the age of 20, Ken Eurell became a police officer assigned to the area as part of the 75th precinct just outside Brooklyn, with dozens of other new recruits. Before they had even stepped out on the street they were taught what it meant to be a ‘good’ cop – camaraderie and loyalty above all else. When Eurell was partnered with the notoriously bent Michael Dowd, he became exposed to all manner of corruption. But knowing that if he spoke up he would be considered untrustworthy by his peers, potentially be putting his safety in jeopardy, he kept quiet. Soon he became as dishonest as Dowd. As the pair grew closer, their corruption escalated from skimming money off the proceeds of crime and accepting bribes to protecting drug dealers – providing inside information about potential raids and shifting kilos of cocaine for profit. But in 1992, the pair were arrested. Exposed for the crooked coppers they had become, they faced serious prison time. Eurell was concerned about Dowd, who was out of his mind on narcotics and growing more out of control. In a controversial move, he decided to cooperate with the federal government. Agreeing to wear a wire, he helped secure Dowd a 25-year prison sentence. Eurell, though complicit in most of Dowd’s wrongdoing, received only community service. Real Crime caught up with Ken Eurell to talk about the biggest scandal to rock the NYPD, and find out why he doesn’t consider himself to be a ‘rat’.
How would you describe your relationship with Mike Dowd at the height of your partnership?
Ken: We were like veterans who went through war. You go through such intense, adrenaline-fuelled situations that you become very close with that person. Dowd and I became partners in 1987. We were partners in criminal activities for six years, but as police officers only for one year. So between 1988 and 1992, he worked with another partner and he did the same thing to the other partner that he did to me – he exposed him to corruption little by little. He was also arrested with us in 1992. The first time you crossed the line from a regular cop to a corrupt one when Dowd handed you a stolen $100 bill on a job, did you grapple with your conscience? Ken: Absolutely. Basically, I had a number of choices that I could have taken. The first choice was not give him up and not take the money, but I would have been just as guilty because I would have been aware of his criminal activity. As a police officer, I could have given him up right away and gone to the Internal Affairs unit but I would have been cutting my own throat in the department; nobody would have ever trusted or worked with me again. If I had given him up, nobody would have had my back… of course, the other choice was to take the money, which I did. I put it in my locker hoping that this would be the end of it and it would never happen again, but once you cross that line, you’re done for. Looking back now in hindsight, I would have gone outside the department to the Drug Enforcement Agency or the District Attorney’s Office; that would have been my best choice. But I was only 26 years old and did not see those options.
Internal Affairs always had a keen eye on Mike Dowd; did this ever make you worry you would be caught?
Ken: All the time in the back of my mind, both Dowd and myself had these thoughts that we would get caught. But he was so much of the mindset that the more people who knew what we were doing, the safer we were. But I didn’t want anyone to know what we were doing. So we had two absolutely opposite ways of approaching the situation, and I was super paranoid. I would get concerned and he would say “don’t worry about it” and it would get pushed to the back of my mind because I had an envelope with $8,000 in cash, or two kilos of coke to sell. There was so much stimulation coming in from so many places that I allowed my concerns to be pushed to the back of my mind.
When did you cross over from taking money from drug dealers to actually protecting them?
Ken: What happened with that was: we were doing routine patrol and came across this businessman in a neighbourhood – Baron Perez – who ran a stereo shop. It was very obvious to us as police officers, trained to spot criminal activity, that this was a legit business, but at the same time it’s not; it’s being used to run very dirty money. We struck up a relationship with him. What goes on in the neighbourhood between the business people and the police officers is that the business people like to have the police officers around, because even if they’re not doing anything wrong, it’s protection for their business. If someone is doing criminal activity, they won’t rob a place where they see police officers, so the owners give you free soda, free cigarettes and things like that so you’ll come by their store and criminals will not rob that place. With the Perez, he would put stereo systems in our car… and as the relationship grew, we started talking about the drugs in the neighbourhood, all the dirty money in the neighbourhood, and he said he knew drug dealers (The Diaz Organization) who might like our help, in the same sense that a legit businessman might like our help. And that’s how it started.
How would you describe your overall experience of working to protect the drug cartels?
Ken: It was a pure adrenaline rush. Being a cop alone is an adrenaline rush, where every situation is intense. You don’t know what you’re going into. Double that with becoming a drug dealer and working with large Dominican drug gangs, you are working at 110 per cent ever day. How did the operation collapse? Ken: What happened was that the Diaz Organization, probably a year into the operation, they were subsequently robbed, which slowed things down. Dowd and I went our separate ways. He had his customers and I had mine, but we joined the drugs together, and one of the dealers sold to an undercover officer. Once the undercover officers spoke to the dealer, they tapped his phone, the phone of everyone he spoke to, and that’s how the operation fell apart.
Burl, how did you get Adam Diaz and Pavle Stanimirovic to agree to speak with you after what happened?
Burl: The fact that Adam Diaz and Pavle ‘Punch’ Stanimirovic were so forthcoming in talking with us about that time I felt was wonderful. The two internationally known ex criminals called us to make sure the story was right from their perspective, and Adam Diaz is incredibly charming. Frank did most of the interviews, and said he was an absolute delight to talk to.
Ken, you and Dowd were arrested, but while out on bail, Mike made a deal with a Colombian cartel to kidnap and rob a woman, then hand her over to them for execution. What did you make of his state of mind?
Ken: After we were out on bail and he came to me with this plan, finally my moral aptitude said ‘no, we’re not doing this’. That was a line I would not cross. We had a huge fight over it. His mind was so soaked in cocaine, he couldn’t think clearly, whereas I didn’t do drugs so I was thinking clearly. At the time, I had a lawyer sit down with the attorney’s office and make out the best deal they could for us, and my lawyer had already started this process. We were looking at 25 to life, and my lawyer sat down with the prosecutor’s office and he said: “Maybe if things work out you’ll get an offer of eight to ten years.” I thought I would get out at 40 and still be a young man, but Dowd did not see that. His brain was warped from the cocaine and unable to see that. So his way to get around it was this crazy plan to turn over this woman for execution, and then skip the country with out families. I wasn’t about to take my two small children to Central America; I would rather do the time in prison. The federal government at that time went to my lawyer and said they wanted to talk to me, so now it went from a local level to the federal government. I went in and spoke with the federal government, and told them the first time I wouldn’t cooperate. When I went home, Dowd was waiting for me, and I told him they knew things because they approached me with questions that only he, Diaz and Perez and myself would know about. He said it was all the more reason to do this plan. I couldn’t talk him out of it. He was dead set on doing it.
What made you decide to turn into an informant against Dowd?
Ken: The feds had started to talk to other people, and that means that information against Dowd and myself and whoever else was involved in our conspiracy could come out. I also knew Dowd had a current partner, Tommy Mascia, who knew all about the things we were doing, and if they came to me they would also go to him. When I went in the second time to speak to the federal government, my lawyer told me it was in my best interest to cooperate. I told them about the drug dealing and the Diaz Organization, the money, and at the end – as almost an afterthought – “Dowd wants to continue a crime spree while we’re out on bail.” And their mouths just dropped open. They wanted me to explain the whole situation to them, which I did. At the end, they told me I was to wear a recorder and record my next conversation with Dowd, which I did not expect, but by this point I was so invested in the federal government I had to do what they said because anything now I don’t do is going to work against me.
Partly thanks to your cooperation, Dowd was arrested. Some might say you were a rat. What do you consider yourself to be in this situation?
Ken: If I wasn’t working with Dowd, say I was doing all these things by myself and then I got arrested by myself, then went in and cooperated with the federal government, wore a wire and then went out and got them all in trouble – that is considered a rat. We were arrested together on the same thing. I didn’t give them up and get them arrested. We were on the same charges; everybody was together on the drug conspiracy. We were all arrested on the very same day, almost three months later [while on bail] Dowd was arrested because of this other plan to turn the woman over and skip the country. So that’s why some people consider me a rat. Others consider me a confidential informant; it depends how you look at it. I consider myself to be a dumbass. I wish what I did at the end I had the strength and knowledge to do at the beginning when this all happened. But no, I don’t consider myself a rat. I get a lot of people who write me who obviously don’t like what I did, but they don’t know the whole story. I get called a rat because I wore a wire. But law enforcement write me; they totally understand my situation and say they would have done the same thing.
Burl, what’s your opinion on Eurell’s informant status?
Burl: The reason we called the book Betrayal In Blue is that it was like Sophie’s Choice in a squad car. There was no way either way. Here is his best friend, Michael Dowd, they’re very close like brothers, and if he doesn’t cooperate with the feds, there’s a very high chance that Mike is going to be murdered or do the rest of his life in prison. If he does cooperate, he’s going to probably save Michael’s life because Columbian drug lords don’t leave witnesses and will kill them both, but people will always misunderstand and say he betrayed the code of silence, he’s a rat. And he didn’t rat the guy out; it was a cooperative witness to save his life, this was his choice so there’s no win-win here. I don’t think Dowd ever really understood what Ken did and why until the book came out, because when you watch the documentary, you get the impression that Ken rolled over on him, which he didn’t. He wasn’t an informant; he was a cooperating witness. There’s a big difference, and as a cooperative witness, he saved Mike’s life. I think the Columbians would have eventually bumped him off. If he had gone through with it and the police caught up with him, the list of crimes could have included kidnapping and murder, and he would have spent his life rotting in jail.
Do you think it fair that Dowd received a prison sentence of 25 years and you only received community service, even though you were equal partners?
Ken: I did not expect to only get community service. When I went for sentencing, the judge said: “The reason I am only sentencing you to community service and not to jail is to encourage other police officers in your situation to come forward.” She said if she punished me with jail time, any other officer would see that if they cooperated, they would still go to jail, so that was the reasoning for only giving me community service. I had already done two months in jail before we made bail. Dowd was sentenced to 25 years, but he only did 12. Why did he only do 12? Because he testified. I know the documentary said that Dowd did not testify and give anyone up, but it’s wrong. Dowd testified against all the other officers with whom he worked. It says in the court records ‘Dowd testified against’ and then it names 15 other officers. I spoke to the director at the end, and they also interviewed his wife – she is not in the documentary, but the documentary became so dark about Dowd because she spoke so badly about him, they decided no one would like him, so they said he didn’t testify. But during the whole movie you can see him testifying and he named everyone. Does that make him a rat? I don’t know.
What makes Betrayal In Blue different to the television documentary?
Burl: As a foundation to the book, we had Ken Eurell’s diary that he had written of his life as a corrupt cop. We wanted to have a sense of perspective, because if all we did was tell the story of that episode of corruption in the NYPD in the 75, it would almost appear to be something of an isolated phenomenon. So we went back and took a look historically at the NYPD, and discovered that it was born out of scandal and corruption. Every 15 to 20 years there is a scandal, and it’s a repeating life scripting issue. Every time they had a scandal, they would bring in a commission to investigate and come to the same conclusion; that the problem of police corruption is far beyond the corrupt cop. It’s a multifaceted problem that has flourished because of a police culture that exploits loyalty over integrity. Michael Dowd even says he wasn’t worried about getting busted because the other cops wouldn’t ever turn against him, and that’s the case. If a cop says it’s raining outside when it’s sunshine, the partner says it’s raining and backs him up 100 per cent, because who knows when you will need him to back you up in a life and death situation?’’
Ken Eurell and Burl Barer’s book ‘Betrayal In Blue: The Shocking Memoir Of The Scandal That Rocked The NYPD’ is available to buy from wildbluepress.com
This feature was taken from issue 28 of Real Crime magazine. For more insight into real life cases and the investigations that brought them to light, why not subscribe to the magazine? Click here to find out more.