Part 2 of 6
The story so far: As a jury decides whether to convict cocaine dealer Belton Lamont “Money Rock” Platt in the Piedmont Courts shootout case, Platt feels sure he’ll get off.
Money Rock’s jury took only a few hours to return a verdict: guilty on all charges. Judge Joseph Pachnowski took even less time to decide on a 35-year sentence.
Money Rock pleaded for a bond so he could be free while he appealed. He said he wanted to build an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center. “I’m not somebody who would hurt anybody,” he told the judge. “I’d help them before I hurt them.”
It was a strange statement from a drug dealer. Yet, he says he had always viewed his profits as a way to help his family and community. He had managed, much of the time, to block from his mind the damage he was doing.
The judge was unmoved. Money Rock went to prison in April 1986. Then, a year later, the N.C. Appeals Court overturned his conviction on a judicial error. He was a free man.
Money Rock vowed to make the most of his second chance, to stop dealing cocaine and live a Christian life. This intention was more than a passing thought. Even before his trial, he’d begun going to a church his mother attended.
In prison, he had continued studying the Bible and witnessed to others about his newfound faith. When he was released, he rejoined his wife and two young sons and started a janitorial service, the same work he’d done before.
Before prison, he drove a Cadillac Seville. Now he carried his mops, buckets and squeegees in an old Ford Escort.
But in only a matter of months, old desires returned. Platt says he decided that he’d sell just a little cocaine on the side, so he could better provide for his family. By early 1988, he was back in the game.
Cocaine by the kilo
By year’s end, he was selling more cocaine than ever.
Big dealers buy cocaine by the kilo (2.2 pounds), a brick usually wrapped in plastic and duct tape. Money Rock was moving several kilos weekly, purchasing them for as low as $12,000 each, selling them for nearly three times as much.
He had become what dealers called “heavy in the weight,” a big enough player that he no longer had to travel to Miami to pick up his product and risk smuggling it to Charlotte. His supplier, he says, delivered to him.
At the height of his business, he employed 15 to 20 men. He still had men selling to individuals, in essence working in retail, in a number of Charlotte neighborhoods – Grier Heights, Clanton Park, Dalton Village, Parker Heights Apartments, Southside Homes, Fairview Homes, Frazier Avenue.
Many of these low-income neighborhoods had become even more poverty-ridden following urban renewal projects in the 1960s and ’70s. Charlotte’s urban renewal projects had demolished blighted communities but pushed residents into other low-income neighborhoods. Over time, as manufacturing jobs disappeared and businesses moved to the suburbs, inner-city residents had an even harder time finding work.
In 1960, the average income of residents in Grier Heights, east of the Mint Museum on Randolph Road, was about half the city’s median income. By 1990, it had dropped to about a third. The story was the same at Fairview Homes, the city’s oldest public housing project. Average income there went from 56 percent of Charlotte’s median income to less than a third. Amid this poverty, Money Rock had no trouble finding residents eager to earn $3,000 or more a month by lending their apartments to dealers who needed a base for sales.
But it was Money Rock’s wholesale business to other dealers where he earned the most. His cocaine ended up all over Charlotte, he says. Poor people often smoked it or shot it up. Rich people – doctors, lawyers, entertainers – were more likely to snort it. And while Platt says he never sold crack, some dealers who bought from him cooked his cocaine into crack before reselling it.
Did he become a millionaire, as his father predicted?
“I don’t know how much I made, but it was over a million,” he says. “I made enough money that I got tired of counting it.”
He used multiple locations to prepare his cocaine for sale. Often, he paid people to let him set up shop on their dining room table.
There, Money Rock and his men would use rolling pins to break the kilos into powder, then they’d sift and weigh the cocaine, adding mannitol to stretch it, wearing masks and plastic gloves so the drug wouldn’t get into their nasal membranes or seep into their pores. Ounces would go into quart-sized plastic bags, half-kilos into half-gallon bags.
He was a good boss – calm, level-headed, generous, three former employees say. “He used to take us shopping all the time,” says Bernard Torrence. “We all had cars to drive because he bought them. Even though selling drugs is wrong, it was a true blessing to hang out with somebody like that.”
Their product had a sterling reputation, too – high quality, good price, the best powder out there, some said.
On the street, said one former colleague who asked not to be named, people knew they’d get more for their money with Money Rock. “The ones who shot it, the ones who smoked it, they’d say, ‘Man, it’s the best,’ We locked down the market.”
Being Money Rock
By all indications, Belton Platt enjoyed – even flaunted – being Money Rock. He drove a charcoal gray Mercedes with a front plate that said “Rock.” He had a white Mercedes, too. He owned a club, Money Rock Express, a hole in the wall in a shopping center on West Boulevard at Remount Road.
In basketball games with rival drug dealers, you knew which women on the sidelines were his friends. That’s because “Money Rock’s crew” was written on their T-shirts.
And he loved expensive jewelry. One cop quipped that Money Rock wore enough jewelry to drown him in a swimming pool. He had a Presidential Rolex, 18-carat gold with a ring of diamonds around its face. He had diamond rings, gold chains and a gold bracelet that spelled out “Rock” in diamonds and rubies.
When it came to Money Rock’s vices, women – not alcohol or drugs – were his weakness.
Carrie Graves, his mother, says she grew to dread the knock at her door that signaled another woman, baby in arms, eager to introduce Graves to her newest grandchild. By age 26, Money Rock had fathered 11 children. Three were with his wife.
On the streets, he says he often doled out cash, buying groceries, paying rent, helping folks when they were broke. Of course, some were broke because they were buying his cocaine.
“You gave him a sad story, he gave you the shirt off his back,” says Jerry Hampton, a friend since childhood.
Kim Williams, Money Rock’s oldest child, recalls shopping for shoes with her father. He bought one pair for her, lots more for children in the community.
A church in north Charlotte also was a regular recipient of Money Rock’s largesse.
Sometimes, Money Rock would attend services with his entourage, five or 10 men. Sometimes, he’d deliver his offering – a brown paper bag filled with thousands in cash. One friend who asked not to be named recalls discussing how much to tithe.
We need to give, Money Rock would say.
$1,000 or $2,000? his friend would propose.
That’s not enough, Money Rock would reply. At least $5,000 or $10,000.
Whatever Money Rock made, he says he always gave away 10 percent.
Some people came to revere the man. “They acted like my daddy was a god,” says Williams, 32. “One man got on his knees and bowed to me when I told him who my daddy was.”
Money Rock’s high-profile reputation had put him on law enforcement’s radar, too. In the Charlotte Police Department, vice officers were accumulating informants’ tips as they tried to build a case against him.
“He had a little entourage around him, like he was president of the United States,” says Calvin Kearney, a former Charlotte officer who worked in vice in the 1980s. “He was one of those dealers who wanted his name to be out there. He not only wanted the housing projects, he wanted the whole city. He was bold like that.”
To Kearney, Money Rock’s generosity was self-serving, a way of buying residents’ cooperation.
“The game is about using people,” he says. “You can’t destroy a community and then give a few dollars and say I’m helping the community.”
A pistol under his pillow
Over time, Jamaican and Dominican dealers moved into the city. The game became more dangerous, and Money Rock took more precautions.
In late 1988, he moved his wife and their three children into a house on Ravenglass Lane in Mint Hill, in the Charlotte suburbs, miles from where he conducted his business. He carried a .45-caliber pistol in a shoulder holster. He had a panic button on his nightstand. Push it, and it set off the burglar alarm and dialed 911. He went to bed with an AK-47 assault rifle in the corner of his room. He kept his pistol under his pillow.
His wife, Delores, repeatedly urged him to get out of the game. “I told him I was willing to work. He could work,” says Delores Legall, who is now his ex-wife. “I felt it wasn’t worth him losing his life over. I felt like his life was more important than money.”
Platt says he never killed anyone. He admits shooting Louis “Big Lou” Samuels during the 1985 shootout, and he says once he fired at a man to protect his brother, but missed him. He pulled guns on robbers and dealers to defend his territory and protect himself. Some men who sold cocaine for him also committed violence, but he says they acted on their own, not on his orders.
Platt won’t say how many kilos he sold. Law enforcement officials never knew, and he doesn’t want them to know now. He has never identified his suppliers. “I’m not going to use somebody else to get out of what I caused myself,” he says.
He will say this: The ships and planes delivering cocaine to America weren’t owned by black people. One of his main sources was white. People would be surprised, he says, if they knew some of the upstanding individuals who supplied cocaine in Charlotte. His suppliers never got caught.
The scenes that haunted
By l989, his business was booming, but Money Rock was growing disillusioned. Police were out to arrest him. Hustlers wanted to rob him. Rival dealers wanted him dead.
When he managed to sleep, he slept badly. He wondered: Had he been followed? Would someone kick in the door?
Cocaine was always on his mind. “You don’t want to hold onto it, so you want to get rid of it,” he says. “But when you don’t have any, you got to get more supply.”
Increasingly, Money Rock also realized the damage he was causing. Scenes haunted him – parents freebasing cocaine while children went unattended, mothers who bought drugs instead of groceries.
Once, a young woman knocked on the door of an apartment he kept.
She wanted to speak to him alone. They went into the bathroom, the only place that offered privacy. She pulled down her pants and leaned over the sink. She didn’t have money, she said, but he could have sex if he gave her some cocaine.
Pull up your pants, he says he told her. Don’t go selling your body for drugs.
He gave her some cocaine, no charge.
One more buy
The realization, he says, came gradually. You can’t be a cocaine dealer and a Christian, no matter how much money you give away.
One day, he decided he didn’t want to do it anymore.
He told his men he would stay in the game for six months to give them time to line up new jobs. The six months passed and he stopped dealing, he says. He began looking for ways to invest his money in legitimate businesses.
Then, several weeks later, a cousin approached asking a favor. The cousin, facing drug charges in Rock Hill, needed money for a lawyer. He asked Money Rock to buy him a half-kilo of cocaine so he could sell it.
Money Rock decided to make one more drug buy.
Thursday: Money Rock goes down.
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