Part 3 of 6
The story so far: Belton Lamont “Money Rock” Platt decides to get out of the drug-dealing business. But then he plans another sale.
The buy went without a hitch.
Money Rock had stopped dealing weeks earlier. He says he had resolved to become a legitimate businessman.
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But then a cousin got charged in a drug case and asked – repeatedly – that Money Rock buy him a half-kilo of cocaine so he could sell it to get money for a lawyer.
His resolve melted. If he was going to risk making another deal, why not buy some for himself?
He unloaded most of the cocaine and was looking to sell the rest when a man named LaMorris Watson contacted him, asking for half a kilo. Money Rock had never done business with him.
Something about Watson made him feel uneasy, he says. But Watson was a friend of a friend, and Money Rock trusted his friends.
On a Monday evening in April 1989, according to court transcripts and interviews, Money Rock and his brother, Gordon Platt, met Watson to arrange the sale. Under Watson’s shirt, taped to his back, an FBI tape recorder captured the conversation.
They agreed on a price. And they agreed to a meeting place, where Money Rock would sell Watson the cocaine.
But as Money Rock drove to meet Watson, two FBI cars pulled him over on Watson Drive, off West Boulevard. He got out of his gray Mercedes and, in a gesture that would be interpreted as mooning FBI agents, he dropped his powder-blue track suit pants to show he was unarmed.
The agents searched the car expecting to find cocaine. They didn’t. He had entrusted it with his brother. In the trunk, however, they found $5,766 in cash and about a dozen pieces of jewelry federal officials valued at $102,650.
What should the agents do? They had expected cocaine. Because it wasn’t there, they let him go. But they seized Money Rock’s car, cash and jewelry and drove off, leaving him standing by the side of the road.
Money Rock found a friend to drive him to Watson, who was sitting in his car with Gordon. Money Rock jumped from his friend’s car, warning Gordon: We’ve been set up. Something ain’t right.
Then he grabbed the arm of Watson’s jacket and marched him across West Boulevard. His plan was to get Watson to a secluded area, take Gordon’s gun and put a bullet through his head.
But Gordon had left the gun behind, hiding it after Money Rock warned of the setup. When Money Rock gave Watson a shove, he felt something solid under his jacket. He ripped the recorder off Watson’s back and paid $100 to a man to give him and his brother a ride, leaving Watson behind.
The recorder ended up in a creek near Dalton Village off West Boulevard, but FBI agents had the evidence they needed.
With Watson as the key witness, the government charged the brothers with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and theft of government property.
Seizure of Money Rock’s two houses, valued together at about $110,000, came a few months later, on Sept. 1, 1989. He was free on bond and spending the night with a girlfriend at one of the houses, on Trescott Court in east Charlotte, when he was awakened around sunrise by law enforcement officers banging on his door. A U.S. marshal was delivering forfeiture papers.
At that moment, however, it wasn’t the armed agents who most worried him, he says. It was the video camera he saw in one man’s hand. An officer was filming to document the house’s condition. Money Rock thought it was a TV news camera that might record his girlfriend. Losing the house was one thing. But having the wife discover the girlfriend on the evening news? Even worse.
A magistrate canceled Money Rock’s bond the next week, in part because he was driving with a revoked license and because Watson had absconded to California. Watson claimed he fled because he feared Money Rock was going to have him killed.
Money Rock went to jail in September 1989.
Amid lies, something true
His trial in federal court began in April 1990. Watson, cooperating to get a shorter sentence on his own drug trafficking conviction, detailed the sting operation that didn’t go down as planned. He testified that the two brothers punched him in the stomach and destroyed the tape recorder.
Though Watson was the government’s star witness, what juror Ilene Dellinger remembers was the extravagant jewelry the FBI seized from Money Rock’s trunk.
U.S. Assistant District Attorney Robert Conrad introduced into evidence several photos of jewelry and actual pieces – a gold Rolex with diamonds, the ID bracelet with “Rock” spelled in diamonds and rubies. Then several pieces were passed to jurors.
Dellinger recalls hefting each one and noting how heavy it was. The jewelry reminded her of all the bling Mr. T wore on “The A-Team.”
To Dellinger, Platt seemed overconfident. She wondered how he could afford such jewelry when he claimed he didn’t make much money.
When he took the stand to profess his innocence, she didn’t buy it.
Jurors began deliberating after lunch and were done by dinner. Dellinger, the forewoman, announced the verdict: Guilty.
During sentencing, Money Rock’s wife, Delores, testified on her husband’s behalf. But she found it hard to muster enthusiasm for her often-absent, cheating husband.
What kind of husband and father had he been? Money Rock’s attorney asked.
“The best, loving kind, you know, he always provided for us. And he just been a father and husband.”
She later divorced Platt. She’s now Delores Legall. When she testified that day, she still cared about him, she says, “but I was about done.”
Money Rock also took the stand to ask for leniency. Larry Hewitt, his attorney, warned him not to get carried away. But once he got started, he gave Judge Robert Potter an earful.
“I did not conspire with no LaMorris Watson for no drugs or nothing like that,” he told the judge.
This was not true.
He claimed he’d been running a janitorial business. “I had five restaurants that I cleaned up every night.”
Also a lie.
And he denied the prosecutor’s assertion that he had been a menace to Charlotte since the Piedmont Courts shootout in 1985.
He didn’t even have a gun at that shootout, he told Potter, and “I have not been prone to use violence in any other kind of way.”
When he finished, Money Rock finally told Potter something that was true.
“I’ve not been perfect all my life,” he said, “but things change.”
The end of Money Rock
When a person is in the process of a religious conversion, says the Rev. Andrew Lockhart, Money Rock’s former minister, there’s a season of planting. You can’t see progress. Nothing has emerged from the soil. And yet a seed is growing.
Long before Money Rock’s arrest, Lockhart says he had begged him to go straight, warned him he’d die if he didn’t.
Money Rock had begun trying to heed his minister and change his life. In June 1989, he and his mother had opened a restaurant, Carrie’s Kitchen, on 24th Street. But he says going straight was hard. Many people – family, friends, employees – depended on the income he generated.
When the FBI finally took Money Rock down, Lockhart was sad but relieved. That arrest, he believes, saved Belton Platt’s life.
What would have happened if Money Rock had come clean with Potter – admitted he was guilty, but that he truly wanted out of the drug game?
Maybe if he had admitted to drug-dealing, it would have made other assertions plausible. He planned to get a real estate license. And Carrie’s Kitchen, the restaurant he opened in 1989 with his mother, had been a real business.
Maybe coming clean wouldn’t have mattered.
When Money Rock went to trial, crack cocaine was making its destructive mark in Charlotte. Both the crack and powder forms were showing up everywhere – in an elementary school, where an 11-year-old boy was arrested with a crack rock, and even in the county courthouse, where three teenagers were caught with cocaine in a restroom stall.
In 1990, Charlotte would have 93 homicides, more than double just two years earlier. Violent crime was also breaking records, and police attributed much of the surge to cocaine. Police, trying to push back this growing scourge, often found themselves outgunned, their service revolvers no match for the semi-automatic weapons drug dealers carried.
Judge Potter, known as “Maximum Bob,” was renowned for the length of his sentences, especially drug sentences.
With Money Rock, Potter lived up to his name.
The look in his son’s eyes
Money Rock faced 12 to 16 years. But Potter could impose a tougher sentence if he found aggravating factors. Factors such as the Piedmont Courts shootout, for instance. And lying on the witness stand.
Potter gave him 290 months – 24 years in prison.
Platt’s mother and wife, both sitting in the courtroom, began to cry. What shook him most, though, was looking back and seeing the tear-filled eyes of his oldest son, Lamont Davis, age 8.
“I would never want to live that out again, to look in that child’s eyes,” he says today.
Money Rock, 26, left Charlotte on a federal prison bus in August 1990. He arrived at Atlanta’s federal penitentiary in handcuffs and ankle chains and exited the bus at gunpoint.
There, his reputation preceded him.
Hey, it’s Money Rock, inmates would say.
But something in him had changed, he says. He realized he had ruined his life, failed his family and hurt many people. He no longer wanted to be part of the legend he had become.
Please don’t call me Money Rock, he told inmates. My name is Lamont.
Friday: Lamont becomes a new man.