After Fredro Starr’s infamous appearance on The Breakfast Club, the phrase “Do ya Googles,” grew in popularity. Former New England Patriot wide receiver Reche Cladwell did just that with hopes of becoming a Molly kingpin. However the action landed him in prison.
Caldwell, a Tampa native, was a multi-sport standout at Florida University. He turned down an opportunity to be drafted out of high school to play professional baseball to play football. He became a star and went on to be drafted in 2002 in the second round by the San Diego Chargers. After four seasons plagued by injury and misfortune on the field, Cladwell signed with the New England Patriots. His most memorable performance happened when he dropped multiple passes from Tom Brady in a rare AFC Championship loss for the Pats.
Due to his poor performance,Caldwell was never able to fully rebound as a pro athlete. Around 2007, using his earnings from the NFL, he moved his family to his native Tampa. With failed businesses, a disintegrating marriage and sick grandfather, he would escape to his hometown neighborhood of West Tampa, where he was still a star. Hung hung out in a rundown building, where he would help finance a sports-betting operation. According to ESPN (quoting Caldwell’s lawyer Nicholas Matassini):
Police say with Caldwell’s bankroll and the help of several associates, the corner transformed into a wildly popular homegrown gambling parlor. And Caldwell didn’t keep a low profile — his bright red Jeep parked out front was like a neon OTB sign. He says he liked to gamble, especially on football. But what he really loved was feeling as if his experience and expertise about the game were back in high demand. “He was just a happy-go-lucky guy who liked to smoke pot, gamble, hang out and talk about sports,” Matassini says, “and that’s it.”
Speaking from prison, the most animated Caldwell gets is when talking about gathering around his parlor’s makeshift bank of TVs to watch the end of seemingly meaningless games, like Northern Illinois — Ball State in 2013. Ball State had the ball with 46 seconds left to play and NIU leading 41-27. Caldwell was silently celebrating because he had failed to control just how much money was placed on the 72.5-point over. But then the Huskies’ Joe Windsor picked off a pass at midfield and returned it all the way for six. The tiny space exploded in celebration, bills fluttering like ticker tape, everybody chest-bumping and high-stepping out into the street, and Caldwell was right there with them. He couldn’t have cared less about the money. “It was about the excitement and the connection to football,” he says. “Is that what I missed? Is that what I was trying to make up for? Maybe so. We did well, and it kept me busy. I enjoyed it. Probably too much.”
Caldwell went on to make $225,000 per month off of the operation. Not a fan of banks, he stashed his cash in various coffee cans which cluttered his crib. However, the police got hip, and by November 2013, undercover agents were laying down bets in the gambling parlor. According to ESPN:
Then on wild-card weekend in early 2014, Caldwell was at a desk in the secured back office of the betting parlor, enjoying a late-afternoon snack while watching his old team, the Chargers, dominate the Bengals. Caldwell was so oblivious to any threat from law enforcement that when the first police flash grenade shook the building, he took another few bites of his sandwich and turned up the volume on the game. “Then — boom — another one went off,” he says, “so I get up and walk out, and there’s like 50 police and tanks ramming the door and guys screaming and swarming in from everywhere, helicopters and sirens and smoke, total chaos, and it’s still not registering.”
Unaware and a bit annoyed, he says, Caldwell walked right into the haze, coughing and waving the smoke away from his face. Swarmed by SWAT members, on his way to the ground, a still exasperated Caldwell yelled, “Damn, man, you blasted the door with a tank? Why didn’t ya just knock? I woulda let y’all in.”
Caldwell was charged with bookmaking and running a gambling house. He posted a $4,000 bond and “was back out partying with his crew.” During this time, Caldwell became aware of the high demand for MDMA (Molly) on the party scene. “People were constantly asking me if I knew where to get it,” he said. This eventually drove Caldwell to Google Molly. Ethylone, a synthetic form of Molly, was legal in Florida in 2014, but was criminalized by the time Caldwell started his research on his girl’s computer. After typing in “MDMA-Molly-China” dozens of sites popped up offering the drug for sale and home delivery. ESPN writes:
Caldwell did the math: An investment of less than $2,000 could net as much as $180,000 on the street. Three taps of the mouse, a trip to Western Union and “the stuff was on its way,” he says. “So easy and out in the open, I kinda did it just to see if it was a scam.”
According to a police affidavit, five days later, a Tampa postal inspector flagged the package, noting it contained 4.8 pounds of a “white rocky substance.” When it tested positive for MDMA, a federal agent, posing as a UPS employee, drove the drugs to the home of Caldwell’s girlfriend, located in an upscale, gated condominium complex north of Tampa and directly across from the entrance to Busch Gardens.
Caldwell answered the door and quickly scanned the yard, street and air searching for trouble. Sensing none, he drew an X on the signature pad and reached for the box. Caldwell remembers the agent drew back, then improvised: “With international deliveries, I need a verifiable signature or I can’t release the package.” Caldwell glanced back over his shoulder at his phone sitting on a hallway table, realizing at that moment that using an app to obsessively track this package, along with another kilo he had forwarded to Atlanta, probably wasn’t the smartest idea. If this is it, he thought, they already got me. Caldwell shrugged, waved for the clipboard and gave what turned out to be his last high-profile signature.
The courtyard exploded like a confetti cannon, with dozens of agents and officers materializing from behind every bush, doorway and corner that Caldwell’s acute criminal instincts had deemed clear just 10 seconds before. Familiar by now with SWAT team procedures, Caldwell dutifully lowered himself face-first onto the stone porch stoop as one thought ran through his head: “Aw, man, not again.”
The professional baller-turned-wannabe kingpin was sentenced to only 27 months in minimum security, fenced lockup FPC Montgomery. He was spared by his own ignorance. The package he received wasn’t even real Molly:
Testing of the drug packages revealed that, as a newbie drug dealer, Caldwell was less Tony Montana and more Saul Silver. Distribution of pure Molly carries a maximum 20-year sentence and up to $1 million in fines. Instead, Caldwell ordered ethylone, what he thought was low-grade “legal Molly,” from the Chinese website. Of course, it was neither. Matassini was then able to prove, with the expert testimony of a chemist, that on a molecular level Caldwell’s bargain-bin drugs were a far less potent form of MDMA and therefore should fall under more lenient sentencing guidelines.
“I’ve never seen a guy so happy to go to prison,” said Matassini. “He just wanted to get the hell out of Dodge and have this all behind him.”
“Good lord that boy was a bad criminal,” said Caldwell’s mom, “and thank Jesus for that.”
What is it about Florida Gators that go on to play for the New England Patriots?