Hidden in a blue-collar neighborhood on Kansas City's east side, Anthony Rios plotted the last drug deal of his life. It was a Friday evening, December 20, 2002. The rugged, pudgy-cheeked 28-year-old had spent most of the day selling pounds of cocaine and marijuana from the kitchen of a modest ranch-style home on Hardesty that he shared with his girlfriend of three years, Olivia Raya.
Thousands of dollars' worth of drugs were stashed throughout the kitchen — in cabinets, grocery bags and a Diet Dr Pepper box. A Price Chopper sack with $20,000 inside was stored in the freezer. Also in the kitchen were all of the tools of his trade: a digital scale, plastic bags and a cutting agent to thin out his coke. His pockets bulged with a cell phone and a wad of cash — $1,890.
Rios had an alibi for family members wondering how he made his money. He told them that he rehabbed houses. But Rios had a history of dealing drugs. In February 1998, he pleaded guilty to felony possession of marijuana. A year later, in May, he pleaded guilty to felony distribution, delivery, manufacturing and producing of a controlled substance. In July 1999, Associate Circuit Judge Gregory Gillis sentenced Rios to 120 days in jail. The sentence was called "shock time" — the four months behind bars were meant to scare him out of dealing again.
Prison didn't scare Rios straight. Nearly three years later, Rios was still hustling cocaine and marijuana.
Friday was an especially busy day for Rios, who was wearing Air Jordans and track pants. At 6:16 p.m., he collected $4,000 for 7 pounds of pot that he had fronted to Desi Arnau, the boyfriend of Raya's youngest sister.
Rios also sold a kilogram of cocaine for $20,000 to a handsome, spiky-haired dealer and longtime friend named Paul Lupercio. Rios had been Lupercio's coke source since 1999, selling him about a kilo a week.
While Rios worked in the kitchen, Raya wrote thank-you cards in the living room. Six days earlier, the doe-eyed 26-year-old had graduated from Rockhurst University with a degree in organizational communication.
Rockhurst was only a 10-minute drive from the house. While studying for her degree, Raya worked full time in the marketing department of Blue Cross Blue Shield.
When Raya saw Lupercio, she handed him a thank-you card:
Paul and Danielle.
Thanks for the gift. Sorry you guys came when it was over. Will have to go out another time to celebrate.
Lupercio wanted to take Raya up on her offer. He invited her and Rios to join him later that night at a new sports bar. The idea of trying something new excited Raya and Rios. Lupercio told them that he'd call later to work out the details.
Lupercio was running late for a party. He didn't want the drugs on him in case police stopped him. Lupercio arranged to go back for his kilo on Saturday.
Before Lupercio left, Rios had a question for him. Rios was about to meet with a cocaine dealer named Dyshawn Johnson. Rios asked if Johnson and his brother, Bryant Burton, could be trusted.
"No," Lupercio told Rios, "I would not trust them."
Lupercio left, but his warning didn't stop Rios from calling Johnson at 7:21 p.m. The call — like 11 others between Rios and Johnson that day — lasted less than a minute.
Raya placed her final phone call. She talked to her mother, Sylvia Raya.
Sylvia and her husband, Louis Raya, were at home making Christmas gifts for their daughters. Olivia's younger sisters, Raquel and Sara Raya, had plans to meet Olivia for breakfast at 8 the next morning.