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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mansfield drug case gone wrong: The inside story

In the shadows of boarded-up homes on a hazy October afternoon in 2005, two men pull into a gas station parking lot in a souped-up Buick Roadmaster with tinted windows.

They are there to buy $2,600 of crack cocaine.

Jerrell Bray is driving. The stocky man with unkempt hair is a killer. He spent 13 years in prison for his role in the death of a Cleveland drug dealer. Despite that, guys know him as Mr. Talk-a-lot: He never shuts up.

With Bray is his friend Todd, who is not Todd. He is Lee Lucas, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent working undercover. Bray is Lucas' informant.

You can't tell to look at them, sitting in their car this afternoon, but theirs is a strange relationship, built on an uneasy trust. They're helping each other advance in their separate worlds. Lucas is building drug cases, looking good for his overseers in the DEA and the U.S. attorney's office. Bray, perhaps without Lucas' knowledge, is using Lucas to frame rivals.

Ultimately, this relationship will cost both men. It will put innocent people in prison, ruin careers and tarnish the record of an outgoing U.S. attorney with an impeccable reputation.

But not yet. On this afternoon in 2005, the Bray-Lucas operation is in full swing, and the target that day is Joshawa Webb. He's a brute of a guy, 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds. He's missing two of his front teeth.

In the parking lot, Bray and Lucas buy cocaine. Lucas will repeatedly say the seller is Webb.

No one will notice -- not for a long time, anyway -- that the man who sells the cocaine is 5-feet-8 and about 200 pounds. And he has his front teeth.

No matter. By fingering Webb, Bray will get rid of a competitor. Lucas will notch another arrest.

The drug case investigation in Mansfield is swerving out of control this afternoon.

Months from now, it will be a shambles. [Mark Godsey]

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