Ghost Dope: The Story of Chris Trigg
Updated: Jun 13
Last month I stopped by my office to check my mail box, and I discovered an unsealed manila envelope containing 28 hand-written pages. Despite being mailed-out opened, the package had made it more than 1,000 miles, and it contained quite a story...
The Following was written by Chris Trigg (released May 2022):
I hope these few lines find you well. Apologies for taking my sweet, ol’ time. I’m like an old train. It takes me awhile to get up some momentum, especially when addressing the issues of my case, which I want to emphasize is not unique. There are plenty of Ghost Dope cases in the war on drugs.
You asked about jail hustles. I’m one of the best artists in the FED, that’s the federal prison system. I don’t hustle my art too much though. I’ve seen a lot of feats of ingenuity and creativity in my time. Necessity is the mother of invention. In the early 2000s, I was in Marion with a guy name Terry. He was a true MacGyver. He could take a pair of khakis and the lid to a Tupperware bowl and make a ball cap you would have thought came off the wall of a sports shop. He would use the brown paper bags they brought our store to us in and make accordion file folders out of them that looked like they came from Office Depot.
In the supermax they have a TV in the cell. They used to be color TVs that the staff would make black and white by turning down the color and popping out the menu button so you couldn’t turn it back up. Within 5 minutes guys would figure out how to turn it back on without the menu button. The staff finally gave up that petty nonsense and left the color alone. I’ve seen dudes make stingers, to heat water, with pencil lead and headphone wire. Fishing line out of plastic wrap. Cheesecake out of powdered coffee creamer. Ink from Vaseline. Tamales out of corn chips. Alcohol out of anything, including NutraSweet. I’ve seen paintings made with paint created with the color shell of M&M candies.
We’ll, I’ll let you digest this scribble and wait to hear back from you. Stay safe.
All the best,
Chris's Story: In regards to my case, I think it is wise to introduce the uninitiated to a little bit of historical and geographical reality. I’m from the birthplace of the meth industry in the U.S. (or really everywhere outside the theater of WWII). It’s an area of desert and chaparral, of old towns that once evolved around orange groves and a few bygone industries like Kaiser steel. I came of age in the 80’s, in that area known as the Inland Empire of Southern California. Meth was already abundant there, even then, though in those days it was mostly p2p meth, an earlier, more potent concoction than the ephedrine meth of today. When I was an early teen it was already an economic fixture of the area. I didn’t invent it. I inherited it. The way an Iowa farm kid inherits corn or soybean. It was part of a culture and an economy that was the world I knew.
In the drug war it is a detail often overlooked. It’s easier to blame someone. But often those who receive the blame are the products of the environment created for them by the same system that then blames them for adapting to that environment. I believe the largest recorded seizure of meth occurred in Phelan, CA, in June, 1994: 2800 lbs. A week later in Riverside, CA: 800 lbs. In 1994, before much of America had seen our drug. These are towns of the Inland Empire, in the land I call home.
In January 1998, in an oil town called Gillette, WY, 1000 miles away from San Bernardino, CA (where I lived), an individual was caught dabbling in small quantities of dope. I’d never set foot in Gillette, but I was vaguely aware that oil workers there were fueling a demand for the medicine that made 16 hours of tough labor easier. All the better to rack up those oil money overtime checks.
Like a lot of people in Wyoming, this individual decided to cooperate with whatever agency suited him. This is the principal tactic of cops in the war on drugs. Arrest and scare some weak soul into turning on everyone he knows. He began doing counter buys, then another ensnared individual did the same, and so on. Within 3 of these, we were now at an individual buying an ounce and selling eight balls (1/8 ounces). This individual flipped and led the cops to Casper, WY. He did a controlled buy on a guy named 🤬, an auto shop operator, for ¼ pound, or 4 ounces.
This guy did the Wyoming flip and named me as his source for hundreds of pounds of California meth. He also went on naming and entrapping his wife, his brother in law, his best friend and others, who in turn entrapped others. Let me point out that the amount of meth and money seized from this hundreds of pounds trafficking ring was maybe 2 pounds and $30,000...from 15 individuals.
I knew 🤬. I had known him for maybe six months. I met him through a guy I had been in a boys home with when we were fifteen, who had moved to Wyoming. He was an Inland Empire guy with Inland Empire connections. 🤬 was a local meth dealer who wanted more. I had access to more.
On January 16th, 1998, 🤬 called me. He owed me $25,000. Not exactly hundred-pound money; more like two in 1998 money. “I got that twenty-five I owe you. My cousin is going to fly into Ontario to go to a funeral in San Diego,” the call went. “Can I get some more meth?”
Hmmm. Can I get some more “meth.” It sounded strange. People don’t talk like that in that world. But then, this dude had flown into California wearing short shorts, like some 1978 stoner cat. “I might be able to get a couple, I’ll see.” I think I said a couple.
Of course, it was all a set up, and not even a good one. I felt it. They came deep. DEA
from Wyoming and Riverside, California. Wyoming state investigators. California bureau of narcotics. They thought they would find the big sack. They thought I’d flip. They thought wrong.
Zero meth seized. $1800 seized. A car seized. No gun. And no cooperation.
They told me if I didn’t tell on people, I’d be “the big fish,” and I’d get life. I will never be inclined to rain my misfortune down on people and make them suffer for having known me. Where I’m from we call that honor. The country that compels you to betray your own family to get a deal—I don’t know what it is. Maybe 🤬 does though.
They weren’t lying. I got indicted for 180 pounds of meth. I was the leader-organizer of
this group of bozos who I, for the most part, had never heard of. I was extradited to Casper,
Wyoming, to a place I’d never been to.
They also indicted a friend of mine named, 👩, who had driven a blazer I was selling to
🤬 to Wyoming. The car was not carrying any drugs, but she had made the mistake of giving her phone number to 🤬 and his family. They traced her identity and indicted her. 🤬 said she carried meth in the car. Likely the DEA and prosecutor wanted to scare her into flipping on me. The fact is she didn’t know much, and she refused to rat out me or anyone else. A single mother working for Pac Kell telephone. She was extradited to Wyoming as well. We both were held on no bail.
Look, I don’t claim innocence. I was selling pounds of meth. I come from a place where that is what we did. In the drug war this is common. You flip some poor shmuck and blow it all up into some cartel take down. U.S attorneys, like assistant U.S Attorney Pat Crank (that’s an irony), who pushed my case, makes their names—their bones, off these hopped up cases. It worked for him. He went on to be the A.G of Wyoming.
DEA agents and other narcs pad their resumes with cases like mine. Local attorneys make a living off court appointments, defending “kingpins” who can’t afford an attorney. I use the term “defending” loosely. Mine, Daniel Bylthe, basically told me I was guilty and had no chance in a Wyoming court, even if the evidence was “I might be able to get a couple” and a lot of hearsay. The snitches, of course, are selling info for leniency and other benefits. They get deals and they weigh the deal against the “level” of cooperation. There are incentives for exaggerating the weight of drugs and other factors.
Prosecutors are quick to claim that their informants are sworn to honesty and if caught lying their deals are withdrawn. Right off I noted a lie in the indictment that I could disprove. Our buddy 🤬 claimed we were doing the damn thing for 18 months; ten pounds a month in fact, thus, 180 pounds. But that was impossible. I had only known 🤬 for six of those months. For six of the months I was allegedly giving him 10 lbs on every flip of the calendar page, I was in custody in California for a parole violation. I told my attorney, who told the U.S. attorney right in front of me. Obviously 🤬 was caught in a lie.
The prosecutors simply adjusted the case's factors to fit the new time frame and kept on trucking. 🤬 remained the only evidence against me and 👩, and he continued to work towards this deal. So what happened? What happened is it’s all a sham. It has nothing to do with justice. It’s about money, career advancement, power and ambition. Issues of quantity and leadership are pivotal in federal drug cases. These are factors that determine your position on the federal sentencing guidelines: the hand-tying chart that produces draconian sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.
To catch a snitch in a lie about the quantity and time frame should prejudice his whole tale, and if that's all they got, then the case should be tossed. But the show is what it is. Attorneys are paid by the same DOJ that pays prosecutors and the judge; court appointed ones are anyway. Mine was a good ol’ boy who’s been buttering his bread plea bargaining for poor suckers all his life. He lived off court appointed cases. He wasn’t going to jeopardize his ability to get appointments by derailing the U.S. attorney’s big flimsy case. He didn’t even challenge 🤬’s lie on the record. He passed his buddy Crank a freebee, giving him a heads up about the lie on the down-low so he could correct it and proceed. He was so much the lap dog of the prosecutor that he refused to give me copies of the discovery, aka evidence, so that I could find more lies.
Don’t go thinking this is unique. This is common, all too common. It’s corrupt. How do you think they fill the industrial prison complex with 2-million people and keep it full? Let’s talk about leadership/organizer roles in a drug conspiracy. Essentially, it’s an enhancement for being a kingpin…or it’s supposed to be. More often than not, it is a punishment for invoking your constitutional right to remain silent. They flip their way up the ladder, so the first person not to flip becomes the supplier, who they then claim is the leader/organizer. That is a 4-point enhancement on the guidelines, the severest enhancement in a drug case. It greatly increases the sentence and effects your confinement level afterwards. Recently, it made me ineligible for any benefit from that hollowed-out reform act called The First Step. Recently, President Biden, in discussing justice reform, said he’d like to do away with mandatory minimums, except for leader/organizer defendants.
Who is the leader/organizer in my case? I sold 🤬 pounds of meth? 10 lbs. a month? Not likely. That would equate to 100,000 doses. You ever been to Wyoming? It’s a big empty. There were 400,000 people in the whole state. What? Is 1/4 the population getting high?
🤬 came to California. He admittedly arranged to move the drugs to Wyoming. He admittedly distributed the drugs to people he knew; people I didn’t know; people who I’d never met or heard of. What am I organizing? Who am I leading? You have the right to remain silent. If you choose to invoke that right, it should not be held against you…except for now, you can be the big fish and get that big fish enhancement.
You are provided a lawyer and you presume they have the best interest of their clients at heart. You presume prosecutors have ethics. You presume a judge, who is essentially a referee, will blow the whistle when there is a foul. They speak Latin and legalese in the courtroom. The common citizen can’t understand the common law ‘cause it is not conducted in the common language. Omission is acceptance in the courtroom. Basically, when your lawyer or the prosecutor do something like cover up a lie by the main witness, and they don't challenge it in court even if the judge knows that is wrong, he is not obligated to tell you or to do anything about it, unless you bring it up on the record. But wait, isn’t that the duty of your lawyer to cry foul?
Drug quantities are used to calculate your base level on the federal sentencing guidelines. The more drugs, the more time, But this is another scam. You’ve seen how they calculated the quantity in my case. I wasn’t charged with drugs I was caught with. No one was caught with 180 lbs, or 130 lbs, or even 10lbs. We call this invisible drug quantity “Ghost Dope.” I was charged with the words of a man selling a fantasy for a reduced sentence. To further the illusion, they go back in time and calculate ghost dope quantities as they did in my case. The result is that a person who may have never possessed 10lbs at one time can be charged with hundreds of pounds and sentenced like a kingpin. There is an irony in that they call the bill that created this sentencing structure “Truth in Sentencing” and claim that it eliminates sentencing disparities between rich and poor, or between races. Some alleged kingpins: Fabio Ochoa, Medellin cartel—30 years; Gen. Manuel Noriega: 30 years; Benjamin Arellano, Tijuana cartel: 25 years; Osiel Cardena, founder of the zetas: 20 years. 👩, a single mother, 15 years. Me 30 years.
I also received an enhancement for a ghost gun. I was never caught with a gun. No gun was found in the search of my residence. 🤬 said I had a gun.
With a lawyer like the one I had, and the fact that we were in a place where we knew no one far from our homes and families in an area with a culture quite different than the one we were brought up in, it looked real grim. Our lawyers were telling us it was grim. To be real, its not just our word against 🤬’s. The prosecutor will run a parade of DEA agents and experts to prep up the flimsy case. A Jury of Wyom-ers might be awestruck, blinded by the mystique of the secret agent.
Lose and you get life. 👩 might get 30 if she’s lucky. Lucky!
They came at us with a deal, a noncooperation plea agreement. They would recommend 30 years for me and 15 for her. But we had to both agree or the deal would be withdrawn. So my life at stake now meant her life was at stake too. If I refused, or she did, and we lost at trial, we’d both be doing decades. In my case life, I would never get out…for drugs!
We took the deal, if you could call it that. The judge in sentencing me called it “mercy,” because it was less than life. They filled the court with school children, made it a field trip. They are so out of touch with reality they take 30 years from a man with no evidence of any real sort and call it mercy.
Thanks to the students of UC-Denver Prison, Communication & Social Justice for your help recording and typing Chris's story.