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Hustle Diaries: The True Story Of TakeDown Records (Feat @PhillySwain)

Hustle Diaries: The True Story Of TakeDown Records (Feat @PhillySwain)

Directed by Barry Michael Cooper, writer of “New Jack City”, “Sugar Hill”, and “Above The Rim”. The Story Of 2 CEO’s of Takedown Records from southwest philadelphia named ace capone, and Tim Gotti who have been giving life in federal prison for earnings of 1.2 billion dollors and 1800 killo of cocaine and life on the label starring Philly Swain

Full 2007 Article & Movie below…

It was a bold move by an ambitious, young rap mogul.

At a time when authorities suspected he controlled a vast cocaine operation in Southwest Philadelphia, Alton Coles decided to shoot a video about that very world.

New Jack City: The Next Generation would depict the violent rise of a fictional Southwest Philadelphia cocaine ring that used fear, intimidation and murder to take over the streets.

Coles, under his hip-hop nickname “Ace Capone,” would star in the 2003 rap music drama as a ruthless cocaine kingpin.

It was, federal authorities now allege, a role the rap music impresario knew well.

“He was already living that life when he made that movie,” says John Hageman, spokesman for the Philadelphia office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

But it would take hundreds of hours of surveillance, thousands of wiretapped conversations, scores of undercover drug buys, and the testimony of more than a dozen cooperating witnesses for police and ATF agents to make their case against Coles.

Set in an underworld of drugs and guns, greed and power, their investigation offers insight into a violent street-corner culture that is ripping some Philadelphia neighborhoods apart.

In January, Coles is to go on trial in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, charged with running one of the largest drug operations ever prosecuted in the city – a $25 million network that authorities say flooded the streets with crack and powder cocaine.

“This gang was responsible for about 100,000 individual doses’ hitting the streets each week over a seven-year period,” said U.S. Attorney Patrick L. Meehan.

The 197-count case, involving 22 defendants, includes charges of money laundering, weapons offenses and drug dealing. The organization, the indictment alleges, moved a ton of cocaine and a half-ton of crack onto the Philadelphia market between 1999 and 2005.

Coles, who has been charged with heading the criminal enterprise, is named in 64 of those counts. He has pleaded not guilty.

According to ATF agents, that enterprise was responsible for 21 shootings and seven murders, though only one shooting is listed in the indictment.

Five codefendants are set to be tried with Coles. Sixteen others either have pleaded guilty or are to be tried later. Several are believed to be cooperating.

“The government got a lot of people into a big case and created a conspiracy that don’t exist,” Coles said in a telephone interview from the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia last week.

“These are serious charges, but I’m not the guy that they allege me to be. . . . I’m not no boss of a street organization running a big, giant drug conspiracy.”

He called New Jack City: The Next Generation “a street movie.”

“It’s not a story of my life. . . . You wouldn’t take Denzel Washington and indict him for being a drug dealer because he played one in American Gangster.”

Prosecutors see it differently.

By the time Coles, 33, started to make his video, federal authorities say, he had already blurred the lines between the make-believe world of gangsta rap videos and the take-no-prisoners street life of a cocaine trafficker.

Rap mogul on the rise

Screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper – whose 1991 movie New Jack City, starring Wesley Snipes, is regarded by some as The Godfather of urban gangster films – was charmed by Coles and his West Philadelphia sidekick, Tim Baukman, when they met in the fall of 2002.

By then, Coles and Baukman, who went under the hip-hop name “Tim Gotti,” had founded Take Down Records, a label that was promoting up-and-coming rappers in town.

Coles also was staging concerts, including a show billed as a “hip-hop explosion” at the Spectrum, and was hosting parties and after-concert events for a young, urban crowd.

His weekly Friday night parties at the Palmer Social Club, at Sixth and Spring Garden, attracted crowds of 1,000 or more, with lines sometimes stretching around the block.

Coles drove around town in a $220,000 blue Bentley while taking care of business for his recording artists and setting up his promotional events.

Dressed in baggy pants, an expensive team jersey, and a matching cap, he usually wore a gold or silver neck chain with the diamond-encrusted initials TD – for Take Down – as big as a fist dangling at his chest.

He was a regular at “stop the violence” antidrug rallies sponsored by political and civic groups, never missing an opportunity, it seemed, to have his photo taken standing next to some top city official.

So it wasn’t surprising that in 2002 Cooper saw Coles as an up-and-coming, well-connected, street-smart music industry entrepreneur.

The Harlem-born screenwriter, who now lives in Baltimore, had been introduced to the young rap mogul by Joseph M. Marrone, Coles’ entertainment lawyer.

Marrone and Cooper had hit on the idea of a reality TV series built around two guys from the streets who were trying to start a record label.

It was the story of Coles, Baukman, and Take Down Records: the rise of two young, savvy independent record company executives.

Cooper, 49, says he came away from their first meeting impressed.

“You know, there’s that lyric from Jay-Z, ‘Real recognizes real and you’re lookin’ real to me,’ ” Cooper said of the encounter.

“They weren’t extravagant guys,” he said, before catching himself and laughing. “Besides the Bentley in the ‘hood. But these guys didn’t flaunt it like that.”

The car, the bling, the outfits were the trappings of their business, he said.

The entertainment business.

“If it was a facade,” he said, “it was a very good one.”

“One time, I came up to Philadelphia and they took me to a Bennigan’s,” Cooper recalled with another chuckle. “There were two Bentleys in the parking lot. [Allen] Iverson [then of the 76ers] was there. And we sat there eating wings and watching a ball game.”

Marrone came up with the name for the reality series: Streets Inc. Cooper started to shoot some video to pitch the idea to a network.

Around the same time, Coles and Baukman began planning New Jack City: The Next Generation.

Cooper had no involvement in that project, which was, in some ways, an homage to the original movie he had written.

The video also was a takeoff on State Property, a full-length feature released early in 2002 starring Philadelphia rapper Beanie Sigel, a friend of Coles’.

The two video projects, which would move forward in 2003, offered different pictures of a street-hustling Alton Coles.

In Streets Inc., he was Ace Capone, a savvy, urban entrepreneur who saw hip-hop music as a way for young corner boys to get out of the ‘hood.

In New Jack City: The Next Generation, he was Ace Capone, cocaine kingpin.

Police were leaning toward the second image as they began pursuing leads about Coles from a Darby Borough police officer. But in 2002, no one in law enforcement was exactly sure who Coles was or what role he might have been playing in the drug underworld.

That spring, a killing outside the Philadelphia Zoo offered the first hints.

New image emerges

On the surface, it looked like a drug deal gone bad.

Two brothers from New Castle, Del., had arranged to buy a “quarter brick” – a half-pound – of crack from Randall “Iran” Austin.

They set the meeting for 7 p.m. on April 14, at their usual spot – along 34th Street outside the fence by the zoo.

The brothers, arriving in a Buick LeSabre, brought $10,500 in cash. And a gun.

Austin, driving a silver Mercedes, had eight ounces of crack. And a gun.

Things quickly went awry. Either the brothers tried to steal the crack, or Austin tried to grab the cash.

In the end, one brother ended up dead, shot in the back and lying in the street. The other, his body spilling out of the LeSabre, survived a bullet to the stomach. He told police Austin had shot them.

Austin, then 26, was no stranger to narcotics investigators. By 2002, the West Philadelphia High School dropout had four drug convictions.

The police search led detectives to Austin’s apartment just off Belmont Avenue, where they spotted the silver Mercedes parked in a garage.

As police arrived, a man walking toward an Infiniti Q45 parked outside the apartment hit his car alarm – “an attempt to warn someone inside,” according to an ATF document.

The man, Terry “Taz” Walker, denied he lived in the apartment. But one of his keys opened the front door.

After obtaining a search warrant, police entered the unit. Inside Austin’s apartment, they found seven guns, more than a pound of cocaine, and equipment to weigh, cut and package it.

Walker, then 27, was questioned and released. Like Austin, he had had prior encounters with the law, including convictions for drug possession and aggravated assault.

Investigators working the homicide were told by street sources that both Austin and Walker worked for Alton Coles and that Coles headed Take Down Records.

Inside Walker’s Infiniti, investigators found a Take Down Records jacket with his nickname, “Taz,” inscribed on it.

With that, a picture of Coles as a player in the drug underworld began to emerge.

Early arrests

A 240-pounder who was known as “Fat Boy” before he took on the “Ace Capone” persona at Take Down Records, Coles says he grew up “rough” – largely abandoned by his parents and raised by an aunt and grandmother.

The oldest of four brothers, he looked out for his siblings. “I was both their father and their big brother,” he said.

After getting into trouble for dealing drugs as a youth, Coles said, he graduated from high school in Glen Mills in 1992. Then, having learned to cut hair at an uncle’s shop in Darby, he went on to open two barbershops of his own – Outline I in Chester and Outline II in West Philadelphia – before gravitating toward the music business and promotion.

“I like money,” Coles said. “If an idea crosses my mind and it makes sense, I go with it. I got self-discipline. I’m just a go-getter.”

Lt. Rick Gibney of the Darby Borough Police Department, which had arrested Coles “five or six times,” suspected his real business was drug dealing.

“I always thought he was a knucklehead,” said Gibney. “But then we started to hear that he had taken over West Chester, that he was the guy.”

Gibney said at first he couldn’t believe that Coles had attained status in the drug underworld. But then he noticed that defendants and informants, who allegedly were getting their coke from Coles’ people, were refusing to talk about “the Fat Boy.”

“They wouldn’t roll,” Gibney said. “They were afraid of what might happen to them.”

Gibney said that he’d had several discussions with Philadelphia police and federal narcotics investigators about Coles late in 1999 and early in 2000, but that no one was ready to commit the manpower and resources to focus on his operation.

Like many major investigations, the Coles case emerged from unconnected criminal incidents investigated by different law enforcement agencies.

The murder outside the zoo put Alton “Ace Capone” Coles on the radar screens of Philadelphia homicide and narcotics detectives and of the ATF. As his name continued to pop up in seemingly unrelated cases, those agencies started files on the record company executive and those who appeared to be working for him.

A bust near Tamika’s

On Jan. 21, 2003, Philadelphia police narcotics investigator Thomas Liciardello was watching Tamika’s Lounge at 58th Street and Elmwood Avenue from an unmarked car, waiting for a drug deal to go down.

The corner is the kind of Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood that would soon appear in Coles’ New Jack City and in Cooper’s Streets Inc.

Across the street from Tamika’s is a shuttered day-care center. On the other corners are a used-car lot, an abandoned deli, and overgrown ball fields.

Liciardello had an informant who had given up details about a pending coke deal.

A guy named Ace and a guy named Taz were supposed to show up at Tamika’s that afternoon with nine ounces of cocaine.

As Liciardello watched, a maroon Mercury sedan rolled up and Terry “Taz” Walker jumped out, he later testified.

Walker looked inside Tamika’s but apparently did not see the person he was expecting. He then walked back to the Mercury, reached inside his jacket, and handed the driver a white bag.

Walker returned to the bar as the Mercury drove off – with a police backup team tailing it. A few blocks away, the driver, Hakiem “Unk” Johnson, then 42, was arrested.

Johnson was Alton Coles’ uncle.

Inside Johnson’s hoodie, police found a white bag containing two clear plastic bags, each with 41/2 ounces of cocaine.

And on his cell phone, the record of incoming calls indicated that someone named Ace had called while Johnson was parked outside Tamika’s Lounge.

A thriving business

To his entertainment lawyer, Coles appeared to be on a roll in 2003.

He was producing his version of New Jack City: The Next Generation. “Welcome to the streets of Philadelphia where n-s is scratchin’ and survivin’ to get that change. Only problem is, there ain’t enough to go around. So we get it the best way we know how – the coke game. And believe me, it’s a dirty a- game.”  And Coles had a thriving business hosting parties and after-concert events for big-name rappers at area clubs. Local rappers, wannabes and others would flock to these parties, paying cash at the door to get in.

“Ace was good at that,” said Joseph Marrone, the lawyer who worked with Coles on entertainment issues. “He was able to talk to people outside the city. He had contacts. To me, the guy was going places.”

Lisa Natson, the popular radio personality known as “Golden Girl” from Power 99 FM, agrees.

Natson said she worked as a consultant for Coles and Take Down Records and hosted his parties at Palmer, which by 2003 had become “the hot spot” on Friday nights.

Coles had approached her during an NBA All-Star weekend event in Philadelphia in February 2002, she recalled.

“When I first met him, he already had the look of a hip-hop star. . . . But businesswise, he was really focused. He knew what he wanted to do. He knew about branding, about getting Take Down Records out there.”

She said he wanted to get into promotion. The parties at Palmer, she said, were his launching pad.

Starting at 10 p.m. and going strong until 4 a.m., they were, she said, like no other event in the city.

“There’s no one out there now promoting who knew the business the way Ace did,” she said.

It didn’t hurt, she added, that celebrities like Allen Iverson and Donovan McNabb and rappers like Kanye West dropped by.

“It was a phenomenal thing,” she said.

Like screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper, Natson said she never saw any signs of the drug world when she was around Coles.

In fact, she said, Coles and Take Down Records sometimes sponsored her radio station’s “Peace on the Streets” rallies, often providing artists who performed at the events.

“He was trying to help,” she said, which makes the charges he now faces difficult to comprehend.

“I don’t believe it,” Natson said. “This was a guy who had everything going for him. He was making money . . . riding in a Bentley . . . living the life of a rock star.”

Investigators knew about the parties, and about Coles’ high-profile promotions. Informants told them that he was using the events to launder drug proceeds, that the cash spent to rent the club, pay for the liquor, and provide security came from drug deals.

It came back to Coles, they said, washed clean as profits from a legitimate business enterprise.

Philly Swain, 26, a rapper who’d appeared with Jay-Z, Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek at a Take Down Records concert at the Spectrum, often worked the door at Palmer. To him, Coles and Baukman seemed staunchly antidrug.

“I was a nickel-and-dime dude for a while,” Swain said recently, referring to his involvement in the drug trade. “I was in and out of jail. They told me I needed to get focused.”

Swain said Coles and Baukman saw Take Down Records as the way to get Philly rap a national reputation.

“They were tired of seeing Philly messed up. . . . They wanted to show the hood there was a way out.”

That’s why, Swain said, Coles attended and helped promote antidrug rallies.

In the summer of 2003, Swain said, “we were doing one every week.”

Occasionally, Coles and Baukman would pose at the rallies with some of the city’s top officials, including Mayor Street, Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson, and District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham.

All of them said that they did not know either Coles or Baukman. Mayor Street goes to “an awful lot of antiviolence rallies . . . and his picture is taken frequently,” said his spokesman, Joe Grace.

Coles would hang those photos in his Take Down Records office.

As for the gangster nicknames – Capone and Gotti – they were an affectation, Swain said. Part of the rap business.

“You know how many Gottis there are?” he said. “Noriegas?

“It’s a rap thing. . . . You can’t call yourself Ace Goody Two-Shoes. Nobody would respect you.”

The message that rap was a way out of the ‘hood was one that Cooper emphasized in the opening scene of the pilot for Streets Inc.

Coles and Baukman are driving around Philadelphia in a Mercedes. A cameraman is in the backseat. Coles is behind the wheel and doing most of the talking:

“Man, when you black and you from the ‘hood, the odds is against you. There’s only a couple of ways to get money – if you play ball, football or basketball. . . . Rappin’.  “And that’s why we got this record label.”

Connections, questions

As Coles was wheeling and dealing in the entertainment world, investigators looking into his suspected drug operation in 2003 were beginning to track businesses that he and his associates had set up and properties they owned.

Coles, they knew, had founded the record company with Baukman. They also believed Coles had an interest in a construction company and a possible link to an auto dealership.

They discovered that Coles had real estate holdings that were listed in the names of women who were politely described as Cole’s paramours in ATF reports. There were at least three such women.

One lived in a North Philadelphia apartment that authorities believed was a “stash house” for drugs and guns. Another had a home outside Woodstown, N.J., where Coles allegedly kept pit bulls and cash. A third lived with Coles in a posh, three-story townhouse in Newark, Del.

Cars were also listed in their names, including Cadillacs, Jaguars, BMWs, and assorted brands of SUVs.

Agents also tracked a stream of cash deposits into and out of bank accounts held by Coles and Baukman. The transactions involved hundreds of thousands of dollars. At the same time, records indicated, neither Coles nor Baukman filed income-tax returns.

Both also listed some assets in the names of their underage children. Baukman, for example, was living with a woman in an apartment in the 2900 block of Schoolhouse Lane.

The renter of record was his 9-year-old son.

Pulling the various threads together, investigators could now see the structure of what they believed was a drug network.

Coles was at the top, they said. Baukman was his chief lieutenant. Then there were wholesalers, retailers, and guys who ran the corners.

“Unk” Johnson and “Taz” Walker appeared to be midlevel operatives who helped distribute drugs. Johnson had a crew of corner boys working for him, authorities believed. Walker allegedly moved “weight,” large, wholesale quantities of cocaine, for the organization.

Most street sales took place in Southwest Philadelphia, around the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s Paschall Homes and on several other corners, including 56th and Woodland, 71st and Greenway, and the 2000 block of Cecil Street.

There was also a network operating in West Chester.

A major supplier lived in South Jersey, near Salem.

And there were connections into Baltimore and into North and South Philadelphia.

Gangsta for real?

In the summer of 2004, as Cooper continued to pitch Streets Inc. and Take Down Records prepared to release New Jack City, a joint task force of ATF agents and Philadelphia narcotics investigators targeted the Coles organization. They stepped up surveillance, increased undercover drug buys, and intensified efforts to develop informants.

The operation was coordinated by the Philadelphia office of the federally funded High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, an agency that is both a clearinghouse for drug data and a catalyst for investigations.

Coles was arrested twice that year on gun-possession charges but not prosecuted while the feds quietly worked their case. If he was aware of the additional scrutiny, it did not slow him down.

In June, Take Down Records sponsored a “School Let Out/Stop the Violence Summer Jam” at the Blue Horizon, a North Broad Street venue for boxing matches, concerts and receptions. “This will be a celebration of Philly hip-hop and a positive message for kids,” Coles told the Philadelphia Daily News.

Also that summer, New Jack City: The Next Generation went on sale for $14.95 in video stores and at Take Down Records events.

The cover of the DVD featured a menacing picture of Ace Capone and Tim Gotti. Each was dressed in black. A goateed Capone, a cigarello dangling from his mouth, held an automatic pistol in each hand, one of which rested on Gotti’s shoulder.

Gotti, bearded and wearing sunglasses, also held a gun in each hand, his arms crossed at his waist.

A parental advisory sticker warned of “explicit lyrics.” A blurb on the cover touted the video as the story of a crime family “where survival depends on friends, trust and power.”

54 shots in a few minutes

Shortly after 9 p.m. on Oct. 22, 2004, shots rang out along the 5700 block of Kingsessing Avenue, near Cecil Street.

For a minute or two, the neighborhood was a fire zone.

When the shooting stopped, a suspected drug dealer lay on the sidewalk, bleeding from gunshot wounds to the leg, hand and shoulder. He told police he had no idea who had shot him or why.

Later, federal prosecutors would allege that the shooters that night included Coles, Baukman, and several of their associates.

But at the time, no one knew who was behind the gunfire. To many, it was another flash point of violence typical of city neighborhoods where drug gangs operate.

Residents knew the drill.

One woman told police that when she heard the start of shooting, she instinctively dived onto her kitchen floor. A bullet ripped through her front door.

Another neighbor had a bullet hole in her porch window, and a third complained about bullet holes in the trunk and rear windows of his 1995 Cutlass Supreme that was parked on the street.

By the time police arrived, the shooters had disappeared.

On the street, investigators recovered 39 9mm shell casings, 15 .40-caliber shell casings, and one live 9mm round.

In the span of two or three minutes on a fall night in a Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood, 54 shots had been fired by men trying to gun down one another.

Police suspected a shoot-out between rival drug organizations. It would take an unexpected conversation overheard on a wiretap on Coles’ phone before investigators could put it all together.

Investigators were focused on Ace Capone and Tim Gotti: suspected drug dealers.

Barry Michael Cooper, working on Streets Inc., was focused on Ace Capone and Tim Gotti: gritty record moguls.

But when executives at UPN saw a draft of his pilot, they decided to pass.

“They said it was too real,” Cooper recalled.

“Now rap, hip-hop takin’ over. That’s the only couple ways dudes is really gettin’ out the ‘hood, man.

About the same time, the United Paramount Network (UPN) had put up $100,000 to fund Streets Inc. – the reality TV pilot about Take Down Records that Cooper was putting together.

The gritty story of a Philadelphia drug czar opens with Ace Capone in a voice over:


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