House of Cards
A Speakeasy, a Drug Bust, and One Cunning Undercover Cop
On the afternoon of June 10, five men gathered in a parking lot in South Lake Union for a drug deal. According to court documents filed in U.S. District Court on June 11, the broker of the deal was Marshall P. Reinsch, who liked to brag that he "sold over a kilogram of cocaine a day." The customer was an undercover SPD detective going by the name "Bryan T. Owens," who was there to buy seven kilos of cocaine ($18,500 per kilo), three pounds of methamphetamine ($22,000 per lb), and a silver 2001 Honda Accord coupe with hidden compartments for smuggling drugs ($21,500). The deal had been worked out over several dinners in March and April at Joeys Restaurant.
The three other men in the parking lot outside Joeys Restaurant and Daniel's Broiler on June 10 were Hondurans: Carlos A. Zavala- Bustillo, whom Reinsch identified as his supplier; Edwan Porfirio Fletes, who sat in a black car; and Cesar A. Canterero-Arteaga, who sat in a white truck with the drugs. The meeting was tense. Owens, the undercover officer, had not been expecting anyone else to be with Reinsch. As Zavala-Bustillo showed off the Honda, Owens joked about the used car dying on him. No one laughed. Then Owens was shown the drugs and asked for the money. "My guy wants out of here," court records say Reinsch told Owens, referring to Zavala-Bustillo. "He's not digging this."
An undercover FBI agent showed up in a truck with the cash. Owens led Reinsch to the truck, Reinsch took the cash, and Owens shook Zavala-Bustillo's hand. Moments later, the parking lot was filled with armed officers. According to a bartender at Daniel's Broiler, at least 20 plainclothes officers and a dozen more officers with rifles pulled up in unmarked black SUVs. "It was pretty wild," the bartender says.
As police were rounding the men up, another man pulled up to the scene. Rick Wilson, court records say, had come to back up Owens, a man he believed to be his friend. Police say Wilson was carrying two handguns when he arrived at the parking lot. Wilson had gotten to know Owens through an underground casino Wilson allegedly helped manage. The SPD had created "Bryan T. Owens" specifically to infiltrate the casino. Wilson agreed to provide security for Owens during this parking-lot drug deal, a friend said, because Wilson "was late on rent and needed cash."
Just after midnight on June 11, about 12 hours after the drug bust, a group of about 20 men and women sipped beers and played poker in Wilson's apartment, which had become a makeshift underground casino behind the Wildrose bar at 11th Avenue and East Pike Street. A fleet of SPD cars and trucks blocked off the street, and then, according to witnesses, one officer announced over a loudspeaker that police were there to serve a warrant. Twenty other cops, including vice detectives and SWAT officers, breached a lower-level apartment door with guns drawn. One man arrested at the scene says everyone in the apartment was then loaded into a modified Metro bus for holding.
Officers also swarmed other locations around the city that night. According to two sources familiar with the raids, police showed up at a house in Ballard and at an apartment in West Seattle, and staged a traffic collision on Alki so officers could covertly set up containment before raiding another home—all residences connected in some way to the underground casino on Capitol Hill and another in Belltown. But the raids weren't just about late-night card games and drinking. SPD's investigation of the card rooms had led them to alleged large-scale drug dealing. It was a friend of Wilson's who introduced Owens to Reinsch. According to regulars, Reinsch frequented the casino. Seattle police declined to comment on the raids or the investigation.
It began in 2006, when Owens first started going to a 1930s-themed Capitol Hill after-hours club on 14th Avenue and Pike known as Cafe UnAmerican. "Something was weird about him," says one club regular. "[We] didn't know where he came from. It seemed really strange that no person would vouch for him." Nevertheless, Owens worked his way into the Cafe UnAmerican's inner circle, passing himself off, court records say, as a "trust fund baby who was only interested in partying and making a quick buck." According to one regular, Owens wasn't very good at poker.
Owens, a man with tattoos, a shaved head, and a body like a linebacker, continued to build a rapport with Cafe UnAmerican's management, taking them out for dinners at El Gaucho, where entrées typically run about $50. One source says Owens even paid for several Cafe UnAmerican members to attend protests at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 2008. Friends of Wilson's and other card-room regulars say Owens showed up to parties with stacks of pizzas and regaled regulars with tales of his conservative family's construction empire, his cocaine-addict brother, and his own run-ins with the cops.
One evening, one source says, Owens began telling them about being arrested at a May Day rally in 2008. "He said he came upon this protest and was crossing the street, and the cops were hassling him," the source says. "He started mouthing off and they arrested him. He [said he] never thought about being against the police until then, and then from that point on he wanted to fuck cops up. He really played up the 'fuck pigs' thing," the source says. Indeed, Seattle police bolstered their undercover detective's story by filing a fake report for the incident, in case someone went looking for it.
Although the undercover officer had gained the trust of the Cafe UnAmerican crew, the club was in danger of shutting down, a source says, after the state gaming commission opened an investigation. Cafe UnAmerican caught wind of the investigation from nightclub staff in the area and began closing up shop. That is until, two club regulars say, Owens offered to help them find a new space.
"He said he found a warehouse in Belltown... and that's where the next speakeasy was," one club regular says. According to the source, Owens showed Cafe UnAmerican's founders a 10,000-square-foot warehouse in Belltown and told them he'd gotten a sweetheart deal because his father knew the building's owner. Because of Owens, the speakeasy was able to continue, a source says, and the group running the Cafe UnAmerican—which became the pirate-themed Cafe Corsair—made Owens a partner, offering him a percentage of the club's earnings and essentially making the SPD an investor in an illegal card room it apparently wanted to keep investigating.
Over the next six months, Owens began prodding Wilson for sources of drugs. That's when a friend of Wilson's introduced Owens to Reinsch, and Owens made several increasingly large drug purchases, eventually ending with the $217,000 deal in the South Lake Union parking lot. According to a man at the club the night of the raid, Owens was present up until he received a phone call and stepped out. Fifteen minutes later, police stormed in.
Alleged Cafe UnAmerican founder Rick Wilson is now facing federal drug and weapons charges for his involvement in the bust, as are Reinsch and the three Hondurans. If convicted, all could face life in prison. Because of the gun charges, Wilson faces a mandatory minimum of 40 years; the other men face a minimum of 10. The Hondurans, believed to be in the country illegally, are being detained; Reinsch and Wilson have been released from jail and put on GPS monitoring.