"Freeway" Rick Ross

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This article is about the American drug trafficker. For the book about him, see Freeway Rick Ross (book). For other people named Rick Ross, see Richard Ross.
Rick Ross
Ricky Donnell Ross.jpg
"Freeway" Rick Ross, 2010
Born (1960-01-26) January 26, 1960 (age 55)[1]
Troup, Texas, U.S.
Other names Freeway, The Real Rick Ross, Freeway Rick Ross
Occupation Entrepreneur, author
Criminal charge
Conspiracy to illegally traffic cocaine (100kg)
Criminal penalty
Life, reduced to 20 years by a U.S. Federal Court of Appeals
Criminal status Incarcerated in 1996, released in 2009
Parent(s) Annie Mae Ross, Sonny Ross

Ricky Donnell Ross (born January 26, 1960), known as "Freeway" Rick Ross, is an American author and convicted drug trafficker best known for the drug empire he established in Los Angeles, California, in the early to mid 1980s.[2]


Ross attended school at Susan Miller Dorsey High School in Los Angeles. He played for the tennis team but was unable to get a college scholarship because he was illiterate.[3]

Ross has said that when he first saw crack-cocaine as a teenager in 1979, he did not immediately believe it was a drug because it looked different from other drugs he had seen.[4]

The nickname Freeway came from Ross' owning properties along the Los Angeles Harbor Freeway[5] and living next to the 110.[6] According to an October 2013 Esquire magazine article, "Between 1982 and 1989, federal prosecutors estimated, Ross bought and resold several metric tons of cocaine. In 1980 dollars, his gross earnings were said to be in excess of $900 million – with a profit of nearly $300 million. Converted roughly to present-day dollars: 2.5 billion gross, and $850 million in profit, respectively.”[7] During the height of his drug dealing, Ross was said to have sold "$3 million in one day."[8] According to the Oakland Tribune, "In the course of his rise, prosecutors estimate that Ross exported several tons of cocaine to New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and made more than $600 million between 1983 and 1984."[9]

In 1996, Ross was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted for purchasing more than 100 kilograms of cocaine from a federal agent in a sting operation. Later that year, a series of articles by journalist Gary Webb in the San Jose Mercury News revealed a connection between one of Ross's cocaine sources, Danilo Blandón, and the CIA as part of the Iran-Contra scandal.[10] Ross's case was brought to a federal court of appeals which reduced his sentence to 20 years as a result of Ross being over-sentenced. He was released from custody on September 29, 2009.[11]

Cocaine use and business[edit]

Cocaine introduction[edit]

Ross began selling cocaine after failing to get a college sports scholarship to play tennis because of his illiteracy. He began spending time with an upholstery teacher at his school who revealed he dealt cocaine and offered Ross some to sell. Ross eventually began to ask for quantities to sell that exceeded what the teacher was willing to procure, so he turned to find a new dealer.[12]

Through a friend, Ross was introduced to a connection of two Nicaraguan exiles, Oscar Danilo Blandón and Norwin Meneses Cantarero, to purchase cheaper Nicaraguan cocaine. Ross began distributing cocaine at $10,000 less per kilo than the average street price, distributing it to the Bloods and Crips street gangs. Ross eventually purchased his cocaine directly from Blandón and Meneses instead of going through the connection. By 1982, Ross had received his moniker of "Freeway Ricky" and claimed to have sold up to US$3 million worth of cocaine per day, purchasing 455 kilos of cocaine a week.[8]

He initially invested most of his profits in houses and businesses, because he feared his mother would catch on to what he was doing if he started spending lavishly on himself. In a jailhouse interview with reporter Gary Webb, Ross said, "We were hiding our money from our mothers."[13]

Drug empire[edit]

With thousands of employees, Ross has said he operated drug sales not only in Los Angeles but in places across the country including St. Louis, New Orleans, Texas, Kansas City, Oklahoma, Indiana, Cincinnati, North Carolina, South Carolina, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Seattle. He has said that his most lucrative sales came from the Ohio area. He made similar claims in a 1996 PBS interview.[14] According to the Oakland Tribune, "In the course of his rise, prosecutors estimate that Ross exported several tons of cocaine to New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and made more than $600 million in the process."[9] Adjusting for inflation using the Consumer Price Index, that is more than a billion dollars.[15]

Much of his success at evading law enforcement was due to his ring's possession of police scanners and voice scramblers. Following one drug bust, an L.A. sheriff remarked that Ross's men had "better equipment than we have."[16]

According to the October 2013 Esquire article, “Between 1982 and 1989, federal prosecutors estimated, Ross bought and resold several metric tons of cocaine. In 1980 dollars, his gross earnings were said to be in excess of $900 million – with a profit of nearly $300 million. Converted roughly to present-day dollars: 2.5 billion gross, and $850 million in profit, respectively. As his distribution empire grew to include forty-two cities, the price he paid per kilo of powder cocaine dropped from as much as $60,000 to as low as $10,000. ” [6]

Iran-Contra involvement[edit]

Ross's capture was facilitated by his main source, drug lord Oscar Danilo Blandón, who set up Ross. Blandón had close ties with the Contras, and had met with Contra leader Enrique Bermúdez on several occasions. Blandón was the link between the CIA and Contras during the Iran-Contra affair. Gary Webb interviewed Ross several times before breaking the story in 1996. Ross claims that the reason he was unfairly tried initially was because of his involvement in the scandal. Blandón received a 24-month sentence for his drug trafficking charges, and following his release, was hired by the Drug Enforcement Administration where he was salaried at US$42,000. The INS was ordered to grant Blandón a green card, despite the criminal convictions, to allow him to work for the DEA. The DEA has claimed they no longer employ Blandón, and his whereabouts are unknown.[17]

Lawsuit against rapper Rick Ross[edit]

On June 18, 2010, Ross sued rapper Rick Ross (real name William Leonard Roberts II) for using his name.[18] Freeway Ricky Ross filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Ross in a California Federal Court.[18] Jay-Z had been called to testify in the lawsuit, as he was CEO of Def Jam when Ross was signed to the label.[18] The reformed drug kingpin was looking for $10 million in compensation in the lawsuit.[18]

Also, the release of rapper Rick Ross' album, Teflon Don, was threatened to be blocked by Freeway Rick Ross. A week after the lawsuit was filed, the rapper responded to the charges: "It’s like owning a restaurant; you’re gonna have a few slip and falls. You get lawsuits, you deal with them, and get them out of your way ... sometimes you lose."[19] He then denied rumors that he would change his name to "Ricky Rozay" as a consequence of the lawsuit.

After the lawsuit was dismissed on July 3, 2010,[20] the album Teflon Don was released as scheduled on July 20, 2010. A federal judge ruled that the case should be refiled in California state court because it fell under California state law. Ross refiled the case with the State of California and the federal case is on appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.[21] The federal case was appealed to higher court, state case was filed in 2011 in California.

Freeway Ross has refiled in Los Angeles Superior Court with publicity rights claims. Depositions have been ongoing. Trial was set for early May 2012. The case was dismissed by a judge in the Los Angeles Superior Court.[22]

The California State case was updated with a motion in Freeway Rick Ross's favor as to Warner Brothers Records and their use of the name and image Rick Ross in July 2012.[23]

The New York Post reported that a trial was set for August 27, 2013 in Freeway Rick Ross versus Rick Ross and Warner Music Group.[24]

On December 30, 2013, the court ruled in favor of the rapper Rick Ross, allowing him to keep the name based on a First Amendment ruling.[25]


In 2013, The Huffington Post reported that journalist and author Cathy Scott was co-writing Ross's autobiography with him, scheduled for release in 2014.[26]

The memoir, Freeway Rick Ross: The Untold Autobiography, was released at a book launch at the Eso Won Bookstore in Los Angeles on June 17, 2014 to a standing-room only crowd.[27][28]

KCET TV wrote in a review, "(The book) is fascinating for its unsentimental, inside look at his career on the streets of South Central, which started for Ross with car theft and quickly shifted to drugs and the big time."[29] The autobiography was nominated for ForeWord Review's IndiFab Best Book of the Year Award 2014 for true crime.[30]

In popular culture[edit]

Ross was a key figure in filmmaker Kevin Booth's documentary, American Drug War: The Last White Hope. The second episode of the first season of BET's American Gangster documentary series was focused on the story of Ricky Ross and his connection to the Iran-Contra scandal.[17] Ross was a guest interview on VH1's critically acclaimed Planet Rock History of Crack and Hip Hop Documentary. The documentary was a look into the interconnection between top hip hop talents such as Jay Z, Snoop and Wu Tang and the growth of the Crack Epidemic.[31]

Ross is featured in the 2015 documentary Freeway:Crack in the System presented by Al Jazeera, which details various levels of the drug trade, the Iran Contra scandal, and mass incarceration.[32]

Director, Marc Levin told the Daily Beast, "Freeway Crack in the System is the story that rocked black America and led to all sorts of conspiracy theories and urban legends. It is also the story that goes to the fundamental hypocrisy and corruption of this failed War on Drugs.”[33]

Ross was featured in an article detailing his rise, fall and redemption in the 80th Anniversary of Esquire Magazine, titled "Say Hello to Rick Ross." "Crack was just turning up in the United States," the article said. "The Contras were seeking funds to support their civil war in Nicaragua. And an L.A. kid was looking for an opportunity. The combination would change America."[7]

Rapper Jay-Z referenced Ross's story in the song "Blue Magic" from the American Gangster soundtrack. "Can't you tell that I came from the dope game, Blame Reagan for makin' me into a monster,...Blame Oliver North and Iran-contra/ I ran contraband that they sponsored." Blue Magic American Gangster (film) Soundtrack

In the song "My Favorite Mutiny" by The Coup, rapper Boots claims the Central Intelligence Agency directed Ross to distribute crack: "before the CIA told Ricky Ross to put crack in the sack."[34] The song "Mathematics" by Mos Def contains a reference to the link between Ross and the CIA: "Nearly half of America's largest cities is one-quarter black/ That's why they gave Ricky Ross all the crack."[35] In the Murs song "The Science" (from his 2008 release Murs for President) the rapper says "...and they gave us dope (Crack)/From the CIA by the way of Nicaragua/Shipped to Rick Ross/He's the Black Godfather." He continues to rap about conspiracies surrounding the CIA's dealings with Ross throughout the song.

Since 2013, Ross has been a regular guest on The Joe Rogan Experience. He is also the subject of the documentary "Freeway: Crack in the System"[36] by award winning filmmaker Marc Levin, which was released in October 2014[37] and features an original sound track by Snoop Dogg and Too Short.[38][39]

In the 2014 film Kill the Messenger, Ross is portrayed by Michael K. Williams.


  1. ^ "Ricky Ross Biography – Facts, Birthday, Life Story". Biography.com. 1960-01-26. Archived from the original on 2014-05-05. Retrieved 2013-07-02. 
  2. ^ "United States Department of Justice Archive". Usdoj.gov. Archived from the original on 2009-05-31. Retrieved 2013-07-02. 
  3. ^ "Dark Alliance: Library." San Jose Mercury News. April 9, 1997. Retrieved on December 14, 2013. "A few years before Ross became involved in cocaine sales, he was a player on his high school tennis team. A college scholarship was reneged once it was learned he couldn't read. The same day, he dropped out of high school his senior year weeks away from graduation.Photo from Dorsey High School yearbook"
  4. ^ Webb, Gary (1999). Dark Alliance. Seven Stories Press. p. 125. ISBN 978-1-888363-93-7. 
  5. ^ Webb, Gary (August 19, 1996). "Shadowy origins of 'crack' epidemic". San Jose Mercury News. Archived from the original on April 9, 1997. 
  6. ^ a b Mike Sager Esquire Magazine (2013-09-13). "Say Hello to Rick Ross". Esquire Magazine. Archived from the original on 2013-11-01. Retrieved 2013-09-13. 
  7. ^ a b Mike Sager Esquire Magazine (2013-09-13). "Say Hello to Rick Ross". Esquire Magazine. Archived from the original on 2013-09-27. Retrieved 2013-09-13. 
  8. ^ a b Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, Verso Publishing. Page 6,7
  9. ^ a b Scott JohnsonOakland Tribune (2012-04-17). "Oakland Tribune". Insidebayarea.com. Archived from the original on 2013-12-18. Retrieved 2013-07-02. 
  10. ^ "Gary Webb And The Limits Of Vindication". Esquire. 
  11. ^ "Federal Bureau of Prisons". Bop.gov. Archived from the original on 2012-03-10. Retrieved 2013-07-02. 
  12. ^ Webb, Gary (1999). Dark Alliance. Seven Stories Press. p. 133. ISBN 978-1-888363-93-7. 
  13. ^ Webb, Gary (1999). Dark Alliance. Seven Stories Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-1-888363-93-7. 
  14. ^ http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/race_relations/july-dec96/cia_11-18.html Archived January 3, 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "CPI Calculator". Usinflationcalculator.com. Archived from the original on 2013-10-28. Retrieved 2013-07-02. 
  16. ^ Webb, Gary (1999). Dark Alliance. Seven Stories Press. p. 193. ISBN 978-1-888363-93-7. 
  17. ^ a b "American Gangster: 'Freeway' Ricky Ross". BET. Archived from the original on July 9, 2007. 
  18. ^ a b c d Harling, Danielle. "Freeway Rick Ross files lawsuit". Archived from the original on 2014-01-03. Retrieved 25 June 2010. 
  19. ^ "The Drug Dealer Rick Ross Has Lost His Lawsuit Against the Rapper Rick Ross". New York Magazine. November 5, 2010. Archived from the original on 2011-12-29. 
  20. ^ Johnson, Bill. "Freeway Ricky Ross’ Lawsuit Against Rick Ross Thrown Out". Archived from the original on 2012-03-12. Retrieved 12 September 2010. 
  21. ^ "'Freeway' Rick Ross Will Take On Rick Ross In Court Early May". Archived from the original on 2014-01-03. 
  22. ^ Gardner, Eriq (2012-07-18). "Rick Ross Vs. Ricky "Freeway" Ross: Judge Rejects Warner Bros. Records' Motion to Dismiss". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 2013-01-27. 
  23. ^ "Rick Ross vs. Rick Ross: Rapper sued by drug trafficker for allegedly stealing name NY POST". New York Post. Archived from the original on 2013-02-19. 
  24. ^ Gardner, Eriq (2013-12-30). "'Freeway' Ricky Ross vs. Rick Ross: First Amendment Protects Hip-Hop Persona". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 2014-03-09. 
  25. ^ "Rick Ross, Former Drug Kingpin: 'Why Wouldn't You Want To Emulate Me If You Can't Even Get a Job At McDonald's?". Huffington Post. 2013-08-07. Archived from the original on 2013-12-24. 
  26. ^ "Rick Ross Book signing Event Recap". lasentinel.net. 
  27. ^ Ross, Rick; Scott, Cathy (2014). Freeway Rick Ross: The Untold Autobiography. Freeway Studios. ISBN 9781499651539. 
  28. ^ Erin Aubry Kaplan. "L.A.'s Notorious Drug Dealer, 'Freeway' Rick Ross, is Moving On". KCET. 
  29. ^ "Indie Fab Book of Year Freeway Rick Ross Nomination". IndieFab. 2014-04-14. Archived from the original on 2013-12-24. 
  30. ^ "VH1 Planet Rock History of Crack and Hip Hop". Billboard.com. Archived from the original on 2013-05-29. Retrieved 2013-07-02. 
  31. ^ "Freeway:Crack In the System". Blowback Productions. Archived from the original on 2013-12-24. Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  32. ^ ""A Drug Kingpin, the CIA, and Prisoners"". Daily Beast. Archived from the original on 2013-12-24. Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  33. ^ "My Favorite Mutiny lyrics". The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive. Archived from the original on 2013-06-16. Retrieved 2008-03-15. 
  34. ^ "Mathematics lyrics". The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive. Archived from the original on 2013-06-16. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  35. ^ "A FILM BY MARC LEVIN". Crack In The System. 
  36. ^ http://www.streetinsider.com/Press+Releases/%26quot%3BFreeway%3A+Crack+in+the+System%26quot%3B+A+New+Feature+Documentary+By+Award-Winning+Filmmaker+Marc+Levin+Reveals+The+Real+Story+Of+Crack+In+America+And+The+CIA/9827102.html
  37. ^ "Go Behind the Scenes of a CIA Conspiracy in the Exclusive Trailer for 'Freeway: Crack in the System'". yahoo.com. 16 September 2014. 
  38. ^ http://www.cnbc.com/id/101994278#.

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