Freeway Ricky Ross

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Freeway Ricky Ross
Ross in 2009
Ricky Donnell Ross

(1960-01-26) January 26, 1960 (age 64)
Other namesFreeway, The Real Rick Ross, Freeway Rick Ross, Freeway Ricky
Occupation(s)Author, former drug trafficker
Criminal statusReleased
Parent(s)Annie Mae Ross, Sonny Ross
Conviction(s)Conspiracy to possess 100 kilograms or more of cocaine with intent to distribute (21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 846)
Criminal penaltyLife imprisonment; lowered on appeal to 20 years

Ricky Donnell "Freeway Rick" Ross (born January 26, 1960)[1] is an American author and former drug lord best known for the drug empire he established in Los Angeles, California, in the early to mid 1980s.[2] He was sentenced to life in prison, though the sentence was shortened on appeal and Ross was released in 2009.[3]


Ross attended school at Susan Miller Dorsey High School in Los Angeles. He played for the tennis team but was unable to get the college tennis scholarship he aspired to because he was illiterate.[4]

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.[5]

The nickname Freeway came from Ross owning properties along Los Angeles' Interstate 110, also known as the Harbor Freeway.[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," with Ross' gross revenue claimed to be more than $900 million (equivalent to $2.7 billion in 2022) and profits of almost $300 million ($1070 million in 2022).[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 $500 million between 1983 and 1984."[9]

In 1996, Ross was sentenced to life imprisonment under the three-strikes law 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 affair.[10] Having learned to read at the age of 28, during his first stint in prison, Ross spent much of his time behind bars studying the law. He eventually discovered a legal loophole that would lead to his release.[7] Ross's case was brought to a federal court of appeals which found that the three-strikes law had been erroneously applied and reduced his sentence to 20 years. He was released from Federal Correctional Institution, Texarkana on September 29, 2009.[11]

Ross was arrested in October 2015 on suspicion of possessing cash related to the sales of illegal drugs when police discovered $100,000 in his possession during a traffic stop.[3] Ross later alleged that he had been racially profiled and stated that he was carrying a large amount of cash for the purchase of a home.[12] Charges were ultimately dropped, and Ross explained he had earned the cash from book sales and speaking fees.[13]

Cocaine business[edit]

Cocaine introduction[edit]

Ross began selling cocaine after his illiteracy prevented him from earning a tennis scholarship for college. He began spending time with an upholstery teacher at a Los Angeles community college who revealed he dealt cocaine and offered Ross a small amount to sell.[14] Ross used his profit to purchase more cocaine to sell, expanding his small operation.[15] 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.[16]

The teacher referred Ross to his supplier, Ivan Arguellas, who offered to keep Ross supplied. Arguellas was able to provide larger quantities at a better price, and Ross quickly went from dealing in grams of cocaine to dealing in ounces.[17] About eight months after becoming Ross's supplier, Arguellas was shot in the spine, resulting in months of hospitalization that forced him out of the cocaine business. His brother-in-law Henry Corrales took over the business, but was not enthusiastic about the trade and had failed to make any connections of his own to suppliers.[18]

A Nicaraguan exile and cocaine distributor named Danilo Blandón was acquainted with Arguellas and Corrales, and although he did not know him personally, was impressed with the amount of cocaine that Ross was moving. Blandón offered to supply cocaine to Corrales to sell to Ross, for a fifty-fifty split of the profit.[19] Eventually, Corrales lost his appetite for the cocaine business and retired, at which point Ross became a direct customer of Blandón.[20]

Through his connection to Blandón, and Blandón's supplier Norwin Meneses Cantarero, Ross was able to purchase Nicaraguan cocaine at significantly reduced rates.[21] Ross began distributing cocaine at $10,000 per kilo less than the average street price, distributing it to the Bloods and Crips street gangs. 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 1,000 pounds (454 kilos) of cocaine a week.[8]

Ross 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."[22] He invested a portion of the proceeds from his drug dealing activities in Anita Baker's first album.

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.[23]

Federal prosecutors estimated that between 1982 and 1989 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. 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."[7]

Much of Ross's success at evading law enforcement was due to his ring's possession of police scanners and voice scramblers. Furthermore, journalist Gary Webb alleged that the CIA was sponsoring the operation as part of its effort to finance Contras, giving Ross another level of protection. Following one drug bust, a Los Angeles County sheriff remarked that Ross's men had "better equipment than we have."[24]

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,[25] filing a copyright infringement lawsuit against Ross in Los Angeles County Superior Court.[25][26] Jay-Z had been called to testify in the lawsuit, as he was President of Def Jam when Ross was signed to the label.[25] Ross sought $10 million in compensation in the lawsuit.[25]

After the lawsuit was dismissed on July 3, 2010,[27] 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.[28] The state case was filed in 2011 in California.

Ross refiled in Los Angeles Superior Court with publicity rights claims. Trial was set for early May 2012. The case was dismissed by a judge in the Los Angeles Superior Court.[29]

The California State case was updated with a motion in Freeway Rick Ross's favor as to Warner Bros. Records and their use of the name and image Rick Ross in July 2012.[30]

A trial was set for August 27, 2013 in Freeway Rick Ross versus Rick Ross and Warner Music Group.

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.[31]

Other ventures[edit]

In January 2022 it was reported that Ross had established a boxing management company, Team Freeway Boxing, with four professional boxers under contract. Ross will also be acting in an advisory role for light welterweight contender Anthony Peterson.[32]


Journalist and author Cathy Scott co-wrote Ross's autobiography with him. The memoir, Freeway Rick Ross: The Untold Autobiography, was released at a book launch with author Scott at the Eso Won Bookstore in Los Angeles on June 17, 2014 to a standing-room only crowd.[33][34]

KCET TV in its review wrote, "(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."[35]

The memoir was nominated for ForeWord Review's IndiFab Best Book of the Year Award 2014 in the true crime category.[36] In June 2015, winners were announced, with the book named as a Foreword Reviews' 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award Finalist, True Crime.[37]

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.[38]

Ross was a guest interview on VH1's Planet Rock History of Crack and Hip Hop Documentary.[39]

Ross is featured in the 2015 two-part documentary Freeway: Crack in the System, which details various levels of the drug trade, the Iran–Contra affair, and mass incarceration.[40] In 2016, the documentary was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Investigative Journalism: Long Form.[41]

In the 2014 film Kill the Messenger, Ross is portrayed by Michael K. Williams.[42]

Ross claims his lifestyle and cocaine business, as well as his suspected involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair, heavily influenced the fictional character Franklin Saint, the protagonist of the FX crime drama television series Snowfall. Ross says he and the show's creator, John Singleton, "partnered up to make a movie", but that Singleton "disappeared" before going on to make Snowfall. Singleton died in 2019 and never confirmed Ross' claims.[43]


  1. ^ "Ricky Ross Biography". pp. {page}. Archived from the original on May 5, 2014. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
  2. ^ "Law Enforcement Investigations of Ross". United States Department of Justice Archive. Archived from the original on May 31, 2009. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
  3. ^ a b Rocha, Veronica; Mozino, Joe (October 23, 2015). "Former L.A. cocaine kingpin 'Freeway' Ricky Ross arrested in Sonoma County". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 26, 2017. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  4. ^ "Dark Alliance: Library". San Jose Mercury News. Archived from the original on April 9, 1997. Retrieved 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.
  5. ^ Webb (1999), p. 125.
  6. ^ Webb, Gary (August 19, 1996). "Shadowy origins of 'crack' epidemic". San Jose Mercury News. Archived from the original on April 9, 1997.
  7. ^ a b c Sager, Mike (September 25, 2013). "Say Hello to Rick Ross". Esquire. Archived from the original on March 10, 2012. Retrieved November 11, 2018.
  8. ^ a b Cockburn, Alexander; St. Clair, Jeffrey (1999). Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press. Verso Publishing. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-1-85984-258-4.
  9. ^ Johnson, Scott (January 16, 2011). "The return of "Freeway" Ricky Ross, the man behind a crack empire". East Bay Times. Archived from the original on January 19, 2011. Retrieved July 20, 2021.
  10. ^ Pierce, Charles P. (June 18, 2013). "Gary Webb And The Limits Of Vindication". Esquire. Archived from the original on December 23, 2014. Retrieved November 11, 2018.
  11. ^ "Inmate Locator". Federal Bureau of Prisons. Archived from the original on March 10, 2012. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
  12. ^ Williams, Kale (October 27, 2015). "'Freeway' Rick Ross blasts Highway 101 arrest as racial profiling". SFGATE. Retrieved November 2, 2022.
  13. ^ Jack Morse (2015). Charges Dropped Against Former Crack Kingpin Pulled Over With $100K In Cash Archived November 5, 2017, at the Wayback Machine,, October 26, 2015.
  14. ^ Webb (1999), p. 129.
  15. ^ Webb (1999), p. 130.
  16. ^ Webb (1999), p. 133.
  17. ^ Webb (1999), p. 134.
  18. ^ Webb (1999), pp. 137–138.
  19. ^ Webb (1999), p. 138.
  20. ^ Webb (1999), pp. 146–147.
  21. ^ Webb (1999), p. 147.
  22. ^ Webb (1999), p. 137.
  23. ^ "Covert Connections?". PBS NewsHour. November 18, 1996. Archived from the original on January 3, 2014. Retrieved August 29, 2008.
  24. ^ Webb (1999), p. 193.
  25. ^ a b c d Harling, Danielle. "Freeway Rick Ross files lawsuit". Archived from the original on January 3, 2014. Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  26. ^ "Judge Drops Rick Ross Name Lawsuit". Rolling Stone. March 30, 2012. Archived from the original on March 8, 2021. Retrieved February 6, 2021.
  27. ^ Barshad, Amos (November 5, 2010). "The Drug Dealer Rick Ross Has Lost His Lawsuit Against the Rapper Rick Ross". New York. Archived from the original on December 29, 2011.
  28. ^ Johnson, Bill (July 6, 2010). "Freeway Ricky Ross' Lawsuit Against Rick Ross Thrown Out". The Urban Daily. Archived from the original on March 12, 2012. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
  29. ^ "'Freeway' Rick Ross Will Take On Rick Ross In Court Early May". MTV Rapfix. February 29, 2012. Archived from the original on January 3, 2014.
  30. ^ Gardner, Eriq (July 18, 2012). "Rick Ross Vs. Ricky "Freeway" Ross: Judge Rejects Warner Bros. Records' Motion to Dismiss". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on January 27, 2013.
  31. ^ Gardner, Eriq (December 30, 2013). "'Freeway' Ricky Ross vs. Rick Ross: First Amendment Protects Hip-Hop Persona". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on March 9, 2014.
  32. ^ "Freeway Rick Ross Becomes Boxing Advisor, Signs Five Fighters". Boxing Scene. January 6, 2022. Archived from the original on September 9, 2022. Retrieved January 6, 2022.
  33. ^ D'Amour, Zon (June 27, 2014). "Rick Ross Book signing Event Recap". Los Angeles Sentinel. Archived from the original on October 24, 2014. Retrieved November 11, 2018.
  34. ^ Ross, Rick; Scott, Cathy (2014). Freeway Rick Ross: The Untold Autobiography. Freeway Studios. ISBN 978-1-49965-153-9.
  35. ^ Kaplan, Erin Aubry (June 6, 2014). "L.A.'s Notorious Drug Dealer, 'Freeway' Rick Ross, is Moving On". KCET. Archived from the original on May 29, 2013. Retrieved November 11, 2018.
  36. ^ "Indie Fab Book of Year Freeway Rick Ross Nomination". IndieFab. April 14, 2014. Archived from the original on April 4, 2015. Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  37. ^ "Freeway Rick Ross is a 2014 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award finalist". IndieFab. Archived from the original on April 4, 2015. Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  38. ^ "American Gangster: 'Freeway' Ricky Ross". BET. Archived from the original on July 9, 2007. Retrieved June 12, 2007.
  39. ^ Ramirez, Erika (August 24, 2011). "VH1 Planet Rock History of Crack and Hip Hop". Billboard. Archived from the original on May 29, 2013. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
  40. ^ Levin, Marc (March 1, 2015). "A Drug Kingpin, the CIA, and Prisoners". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on March 2, 2015. Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  41. ^ Bihm, Jennifer (August 8, 2016). "Film Documenting L.A.'s Drug Era Nominated for Emmy". Los Angeles Sentinel. Archived from the original on October 15, 2018. Retrieved November 11, 2018.
  42. ^ Diaz, Evelyn (October 9, 2014). "Exclusive Look at Michael K. Williams as Rick 'Freeway' Ross". Black Entertainment Television. Retrieved March 16, 2023.
  43. ^ Jackson, Kourtnee (March 15, 2021). "'Snowfall': The Real-Life Inspiration Behind Franklin's Character". Showbiz Cheat Sheet. Retrieved September 15, 2022.


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