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|Born||Jamiel Alexander Chagra
7 December 1944
El Paso, Texas, USA
|Died||July 25, 2008
Mesa, Arizona, USA
|Criminal charge||Drug trafficking|
|Criminal penalty||30 years imprisonment|
|Criminal status||Released after serving 24 years|
|Spouse(s)||Lynda (Chagra) Madrid
Grace Chagra (divorced)
Elizabeth Chagra (deceased)
|Children||Jimmy, Justin, Jackie, Cathy, Csilla, Christine|
|Parent(s)||Abdou Joseph Chagra
Chagra was active as a trafficker in marijuana in the 1970s and at that time was one of the biggest drug traffickers operating out of Las Vegas and El Paso. According to one observer, he was "the undisputed marijuana kingpin of the Western world. He imported more high-grade ganja than anyone, tons at a time, planeload after planeload."
Chagra's downfall began in 1978 when he was arrested on trafficking charges. He was scheduled to appear before Wood, a judge who had a reputation for giving out the maximum sentence allowed for drug-related crimes. Chagra faced a possible life sentence without parole if convicted and a law clerk of the late judge told Joe Chagra, Jamiel's brother and attorney, that Judge Wood intended to give Chagra life without parole. Chagra allegedly attempted to bribe Judge Wood for $10 million. Facing life for smuggling, Jamiel Chagra allegedly decided to have the judge killed.
Chagra was accused of (and was acquitted of, although he later confessed to conspiracy in a deal to help his wife) hiring hitman Charles Harrelson (actor Woody Harrelson's father) to kill Wood for $250,000; on May 29, 1979, Judge Wood was murdered outside his home by a shot in the back. The authorities did not immediately suspect Chagra of involvement in the assassination. His drug case went to trial and Chagra was sentenced to 30 years. He was released for health reasons in Atlanta, Georgia on December 9, 2003.
Harrelson was eventually caught and convicted of being the gunman after Chagra talked about the assassination with his brother Joe during Joe's visit to Jimmy in United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, after FBI agents placed microphones under the tables they were speaking at. The FBI's position was that even though Joe Chagra was a lawyer, he was talking to his brother as a brother and not an attorney; therefore, their conversations were not covered by attorney-client privilege.
Both Harrelson and Chagra's brother Joe were implicated in the assassination. Harrelson got life, Joe Chagra got ten years, and Jimmy Chagra's wife Elizabeth was also sent to prison for delivering the payout money. Chagra himself was acquitted of the murder of Judge Wood in front of Judge William S. Sessions, future director of the FBI. Chagra's lawyer in the case was Oscar Goodman, formerly the Mayor of Las Vegas. In a deal with the federal government, Chagra admitted to his role in the murder of Judge Wood and the attempted murder of a United States Attorney. He did this in order to have his wife released before she died and to have him transferred to a medical prison. His wife was never released and she died in custody of ovarian cancer at age 41.
Another of the brothers, Lee Chagra, was gunned down in 1978 in a petty robbery of his office. Joe Chagra died in an automobile accident in 1996.
Later life and death
Jimmy Chagra was reportedly placed in the Federal Witness Protection Program. The story surrounding the assassination of Judge Wood was profiled in an episode of City Confidential. A fictitious name reference to the Judge John Wood assassination also appeared in an "FBI Files" episode Dangerous Company as the show regularly changed names of real-life people to protect privacy.
Jamiel Chagra married his third wife, Lynda Ray, while living under the name James Madrid on November 22, 2005. They were married in Las Vegas.
Chagra died of cancer at 10:30am on July 25, 2008. He had been living in Mesa, Arizona with his wife.
- George Knapp, The pot king of the Western world, Las Vegas City Life, March 29, 2007
- Lawrence van Gelder, "Joseph Chagra, 50, Lawyer Linked to Assassination, Dies", New York Times, December 15, 1996
- Marriage license #D875871, Marriage License Records, Las Vegas.
- James C. McKinley Jr., "Jamiel A. Chagra, 63, Drug Kingpin, Dies", New York Times, July 29, 2008
- Gary Cartwright, Dirty Dealing: Drug Smuggling on the Mexican Border and the Assassination of a Federal Judge, 1998
- Sally Denton and Roger Morris, The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America, 2002
- John L. Smith, Of Rats and Men: Oscar Goodman's Life from Mob Mouthpiece to Mayor of Las Vegas, 2003