The Lives and Deaths of Jack Thompson: Updated

Update: I emailed Jason McGahan, the author The Chicago cocaine kingpin who was a federal informant, the original piece in the Chicago Reader, to ask him about JT, the Lamborghini driving coke dealer who reminded me so much of Jack Thompson. I wondered if it were really Jack, our local anti-hero, repurposed as an midwest coke dealer/confidential informant by the DEA. Mr. McGahan was kind enough to respond. He informed me that JT is a thirty-something black man who dealt cocaine and heroin in Chicago and Detroit.

So he’s probably not Jack Thompson.

Jack Thompson was one of those oversized personalities that El Paso frequently gives birth to. Jack was a drug dealer. Back when we went to high school together at Burges, he sold it all. Coke. Pills. Pot. Acid. In high school he dealt in all those drugs, but when he got older he devoted himself, and his entrepreneurial efforts, mainly to cocaine.

There was a time in El Paso when everybody of a certain age had a Jack story. Like the one about the time he held a party at gunpoint in an effort to collect a debt from one of the guys attending. Or the story of his first bust. As the story went, he was walking down a hallway at the airport when the DEA stopped him because his checked suitcase was full of pot. He reportedly used his one phone call to reach his dad, a senior vice-president at El Paso Natural Gas, and told him to take some large amount of cash out of the vent in his room and call Sib Abraham. He was still in high school.

Jack drove Corvettes, and he liked guns. They were stashed around his residences everywhere. Under throw pillows. In kitchen drawers. He showed me one time two footlockers in the attic at his house in Cielo Vista, one stocked with Mac 10 machine guns, and the other stocked with Mac 11s. At least that’s what he said they were.

Jack also had all the technology that law enforcement had. Night vision goggles. A swamp box, for intercepting ambient cellphone calls in a limited radius. Jack also had a special cell phone, one of those bulky bricks we all carried in the day. His phone had a custom black faceplate. “They can’t trace it,” he used to say.

With his Corvettes, gold chains, and guns, Jack looked like some character from Miami Vice. Though he got arrested fairly frequently, he never spent much time in jail. “Good lawyers,” he always used to say, but even the best lawyers can’t get you off if they’ve got you cold. People got suspicious.

One time in the mid-nineties he got arrested for taking pictures of the cars out in front of the DEA offices on the west side. Shortly after that, he got killed, supposedly.

As the story went, he had given a Mercedes to Memo, another drug dealer from a prominent family in Juarez, as collateral for a load, and after the debt was clear, Memo didn’t want to give the car back. Jack tried to run Memo over in Memo’s front yard, and Memo shot Jack through the windshield.

Self-defense, the police called it, sordid details notwithstanding.

Also, there was a girl involved, an exotic dancer who worked at Prince who went by the name Angel.

Later, Memo was reportedly shot through a window by Angel’s brother as he sat watching TV in his living room.

It sounds like a telenovela, right?

Well, there’s more.

Jack’s brother Kirk was killed by a burglar at the same house in Cielo Vista where Jack had showed me the Macs. At least, his wife said he was killed by a burglar. But Kirk’s best friend went to the police shortly after and told them that he was having an affair with Kirk’s wife, and he thought she killed him. They grilled her and she confessed.

These are the stories that circulated in the bars in El Paso at the times these events took place, and there was also some reporting in the newspaper. And I hadn’t thought much about it for close to twenty years till I chanced across this story in the Chicago Reader about the arrest and subsequent cooperation of the Flores twins, Chicago’s biggest heroin dealers. This passage especially interested me:

An hour after D was taken into custody, JT answered a call on his special Nextel.

Dominick’s grocery store. South Canal and Roosevelt. One hour.

The Twin had never been one for phone chitchat. Still, JT felt obliged to tell him he wouldn’t be there to make the handoff in person. But there was no need to worry. Someone he trusted, a friend of ten years’ standing, was going to pick up the load for him. Yes, the friend knew to bring the 30 grand JT owed. There might even be a little something extra in there.

JT sent his regards from the party circuit in Atlanta.

JT and the Twin had a long history of highs and lows. Back in the champagne days of ’04 and ’05, JT paid his birthday greetings to the twins in person at extravagant parties at their hideaway in the resort town of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

But JT also tended to draw the wrong kind of attention: What other young nobody from Detroit drives a Lamborghini to a Wabash Avenue jeweler, paying in cash for custom-made keepsakes for women he hardly knew?

JT ran afoul of the twins in ’06, missing payments until they cut off his supply. But he drummed up a side business in Detroit in the interim, and eventually the twins came calling again. Chicago was flooded with the twins’ coke, but in Detroit there was still plenty of money to be made.

Things got rocky for JT after a driver of his lost a load on the interstate. Three weeks on ice in Wayne County gets a man to thinking, and JT was considering retirement.

But the twins wouldn’t hear of it. They coveted his Detroit connections; they said they needed him.

The next incoming call was from the friend of his who’d be making the pickup. He was in the Dominick’s parking lot with the Twin’s guy, a few paces out of earshot. Dude acting funny, he mumbled to JT. Something about the other guy didn’t sit right. He was about to hand over a plastic bag of 45 grand and pick up a ten-kilo load on consignment. He needed a second opinion. Dude seems like the police.

JT disregarded his friend’s suspicion as a case of cold feet and scolded him over the phone. Do the deal already.

An hour later, JT placed another call from Atlanta to confirm that all had gone according to plan. There was no answer.

Coincidence? Perhaps. Let me propose another theory. Suppose Jack was working for the DEA as a confidential informant. CI’s are beside the law, but not with the law. They’re not bound by legalities like those that limit entrapment. CI’s are kind of like the madrinos that used to run with the judiciales. They do things for the cops that the cops aren’t supposed to do.

Maybe after Jack flipped, the feds put him in Witness Protection. But Jack couldn’t stay in hiding. Dealing coke was all he had. It’s who he was. And he was good at it. So he started over, from scratch. Till he lost a load and spent three weeks in the Wayne County Jail. So he flipped again.

Jack was, perhaps, the most powerful CI in the history of the DEA. A CI so good that he could infiltrate Chapo’s distribution network in Chicago and stand on the periphery as it collapsed, even providing himself with an alibi bolstered by its inclusion in a story about the busts.

Perhaps his sister-in-law didn’t kill his brother. Maybe that was all a ruse to spirit them both away.

Who knows? But it’s an interesting question.

5 comments

  1. So part of your story is wrong. I’m the daughter of Kirk Thompson and the niece of Jack Thompson. I could sue you for this.

      1. Well I’m his kid. His only kid. And I don’t appreciate the way you portrayed what happened because I was there. It was no burglary.

  2. I’m curious…in your research, did you come across another, earlier, Jack Thompson? If so, what did you find?

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