Inside the Mind of a Snitch: an interview with Ronald Rankins

Ronald Rankins
Ronald Rankins is an informant. He testified against his friend Lonnie Lundy in a drug conspiracy trial under an agreement with prosecutors that his sentence would be lowered in exchange for his assistance. Later, Rankins recanted his testimony.

I know my soul can't rest if I was to die today, knowing that Lonnie got a life sentence because of something I said.So yes, if the government were to say, 'Well, Mr. Rankins, we going to switch this and give you the life sentence and give Mr. Lundy the fifteen years,' I'd just have to live with that When did your case happen?

In 1992 [I was] incarcerated into Mobile County jail, [and] ... the prosecutor, Miss Donna Barrows, she told me at that time, "Do you know we had to move Lonnie Lundy out of this facility because he was in fear of his life?" And she said that he stated that you were so powerful that you could probably reach him through other people. And [that he] said that I was a threat to his life because he was trying to testify on me ... . And she went on to say that he tried to make a deal on me ... . And she said that it wasn't me that they wanted. They said that they knew that Lonnie was the financier of our so-called drug operation. And I thought how preposterous for them to accuse me and Lonnie of being in a conspiracy, a drug conspiracy of all things. ... And I'm like, "Where is all of this coming from, you know?" And anyway, she say[s], "Mr. Rankins, I can assure you the federal government has a 98.6[%] conviction rate and if I tell you you're going to receive a life sentence, you can call your family and tell them to break your plate, cause you won't be coming home again." Those [were] her words, verbatim. And I've never been in trouble before, you know, and so I thought, "What have I gotten into? And what's going on?" ... And so she went on to say that Lundy is trying to make a deal on you. She said, "One of you is going to receive a life sentence, Mr. Rankins." She said, "Now it don't matter to me which one of you receives the life sentence, but we know that Mr. Lundy was the kingpin per se in you all's drug operation."

And at first I kept wondering what drug operation she was talking about that Lundy's involved with. ... I was a drug user. And I sold drugs more or less to support my habit. And I wasn't nothing near what they would call a kingpin or what the judicial system would refer to as a kingpin.

Was Lonnie?

No, he was not. I never knew Lonnie to be involved with any drugs. I had heard rumors from another guy ... [who] had told me that Lonnie was moving marijuana on a big scale. And so the way I found out that that guy was lying was I had approached Lonnie a couple of times about people that I knew that had marijuana for sale on a large scale and they was interested in moving marijuana to that area. And to anybody that wanted to buy it really. And I had approached Lonnie about would he be interested in marijuana, he said that at that time, "Ron, I've got a successful business and I really don't want to get involved in anything illegal." He said, "I appreciate the offer ... but I really don't have the time or the patience to be involved in anything illegal," or something to that effect. ... I approached him twice about that in a two-year period. And both times he said he wasn't interested. So that led me to believe that the guy that had told me that he was involved in drugs in a big way was lying to me ... .

Why did you testify against Lonnie?

I testified on Lonnie because first of all they threatened me by saying if I didn't cooperate that they was going to let him testify against me. And ... they moved him so that I wouldn't be able to find out from him that he wasn't going to testify on me, because the truth is that he wasn't going to testify on me, and that he never tried to make a deal with them. I found that out through talking with his lawyer and through talking with his family and through talking with him.

But it was too late?

It was after the fact. And as a matter of fact ... the FBI agent that was involved in my case, he came to me after the fact and said that, "Ron, we appreciate you doing just what we needed you to do." He said, "We['re] sorry to have to use tactics like that but we needed Lundy, you know," just like that. ... What the deal was, Jeff Sessions, who was at the time the head attorney, whatever that position is in Mobile. And he was running for state attorney of the state of Alabama. And he had put in prison a mayor, a couple of lawyers and ... now he needed an executive businessman to push him over the top, to say that he wasn't discriminating against all the minorities that he was putting in prison, giving 'em long sentences. ...

What did you get in return for plea?

... They tricked me by saying that if I cooperated against Lundy, that I would receive no more than two to five years. ... This is what my attorney, Greg Hughes, told me. And Miss Barrows, she stated also that she wasn't trying to give me a lot of time, you know. That she wanted Lundy, and I remember that she also stated that they had enough evidence on Lundy to put him away for life without my assistance. And so I asked them, "Well, why do you all need me if you got enough to put him away ...? And she said, "Because you would be the best witness ... the most credible witness that we could bring up against him." And I said, "Well, Lundy is my friend ... Lundy has never been involved with drugs." I tried to tell them this.

I got my paperwork right here, stating this statement of truth when I recanted my testimony, because I did recant my testimony against Lundy when I found out the truth that he did not try to roll me, that they tricked me into rolling him. ... The day that I was coming to prison, I was picked up with Lundy in the same van. We went to the same prison on the same day. And he and I were sitting on the same seat talking to each other. ... And he said, "Ron, look," he said, "I ... don't really know what happened." He said [that ] the FBI agent that came to visit him after his sentencing ... told him at the time that "Yeah, we tricked Rankins by telling him that you was going to testify on him and that's how we got him to cooperate on you. ... Rankins didn't want to roll you, but when we told him that you was trying to roll him, he [did]." And when he told me how they had tricked me into testifying against him, it hurt me to my heart. I just didn't know what to say, because like I say, Lundy was like a brother to me. And he still is like a brother to me.

And I don't care what people think about me ... they can call me a snitch or whatever they want to call me. But any man faced with those kind of terms ... he's going to have to weigh his options, you know what I'm saying? And that you're knowing these people to be serious, speaking of the government, in saying that one of you is going to receive a life sentence, you decide who's going to receive it. They're giving me the option to decide who's going to receive the life sentence. I love my life just as much as any man and I don't want to spend the rest of my life in prison. It's just like I didn't want him to spend the rest of his life in prison. But they tricked me and made it easier for me to decide by saying that he was trying to roll me.

But you did not get what they offered you, in terms of your sentence?

They said that I would probably receive no more than two to five years. And that if I assisted them, if and when they caught my other co-defendant Alvin Simms, that I could probably be out of prison in 18 months, tops. And this is what was said to me, but I never got anything in writing or any type of contract agreement from anybody. All was said to me, Jeff Sessions came in during one of the times when they was interrogating me and he said, "Mr. Rankins, you just tell them what they want to know, then we going to take good care of you." That's just what he said. But little did I know what he meant by taking good care of me was to screw me around like he did, you know.

How much time did you get?

I got 15 years. I got a 20-year sentence, actually. They gave me five years for money laundering, and 15 years for drug conspiracy. ... My attorney came to my cell right after my sentencing and told me, "Look Ron," he said, "it ain't like they crossed you," he said, "but what they want you to do," he said, "in one year from now, they're going to bring you back to court on a Rule 35. And at that time they're going to cut your sentence in half, the 15 years is going to be cut down to like seven years. Then when you assist them in their incarceration of Alvin Simms," -- which is my other co-defendant that's on the run, I don't know if they ever caught him or what, --"then you could probably be able to knock it down to even less than that." ...

How do I know you're truthful now?

Well, I can't say I don't have nothing to lose 'cause I do have plenty to lose. ... Like I told the judge when I went back to court ... "I don't care if you give me a hundred years, I want the truth to be known that the first time I took the stand to you, I was tricked, coerced, threatened into testifying against Lundy."

What did the judge say?

He told me, "Mr. Rankins as far as I'm concerned," he said, "you was telling the truth the first time ... and for you to sit here and tell me that my people," speaking of the government ... "you expect me to believe that Mr. Hughes and the district attorney and them would be involved in something so crooked?"

You don't care about more time?

... I ain't going to sit here and lie to you or try to lie to the public or anybody else, I want to be out of this place bad. But I also got a conscience. And my soul is important to me. ... I know that my soul can't rest if I was to die today, knowing that Lonnie got a life sentence because of something I said. So yes, if the government were to say, "Well, Mr. Rankins, we going to switch this and give you the life sentence and give Mr. Lundy the 15 years," I'd just have to live with that ... .

Did prosecutor tell you what to say?

Literally, they told me how much, right down to how much cocaine they needed to get it up to give Lundy a life sentence. They said, "We need to put the amount that you was given from him over 15 kilos. ... We can give him a life sentence that way." And as God is my witness, it hurt me to my heart to take the stand against Lonnie and sit there and tell all them lies. But that's exactly what they were. ...

Did you try to tell anyone about this before?

I wrote several people. I wrote Janet Reno. I wrote President Clinton. I got the letters right in there. I wrote Oprah Winfrey. I wrote 60 MINUTES. I wrote HARD COPY. I wrote [The] New York Times. I wrote Mobile Press Register. The list just goes on and on and on. ...

What did you say in the letters?

That I was manipulated by the government. That I was tricked, I was threatened ... .

Do people in prison look down at you because you're a snitch?

I really don't discuss my case with people around this compound. But as far as what I care about them looking down at me, 75% of any camp is full of people that's testified against other people. So when they holler, "Snitch," you know they can't say it without looking around because they know that there's somebody out there that they done told on or talked on. But the difference between me and them is I tried to go back and correct mine, to change mine. And I'm still trying to do it and I'm going to keep on trying to do it as long as I live until I get it done or die first. Because it's not right for the government to do people like they do, you know. They use tricks and connivery. ... I'm not a lawyer and I don't know the law. They're professionals at it. They're professional liars. They know how to lie and make it look like the truth, 'cause who is to doubt them? Nowadays the prosecutors tell the judge what's going to happen. The judge don't even have no say so. It's a lot of good people that's incarcerated right now because of that very scenario. The prosecutors have their way in prison.

Why do people cooperate with them?

Because people don't want to go to prison. I mean, let me ask you a question, if I may. If you was faced with a life sentence right now and they tell you, "Well, Miss Ofra, if you don't testify on this guy, your next door neighbor, that you seen him selling drugs, we're going to give you a life sentence. We're going to make you part of this conspiracy and give you a life sentence." What you going to do? You going to take that life sentence?

Probably not.

Okay. You human. Everybody's human, no matter what type of tough exterior they try to represent, you know people is human. They're not robots, regardless of how tough you try to be on the street and how tough you try to be in prison, when it comes down to it, the letters, l-i-f-e, it will put a whole new perspective in the ball game. You ain't just talking about one of these days I'm going to be out of here. The only way you're coming out of here is when you got a tag on your big toe and no breath left in your body.

But doesn't the judge tell them not to lie?

Let me tell you what they did when I got ready to go before the judge for sentencing. ... Every inmate that gets sentenced, this is the biggest lie that they make you tell. They say, "Now when you go before the judge for sentencing, he going to ask you, 'Mr. Rankins, was any deals offered to you?' We want you to say no." This is what they tell you. ...[The prosecutor says] he's going to ask you was there any deal offered to you? Was you coerced in any way? Was you threatened in any way? And you're supposed to say "No, your Honor, no I wasn't. I'm fully cooperating. I'm fully aware of what I'm doing."

So when the judge says no lying, what's he doing?

He lying to you, that's exactly what he's doing to you...

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