The Waltham Murders, the Tsarnaevs, and Todashev: Is There a Drug Connection?Posted: June 4, 2013
In this post, I’m going to pull together a number of facts, along with some speculation, to demonstrate how alleged Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could be connected to a gruesome 2011 triple murder in Waltham MA, and how the murders are likely to be tied to drugs and drug dealing whether or not the Tsarnaevs were involved. I will suggest possible connections between the murders and two major drug busts that took place in the Waltham-Watertown area in 2011.
The reason this is important is that the FBI clearly wants very badly to pin the murders on the Tsarnaev brothers and Ibragim Todashev. I say this for two reasons:
1. The FBI has taken over the investigation of the murders, supposedly cooperating with the Middlesex District Attorney’s office.
2. On May 21 in Orlando, FL, an FBI agent shot and killed Ibragim Todashev, a Chechen man who was acquainted with Tamerlan Tsarnaev when they both lived in the Boston area. Anonymous sources have told multiple media outlets that the FBI was questioning Todahev about the Waltham murders and that he had “implicated himself” and was about to sign a confession to his involvement before he was killed.
I want to emphasize that I am not at all convinced that the Tsarnaev brothers or Todashev had anything to do with the Waltham murders; but it’s clear that the FBI thinks so, and they have more information than I do. The purpose of this post is to demonstrate that if the Tsarnaevs were involved, it’s likely to be because of a drug connection rather than anything to do with Islamic “extremism” or terrorism. I also don’t believe the Boston Marathon bombings were inspired by Islamic “extremism,” but that’s a topic for another post.
NOTE: Please treat this as a regular morning reads post. As always, use the comment thread to discuss what I’ve written and/or post your own news links on any topic.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Connections to the Waltham Triple Murder
Law enforcement officials have said that they now suspect that Tamerlan Tsarnaev–and perhaps his younger brother Dzhokhar as well–may have been involved in the the murders of three men in Waltham, one of whom, Brendan Mess, was a fellow boxer and good friend of Tamerlan’s. It has even been suggested that authorities have DNA evidence that could connect both brothers to the crime.
The murders of the three men, Brendan Mess, 25, Erik Weissman, 31, and Raphael Teken, 37, took place on either September 11 or 12, 2011. The men’s throats were cut and their bodies were littered with large quantities of marijuana. In addition, $5,000 in cash was found in the apartment.
In my opinion it is most likely the motive for these murders had to do with drugs. There is evidence that each of the victims was not only a drug user but also at least a small-time drug dealer, active in the underground economy. If Tamerlan was a frequent visitor at this apartment, he was well aware of this; and there is evidence that Tamerlan and his family were also active in the underground economy.
One obvious question is why, if this were a drug-related murder, the perpetrators would leave behind large quantities of marijuana and cash. However, Brendan Mess’ girlfriend told the Boston Globe that Mess and Weissman had hidden in the apartment “a much larger amount of cash. She could not estimate how much.” Therefore, it’s possible that a large quantity of money was taken, and the marijuana and remaining cash were left in the apartment to send some sort of message.
A second question is why Tamerlan would kill his close friend. It has been reported that after he turned to religion and gave up drinking and smoking pot, Tamerlan became judgmental about his friend’s lifestyle choices. Tamerlan and Dzhokhar apparently had gone through some type of emotional transition that allowed them to kill and injure total strangers with bombs. Perhaps they grew to see their friends as somehow expendable also.
Mutual friends of Tamerlan and Brendan Mess said they noticed dramatic changes in Tamerlan after the murders. He did not go to Mess’ funeral and he seemed to drop out of sight, no longer going to the gyms he usually worked out at or staying in touch with former friends. One friend told Rosie Gray of Buzzfeed that immediately after the murders, Waltham detectives who questioned him told him that Tamerlan “may have been with Mess either the day of or the night before” the murders, so Tamerlan was apparently on law enforcement’s radar at the time.
The Waltham Victims and Drugs
As I’ve noted, the three murdered men each had a history of drug use and drug dealing as well as other run-ins with the law. According to The Boston Globe, Erik Weissman was arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute in 2008 and at the time he told police he had previously been arrested for possession. In 2011, Weissman was in trouble again.
According to court records reviewed by the Globe, on Jan. 17, 2011, Boston police searched Weissman’s Roslindale apartment and seized more than $21,000 in cash, along with drug paraphernalia and a wide assortment of drugs, including marijuana, hashish, cocaine, and Oxycontin.
After the bust, Weissman was broke and homeless, so he moved in with Mess. One important caveat: Weissman’s attorney told the Globe that Weissman was not trying to resolve his case by informing on anyone. He argued that the murders therefore could not be “an act of retribution by a drug supplier who may have been involved with Weissman.”
Also according to the Globe, Raphael Teken did not live with Mess and Weissman; he lived at another address in Waltham, “and two neighbors who asked to remain anonymous said they believed he was a drug dealer, saying he rarely left the house and had a steady stream of visitors.”
Brendan Mess had also been in trouble, though not for drugs. According to the Globe:
On a Sunday afternoon in summer 2010, Brendan H. Mess, a close friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and a specialist in mixed martial arts, was walking along a Cambridge street when he came face to face with a police officer. The patrolman was investigating a complaint that Mess, then 24, had attacked a group of people near Inman Square, breaking one man’s nose and leaving another with a bloody mouth.
Rather than cooperate, Mess began yelling at the officer, at one point saying, “I can knock you out if I wanted to,” according to the officer’s report. Soon, three additional officers arrived, and Mess was hit with a chemical spray, wrestled to the ground, and handcuffed.
Even then, police said, Mess continued threatening the officers.
Finally, Mess and Weissman told another friend shortly before the murders that they had big plans for their future in the drug trade. From NPR:
Christopher Medeiros, who described himself a close friend of Mess, said he believes the killings were drug-related. He said Mess and another one of the victims, Erik Weissman, were marijuana dealers and had been trying to start a major growing operation.
“The Friday before he died, (Mess) told me, ‘Listen, I’m getting ready to make this big move,’” Medeiros said. “And I think that’s what cost him his life.”
Tsarnaev Family and Drugs
Before he turned to religion, Tamerlan liked to party and he reportedly smoked marijuana regularly. According to his ex-girlfriend Nadine Ascencao, he was a “pot-smoking party boy” when they were first together.
The pair started dating in 2006, when Tsarnaev was just a handsome, pot-smoking party boy who loved to box, Ascencao said.
Over the course of their thee-year relationship, she said she noticed a radical change in him.
“One minute he’s this funny, normal guy who liked boxing and having fun, the next he is praying four times a day, watching Islamic videos and talking insane nonsense.”
As I’ve discussed, Tamerlan was also a frequent visitor at Brenden Mess’ apartment in Waltham, where the Mess and Weissman smoked pot constantly. Brendan Mess’ girlfriend confirmed to the Boston Globe that Mess and Tamerlan were close friends and that Tsarnaev frequently hung out at Mess’ apartment. Clearly Tamerlan was comfortable being around drugs and drug dealers, at least until he got religion. Even after he stopped smoking and drinking, he often hung out there and Brendan would ask her to make special meals for him.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Tamerlan’s mother was worried about his drinking and pot-smoking and urged him to get involved in religion instead.
Once known as a quiet teenager who aspired to be a boxer, Tamerlan Tsarnaev delved deeply into religion in recent years at the urging of his mother, who feared he was slipping into a life of marijuana, girls and alcohol. Tamerlan quit drinking and smoking, gave up boxing because he thought it was in opposition to his religion, and began pushing the rest of his family to pursue stricter ways, his mother recalled.
Finally, in one news report, Bob Orr of ABC News was quoted as saying that “according to sources,” Tamerlan was also a dealer– he “made money selling marijuana.”
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a frequent pot-smoker, and reportedly a small-time dealer who sold to his friends. In an extensive profile of the younger Tsarnaev brother, The New York Times reported that Dzhokhar’s friends saw him as “a smart, athletic 19-year-old with a barbed wit and a laid-back demeanor, fond of soccer and parties, all too fond of marijuana.” He didn’t seem particularly interested in religion, and “drank and smoked marijuana — more marijuana than most high school or college students, friends said…”
In a story on the Tsarnaev brothers’ “scant finances,” The Boston Globe reported that Dzhokhar earned at least some money from selling marijuana.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, always seemed to have money for food and other everyday expenses. “He lived a good life, I guess,” said Jason Rowe, his former roommate at UMass Dartmouth….
Several fellow students reported he earned at least some cash selling marijuana — at least the portion he didn’t smoke himself. “There was a permanent stench of marijuana in his room,” said one person who asked not to be named.
One of the Tsarnaevs’ sisters, Bella Tsarnaeva, was recently busted for marijuana possession and intent to sell.
It seems clear that the Tsarnaev family was living on the edge, sometimes even relying on public assistance. But trust me, there is no way a family could survive in Cambridge MA on the paltry amount welfare provides or even on the minimum wage job Tamerlan’s wife Katherine had as a home health care worker. They had to be earning some money in the underground economy.
Two Major Drug Busts in Waltham and Watertown in 2011
There were two huge drug busts in the Waltham-Watertown area in 2011, one in May and the other in October. As far as I can tell, the two drug operations that were broken up were not connected with each other.
Watertown Drug Bust
In May, 2011, eighteen people were arrested on drug, extortion, and money-laundering charges after a year-long federal investigation and sting operation. Eight were local men, six of whom lived in Waltham, Watertown, Belmont, or Somerville–all towns in the same general area.
In addition, a former Watertown police officer was charged with interfering with the investigation by tipping off a Watertown man, Safwan Madarati, about the ongoing investigation and giving him the addresses of two Watertown officers so Madarati could attempt to intimidate them. “Madarati was involved in distributing marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, and Oxycodone in and around Watertown.”
This was a huge operation that involved bringing in marijuana from Canada and storing it in warehouses in “Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and other states” for distribution. One such storage warehouse was in Waltham.
At a hearing on July 26, Homeland Security Special Agent Michael Krol testified about a plot to harm the owner of a Newton jewelry store and a plot to harm alleged drug dealer Victor Loukas, who reportedly stole $80,000 in pills from Madarati, who is alleged to be a leader of the drug ring. Krol testified that agents saw Madarati go to Newton Automotive, owned by alleged drug dealer Hagop Sarkissian, with two men on Feb. 12 and “received information” from a witness that people at the garage had discussed collecting a $700,000 drug debt owed to Sarkissian.
The witness reportedly told agents that alleged drug ring member Sanusie Mo Kabba…would hire people to get the money from Cristofori Jewelers in Newton and specifically owner Mark Cristofori. The witness also said Kabba had a plan to threaten Cristofori and that if threatening didn’t work, “they would conduct more violent measures in order to get that money back,” Krol said.
Krol testified on March 17, a man later identified as Ronald Martinez walked into the jewelry store and asked for a Mike Cristofori. When Mark Cristofori told Martinez that person wasn’t in and asked if he could help, Martinez left the store. Shortly afterward a man walked up to the front of the store and “proceeded to unload a magazine from a high-powered handgun through the window” while two people were in the store…
According to The Washington Post, two friends of Teken and Weissman believed their murders were connected to the Watertown drug bust. The Post didn’t provide any more details, but I assume the friends believed that Teken and Weissman may have been in debt to the drug dealers. Of course Madarati had been arrested by that time, but he and his pals could still have arranged payback if they wanted to. Is it possible that Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Ibragim Todashev had been hired by Madarati and his pals? Could Teken, Weissman, and Mess have been somehow involved in ratting out Madarati?
Waltham Drug Bust
A former Watertown councilor was arrested this week and charged with trafficking marijuana at his Waltham warehouse, where police found 1,062 pot plants and 300 pounds of loose cut marijuana, worth around $2 million, along with $20,000 in cash, according to authorities.
Thomas Gus Bailey, 49, was taken into custody Wednesday along with two other men – Auburndale resident Eric Falzon, 43, and Brookline resident Clay Gollobin, 42, said Cara O’Brien, a spokeswoman for the Middlesex District Attorney’s office.
Bailey served as a councilor in Watertown from 2001 through 2005, according to Watertown’s town clerk, John Flynn….
All three suspects were charged with conspiracy to violate drug laws, possession with intent to distribute a Class D drug, and marijuana trafficking.
This wasn’t quite as big an operation as the one the feds broke up in May, but Bailey would probably still have needed other drug dealers to distribute his product and perhaps muscle to collect debts. Bailey had been in business for a long time, because there was evidence he had used drug money to buy cars during the time he was on the Watertown city council, which he left in 2005.
Bailey is capable of violence. He was arrested in October 2012 for assault and battery on his former girlfriend, who was also involved in the drug operation. Is it possible Bailey learned that Mess and Weissman were planning to get involved in growing and distributing large quantities of pot and sent Tamerlan and Todashev to threaten the two men? Then perhaps things got out of hand and the three men ended up dead?
Obviously, there was quite a bit of drug trafficking going on in the Watertown-Waltham area in 2011 when the murders of Mess, Weissman, and Teken took place. It’s clear that the three murdered men were heavily involved in using and selling drugs. I have to believe their murders are connected to one of the two major drug operations in the area at that time. Surely the FBI must have similar suspicions.
The Tsarnaev family were clearly not religious in any serious sense. At least three members of the Tsarnaev family were involved with drugs. In addition, they had other brushes with the law. Tamerlan had been arrested for assaulting a girlfriend, his mother was charged with shoplifting, and Dzhokhar had some kind of “car repair” operation going on with a local body shop owner. This isn’t that surprising. As I said earlier, this family couldn’t possibly have been surviving in Cambridge on welfare and minimum wage jobs like pizza delivery and home health care. They had to be involved in the underground economy, and there is plenty of evidence that they were.
The 64,000 question is why the FBI would shoot and kill Ibragim Todashev, a man who might have been able to tie the Tsarnaev brothers to the Waltham murders. This is complete speculation, but what if the FBI had been pushing Tamerlan to be an informant (or alternatively had been trying to set him up in one of their notorious sting operations and Todashev knew about it? But again, that’s a topic for another post.