Miami was known as the cocaine capital and drug pipeline into the United States from South America. As the cocaine cowboys, who acted as enforcers and gun thugs for the Colombian cartels, turned the MIA into the Wild, Wild West. The city functioned as the heart of the cocaine trade with all the other arteries branching off from it. At one time cocaine runners were making so much money that the city’s banks were running out of room to store the cash. The profits from the 1980s cocaine explosion helped transform Miami into a major American playground. But as Hollywood A-listers, sports stars, our nation’s social elite and the noveau rich gravitated, hobnobbed and partied in South Beach, another scenario was taking place across the Miami Beach Bridge, that provided a grim reality to the glitz and glamour of those in the spotlight.
The Miami Herald called it “A Decade of Death,” but in the streets it was what it was. Survival of the fittest and at any cost. Only the strong survived. In Miami’s mean streets AK 47s blasted indiscriminately, laying waste to those who got in their way. In the 1990s the drug game flourished in the MIA, but the Colombian cocaine cartels were gone. Replaced by the inner-city urban gangsters who held sway. They took that Scarface mentality and made it their own. Tony Montana was their hero. To them that movie was a blueprint for hustling and they took it to heart. Trying to one up Al Pacino and play the role of inner-city gangsta. It was a scary time for the community with guns blasting every night and with the bodies dropping the MIA turned into murder central. It was no time to be a buster; it was time to bust your gun. If you were in the streets than your ticket could and would be booked.
It was in the neighborhoods like Overtown, Liberty City, Opa Locka, Little Haiti, Lil’ River and Carol City where strife and despair resided, where an endless battle to make good on the American Dream existed in the hearts and minds of multi-ethnic Miami Dade county youngsters who would wage the inner-city drug wars and become feared and respected street legends in the process. Beef was everywhere and even if you didn’t start it you’d still be in, as it was unavoidable. This wasn’t Grand Theft Auto, this was real life. You’ve heard all the names- Vonda’s Gang, the Boobie Boys, Zoe Pound, the John Does, the Thomas Family- all vicious inner-city crime crews that rappers like Rick Ross has name checked in his songs. But the reality isn’t gangsta rap fantasy, its real life drama and when the guns were popping, street soldiers were dying in the concrete jungle. That’s just the facts of life in the city.
A lot of these hood icons have been romanticized in rap and glorified in hip-hop. Their stories have been brought to the public on the Internet, in street magazines and true crime books that exploit their stories for entertainment purposes. But not all the stories have been told. From deep within the federal Bureau of Prisons, buried in the belly of the beast for the last 10 years, the man who Miami Police called a “one man crime wave” has reached out to us to give his story. He has chosen to remain silent as the rumors circulated and were published in the various books and magazines as they were portrayed in the street DVD’s but finally he feels it is his time to speak. He contacted us wanting to tell his side of the story. He was not happy the way his character was betrayed in a lot of books and documentaries. Introducing Robert Lee “Rah-Rah” Sawyer, former enforcer for Avonda “Black Girl” Dowling’s crew from Overtown, Miami, and better known as Vonda’s Gang. Straight out of the belly of the beast to our readers you know how we do it. Now to the exclusive-
What position did you play in Vonda’s Gang?
Rah-Rah: When it came to Vonda and I, it was all business and love for each other. You watch my back and I watch yours. So as far as a gang, the gang was a stamp the local authority placed on us as their media hype. But actually it wasn’t no gang instead it was just childhood friends who had genuine love for each other.
How did you get involved in the drug game?
Rah-Rah: Well, me personally I was raised up in the game since childhood, because everywhere I turned and stood the temptation stared me right in the face, so it was no way around it for me. So the rest was history.
Describe the streets of Miami in the era you were out there?
Rah-Rah: Statistically, Overtown was known as the poorest and most feared black community in the country, but it bred fortune from various activities, to include our pipeline, The Port of Miami. Niggas from Carol City and other areas throughout Miami was scared to come to Overtown because like I said, it was times when real gangsta’s did exist. Overtown had that tropical atmosphere with the structure of a muthafuckin’ jungle. I could recall back to the times when the big time kingpins from other parts of Miami would put down in Overtown, but they never made it out alive. So who wouldn’t be scared to come to Overtown?
How did Vonda become the leader of her own gang?
Rah-Rah: The day that Vonda became a gang leader was the day that the local authorities fabricated their story against her. Otherwise Vonda’s a caring mother and born hustler who gave her all to the community of Overtown, something you don’t see that often on a woman nowadays.
Ron Chepesiuk’s chapter on Vonda’s Gang in the book “Queenpins” said that “Robert Lee ‘Rah-Rah’ Sawyer was one of the queenpins ruthless enforcers who would kill people encroaching on her territory. He worked to protect Vonda’s Gang and its drug hole from competing dealers.” The Boobie Boys were a competing crew with members from Carol City, Lil’ River and Liberty City. They were go hard soldiers who slung coke and blasted enemies with AK-47s chopper spray.
Rah-Rah had been a drug player involved in the scene since 1985. Due to his trials and tribulations in the drug game he was in and out of prison, fighting cases and serving time. Allegedly Vonda hired Rah-Rah to kill Michael McBride who set up his own operation right around the corner from Vonda’s at 11th Terrace. Authorities say Vonda paid Rah-Rah $10, 000 and half a kilo of cocaine for the contract killing. A single gunshot and Black Girl’s problem was solved and thus a relationship was cemented.
By 1993, Vonda’s Gang was in a vicious gang war with the Boobie Boys, for Miami’s drug turf was simply not big enough to accommodate the criminal ambitions of both Kenneth Bobbie Williams and Avonda “Black Girl” Dowling. While Vonda’s Gang largely confined itself to Overtown, Williams built an empire that smuggled cocaine to 12 states through the Bahamas and Panama. “The (Boobie Boys) Gang was truly a family affair,” said U.S. Attorney Stacey Levine, who prosecuted the gang. “It was a very dangerous business and became more so as the Boobie Boys came into their own.”
On the orders of Avonda, Rah-Rah, Bam and other members of her gang drove around Miami looking to kill Boobie Boys gang members. The Boobies retaliated in a tit for tat scenario. During a five-year period to 1998, Miami was paralyzed by the lawlessness of the gang war that left a trail of killings in some of Miami’s poorest areas. The murderers wore ski masks, camouflage clothing and body armor and carried AK-47s. There were at least 62 shooting deaths and another 36 wounded during the period. Some of the victims were riddled by as many as 99 bullet holes and their faces were blown off. “It got to the point that people were afraid to go anywhere,” Lewis recalled. “Miamians became prisoners in their own neighborhood.”
Rah-Rah was a known gangsta, shooter and gun thug. Born and bred in Overtown’s tough streets. He went hard and didn’t take no shorts. It didn’t matter who Rah-Rah went against; there was no fear in his heart. In performing his duties for Vonda’s Gang sometimes Rah-Rah’s business interests conflicted with the Boobie Boys. Rah-Rah at one time had beef with both Kenneth “Boobie” Williams and Efrain “E-4” Casado and threatened to kill both over a drug dispute, authorities said. It was also alleged that E-4 later returned the threat. It was what it was, gangsta’s going at it in the streets, death was in the cards for someone because the men involved didn’t play. Allegedly Rah-Rah shot, but did not kill E-4 outside his house. He also allegedly killed Marvin Rogers, Boobie’s main man, who participated in the clashes and street wars between the rival gangs. In response to that alleged murder Boobie placed a price on Rah-Rah’s life.
In a 1997 car chase, court records indicate, Boobie and E-4 were caught with assault rifles, camouflage clothing and armored vests. They were on their way to kill Rah-Rah, police claimed, but no proof was forthcoming. In 1998 there was a highway shooting. Allegedly the Boobie boys shot Rah-Rah from their car on the highway while traveling next to him but Rah-Rah survived. A gangster in his own right and a street soldier Rah-Rah handled his in the streets, still he was targeted multiple times by the Boobie Boys in their clash for supremacy in the streets with Vonda’s Gang. They knew Rah-Rah was the force to be reckoned with in the crew and they concentrated all their efforts on taking him out. For the drug crews in the streets of the MIA murder was the price of doing business. It was an accepted part of life and the bloodletting was just a part of what they called the life or the drug game.
What was the beef with the Boobie Boys all about?
Rah-Rah: Cowards who seeking to make names for themselves. Cowards who seeking street credibility. Cowards who pretend to be soldiers by killing innocent bystanders and children. Rah-Rah don’t respect that. So once again fake wannabe’s in a grown man’s game.
You have a fearsome reputation describe how you developed that reputation?
Rah-Rah: First of all R.I.P. to all the OGs. You see I came up in an era when real gangsta’s did exist. So in order to survive I had to get on some real gangsta shit. If not then I wouldn’t be telling this story today. So no matter what generations I encounter in life the gangsta will always remain in Rah-Rah. I’m as real as they come. Cause I don’t soften up with time, I harden up, now you know.
What areas did you all control?
Rah-Rah: Okay, right across the bridge from South Beach and up the street from the AAA Arena. There’s a black community called Overtown and that’s where it all began.
What type of things were you into in the streets?
Rah-Rah: Well, I had my hands into a little of everything when it came to getting money. Things I can’t really speak of because it might be too damn incriminating. But I do have a story to tell but not under these present circumstances, you feel me?
“We discovered these retaliatory shootings going back and forth. I’d never seen anything like it,” Miami-Dade Homicide Sergeant Tony Monheim said. “We realized those groups had a dangerous M.O. of using AK-47s and we had to stop them.”
The gang war of attrition ultimately did in both Vonda’s Gang and the Bobbie Boys. “The war opened up opportunities for us because the public was outraged at the violence,” Monheim recalled. “This led to the feds getting involved, which was a good thing because the state didn’t have the resources the FBI had. The Feds could use the RICO statue and also put gang members away on gun charges. The Boobie Boys went down first, but it took us a couple of more years to get Avonda. Meantime, unwittingly we helped her to move into Boobie territory.” But not without recriminations and accusations.
In “Queenpins,” Ron Chepesiuk wrote, “In December 2001, Rah-Rah testified before a grand jury that he first met Avonda in the early 1980s before the advent of the crack era.” Chepesiuk also wrote that “On March 4, 1989 the Metro Dade Homicide Bureau interviewed Rah-Rah, who had agreed to speak to detectives about the gang shootings and drug related crimes without his attorney present. Rah-Rah stated that shortly after the murders of Willie Geter (aka Stinker) and E (real name unknown), he decided to go to Boobies Christmas party and kill him.” The Boobie Boys were identified as the shooters of Willie Jetier, who died of his wounds. Miami-Dade Police Officer David Sanchez said Jetier identified them before he died. Also in the Miami papers Karen Mills Francis, a lawyer for two Boobie Boys accused Rah-Rah of naming Bo and Nard Brown (from the Boobie Boys) in their attempted murder of Rah-Rah. All this seems circumstantial and Rah- Rah seeks to dispel the rumors.
The streets have taken certain things and ran with them how do you want to address that?
Rah-Rah: Well, it was out that I was a rat, but those who know me personally know that I was just a scapegoat for a whole lot of muthafuckas to make it back to society. I don’t have to say no names because that’s also in the court documents.
What happened when the indictments came down?
Rah-Rah: It was like everyone was trying to save their own ass and friendships blew out the windows and in came the betrayal. Why? Because pressure busts pipes.
Give your take on what happened and why you think everything went down as it did?
Rah-Rah: Well, for one thing you had to many fake wannabe’s in a grown man’s game. Brothers who never experienced times when honor and loyalty was amongst the true players. So when you mix honor and loyalty with a cutthroat era, than it’s only natural for all hell to break loose. So where there supposed to been respect at, was a bad case of egos.
Vonda was arrested and on November 14, 2003, after a six week trial, she was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for her role in the drug conspiracy case the feds put on Vonda’s Gang. For his part Rah-Rah plead guilty and received 40 years on a plea bargain.