The name Alberto “Alpo” Martinez tends to elicit strong reactions. He‘s been celebrated as a street legend of epic proportions—an iconic figure out of hip-hop mythology who was played by the rapper Cam’ron in the movie Paid in Full. At the same time, Alpo is often reviled as a snitch, a rat of the highest order who allegedly betrayed the street code to save himself, tarnishing his legacy in the chronicles of gangster lore.
One thing is for sure, though: Word of Alpo’s apparent release from a little-known federal prison witness protection program—they’re called “cheese factories” on the inside—is resonating on the street. Don Diva magazine, probably the longest-running periodical devoted to the drug underworld and street life in New York City and beyond, reported that Alpo was released on its website last week.
Alpo was known as a trendsetter in crack-era Harlem, transporting hundreds of kilos of cocaine into Washington, DC, while flaunting his wealth and flamboyant lifestyle with cars, clothes and jewelry. But when he killed his best friend and business partner Rich Porter—another Harlem drug dealer who‘s been immortalized in hip-hop lore—Alpo’s rep took a serious blow. When Alpo went on to testify against the man believed to be his former Washington, DC, enforcer in open court—apparently to spare himself a life sentence—he was branded a traitor.
To get the real deal on this infamous figure, VICE turned to another former Harlem drug dealer, Kevin Chiles. Chiles served over a decade in the feds for his own drug organization, founded Don Diva from the cell block, and was a contemporary of Alpo‘s back in the 1980s. Back then, the crack epidemic was in full swing and young hustlers like Alpo, Rich Porter, Azie and Kevin Chiles were making a name for themselves by perpetuating the lifestyle and fashions that rappers would go on to emulate.
Kevin Chiles: I am most certain that Alpo won‘t come back to New York. He knows he has a bullseye on him. That situation with Rich left Harlem scarred and people have strong feelings about it. And he admitted to playing a part in the death of another with a well-liked figure, Domenico Benson from Brooklyn. I could see a younger dude, on the come-up, try to make a name for themselves by taking Alpo out. They would be instantly infamous. I‘m sure these are things he should be considering.
How did you learn Alpo was out?
It‘s been speculated that he‘s been home for years. But I know it‘s true now because he had been speaking to a mutual female associate of ours. In the conversations, Alpo was trying to fill in the blanks of years past and my name came up. She seemed excited about speaking to him and she thought that I would share her enthusiasm, but she sensed after talking to me that I wasn‘t…. I explained to her that I wasn‘t checking for him, but I didn‘t go into details about the specifics because she was outside the lines as far as that lifestyle was concerned.
You and Alpo were once friends right?
I was cool with all of them—me, Rich, A, and Po. We would play basketball, gamble, compete over girls, swap cars; we did all those type of things on the regular. At any given time between me, Rich and Po, we may have had 15 to 20 luxury cars like Porsches, Benzs, BMWs. etc. If one of us pulled up in a car the other liked, we let him hold it.
What was Alpo like?
He brought attention to himself. He was charismatic and outgoing. He had a party always going on around him and people gravitated to him. What ultimately was unique about Alpo was that he would go from uptown to downtown from the East side to the West side almost like he was campaigning. He was an adrenaline junkie and he was crazy about them bikes. Anybody that knows anything about Harlem, especially in the summertime, is that you have different groups that ride through Harlem doing tricks on bikes and Alpo was one of those dudes that was notorious for that. Po would be on a bike doing wheelies like 15, 20 blocks at a time.
What did you make of the film Paid in Full and how it represented Alpo, Rich, Azie and Harlem?
I don‘t think it captured the essence of what it was like being a twentysomething millionaire in Harlem. The influence and power was overwhelming. It made you feel invincible. We were young and had a lawlessness about us—you felt like you owned the city. The music and the fashion of the era just added to the allure.
What happened when Alpo killed Rich Porter?
We originally didn‘t know Alpo killed Rich. It was speculated but it wasn‘t until he did an interview and told on himself. But Rich‘s death had a huge impact on Harlem. The timing couldn‘t have been worse—Richard was in the middle of negotiating the release of his 12-year-old brother, Donnell, who had been kidnapped and was being held for $500,000 ransom. Rich was killed, and then a few days later the body of his little brother was found in the same vicinity.
What do you think about snitching in general?
We all signed on to live our lives outside of the law. There’s a certain principle or mindset that is put into play. For me and anybody of that mindset or lifestyle who chooses to live outside the law, there‘s a certain understanding: It‘s never right in any instance to take your situation and then pass it on to somebody else to suffer the consequences of your actions. A man takes responsibility for his actions.
What is up with Don Diva magazine for those who aren‘t hip?
We call ourselves an urban lifestyle magazine. It doesn‘t just encompass the gangster lifestyle —we touch on all aspects of the urban existence. The magazine was created because I didn‘t want to see people follow in my footsteps. I know this new generation is infatuated with what they think that the gangster lifestyle represents, but they have no understanding of the consequences and collateral damage it causes.
When I came up with the idea for the magazine, I was probably at one of the lowest points of my life and wanted to be able to do something to affect change. One of the only upsides to being incarcerated in the federal prison system was that I was able to meet other individuals of my stature from all over the country. We all had our own experience with the legal system and the other consequences that come with our lifestyle. I knew if I could tell the stories of individuals who are respected in their communities like Larry Hoover from Chicago, Demetrius “Big Meech” Flenory from Detroit, Akbar Pray from Newark, New Jersey, Guy Fisher from Harlem Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff from Queens and The Chamber Brothers from Detroit—just to name a few—we could help this generation make better decisions.
These individuals and their stories serve as a cautionary tale. No one wants to end up dead or in jail for the rest of their life.
*This piece originally appeared on VICE.
Follow Seth Ferranti on Twitter and check out his book on Alpo here.
My nephew was murdered in MD on December 30, 2016; my family has struggled day in and day out. This pain is so unreal I never want anyone to feel this way. We are preparing for National Gun Violence day on June 2nd and wanted to know if you would speak. Black folks are so divided, who cares about black lives matter if we continue to kill each other. I am very broken and wold love to change our youths mindset as it pertains to respect for human life.
email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org My name is Vincent Edward Lucas IV. I just turned 40 years old yesterday. I grew up in Cranston Rhode Island & have survived so much that people call me a cat because of the 9 lives part, or immortal. Anyways after many years incarcerated for drug deliveries and the such I can honestly say I did not snitch on anybody at anytime and it is one of the only things I can be proud of at this point in my life.. After receiving a 5 years to serve prison sentence in 2008 I was in maximum security prison in 2011 when I was about to be released I had a growth under my right arm in a lymph node in the arm pit area. The prison doctor told me I either have cancer or it is from a cat scratch. Well, no cats were near me these last 2 years so I guess it was obvious what it was. The doctor had me come back in 30 days after giving me antibiotics, he did nothing when I came back in on the medical visit but tell me come back in 30 days again but this time there wasn’t even antibiotics given, lol, not that that mattered but hey, he has 2 save the state money right? This doctor did this to me 5 times, finally on the 6th visit to him he said that us convicts need to stop bothering the prison system every time we want to cry about our health problems and that we should have thought about these so called health problems before we decided to be criminals & he said he can not be wasting the states money on convicts health issues and that if I put in any more med slips that he will have me thrown in seg for harassing him . That was the last time I seen him then because I had parole coming up 9 months from thenand I wanted to go home . In March 2011 I made parole with a 60 day release. During the 2 months waiting to go home the ball under my arm that never hurt me and was the same size the past year, about a big marble, all of a sudden started to hurt and started to grow. I was released on May 18th and went straight to a oncologist before I even got home to plug in my ankle bracelet monitoring box. The oncologist told me I had stage 4 metastic melanoma and very well may only have a few montrhs to live. That began a 7 year fight for my life with brutal melanoma and brain cancer and secondary lung and spleen cancer also. I survived this but in March 2nd 2019 I was arrested for a fight with my wife that got out of control and had a stand off and fight with the Cranston police force, I was charged with poss of a firearm, poss of a stolen firearm, resisting arrest, poss of firearm as a convict, domestic, etc. The police could have killed me by shooting me to death when I was yelling at them with my hands behind my back but when my step daughter told them the gun was in the house and it was a cell phone in my hands behind my back then they began to f**k me up by breaking 3 ribs and my nose and all sorts of contusions and cuts and black and blues .Anyway rthey say things happen in 3’s and apparently they are right. After the arrest I was given a 100,000 thousand dollar bail. I was home waiting trial when on June 22nd I was in a head on accident on rt 44 in Rehoboth Mass, I was in the passenger seat of a box truck moving 90 miles per hour when we it a car head on and went up in the air and over the jersey barrier into the ravine and smashed into trees which stopped the truck. I was extremely lucky to have made it out alive even though I was messed up pretty badly. . The 3rd part began on August 20th when I went into a walk in clinic for bad arm pain and the doctor did blood work and very quickly called an ambulance for me. I had cpk levels of 27000 which anything over 200 is dangerous. I spent 4 days on a IV of sodium chloride , I believe, it is really salt water being pumped in the veins non stop to clean out the cpk levels so it did not kill my kidney and myself and or leave me on a dialysis machine for the rest of my life… This has been one hell of a year but I do not give up the fight ever. I am fighting for my 5 year old son to have a great father, for my parents to have a great son, for my sister and nephew to have a great brother & uncle, & for myself to have a great life.. I am about to start a 503c non profit humanities based organisation called TheBeingHumanProject.com to better this world in any way possible. It is going to be like buying insurance with God by paying with what we have to offer, good deeds, time, effort, empathy for others , help through the struggle of life for those who can use a helping hand.. If anyone is interested in being a part of this please contact me , Vincent Edward Lucas IV, at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 401 403 3678. Let us be part of something big on planet earth & let us make God proud he created us