Against the Rules with Michael Lewis - Against the Rules Presents: Deep Cover

Against the Rules presents Deep Cover: The Drug Wars. Marijuana, motorcycles, and mayhem. Deep Cover is the true story of an FBI agent in Detroit who goes undercover in an outlaw motorcycle gang and makes a series of bizarre discoveries that inadvertently lead to the US invasion of a foreign country. Subscribe to Deep Cover here. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit

  • Play Speed:
Content Keywords: Toby Anderson FBI Ned Timmons shit head biker

Malcolm Gladwell here. I'm popping into the feed to share the newest show in the Pushkin family. It's called Deep Cover the drug wars. If you like Coen brothers movies or narcos or any story that's too crazy to be believed and I think you'll like to show Deep Cover is hosted by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, Jake Halpern about a year ago. Jake heard about a former FBI agent named Ned Timmons net story starts back in the 80s when he was a rookie agent at the FBI one night arrest a fugitive at a biker bar. The Fugitive has some connections in the criminal underworld and manages to Flippin goes undercover with a biker gang learns how to ride a Harley and Brews a foomanchew mustache. It was a start of a double life ever go on for years and eventually this investigation wouldn't cover a vast criminal Network that included celebrities the CIA and a dictator down in central.

Erica the result is a full-scale US invasion.

Here's the first episode of Deep Cover. The drug wars. Give it a listen and then subscribe on Apple podcast. Enjoy the ride without a year ago. I got my hands on this novel unpublished, but apparently based on a true story. It was written by this guy Ned Timmons.

The overarching plot was pure pulp. I mean you can imagine the movie starring Steven Seagal and definitely straight-to-video. It tells a story of a newbie FBI agent named Nick from Detroit who grows a foomanchew mustache goes undercover in a violent Outlaw biker gang and infiltrates a secret Syndicate the smuggling hundreds of thousands of pounds of pot into the country and all that leads eventually to the invasion of a foreign country and the arrest of a brutal dictator.

Skeptical so as I see I'm a journalist and my specialty if you can even call it that is two ways that seem too crazy to be true stories that are on the verge of urban legend most of them turn out to be bullshit which doesn't bother me. That's kind of the Crux of my job actually sorting through the bullshit. So naturally I had to go meet this guy 21 to tell me tell me where we are.

Your office like describe where we are Commerce Township, Michigan.

Give me a little more than that. How long have you had your office here 18 years?

Net is now in his early 70s walks with a limp he's bald but you would know it because he likes to wear a weather-beaten camo hat nowadays. He's a private eye his office is beige in a beige Corporate Park. Totally forgettable, except for the bear. It's the first thing you see when you walk up a 10-foot brown bear taxidermy than the classic rearing up to eat you pose that tells me you got the bear on a hunting trip in Alaska, but the real trophy that that keeps in a plastic bag in his desk.

this is


Are penises and wolf teeth?

Can Inuits believe that that will protect you?

The bear has a bone in his penis.

And I recovered these like after you shot the bear you not before I shot it.

Nobody's going to take a bear dick when he's alive. The Inuits would make a necklace out of this to protect them. I just keep it in a bag cuz I'm going to know where a bear penis necklace from the office. Do you to believe in it made you believe in the like it's power of keeping you safe. Yeah, I do.

I believe in it. I've been all over the Artic can live 2 weeks at 40 below zero and and all over Russia and you know where that where there's nothing in hand.

Escape a bear penis with me. I think there's something out there that maybe it's only in your mind. It's in your mind and it works. I don't know how I'm still here and have had many many clothes. Call Saul.

Here I am.

Right. So the first read Ned's unpublished novel seem like the classic airport potboiler typical cloak-and-dagger ex-cop kind of stuff. Like when the hero headset on a case, it reads a quick shower and a breakfast of Alka-Seltzer and aspirin had Ned feeling 3/4 human. Again, that voice is the actor Walton Goggins. We asked him to read Ned's novel and in this novel. There's some great characters like the drug-addicted pig has Pig he guards a drug lab while munching on onions soaked in the novel tells us the dark and we'll bristled Pig was eyeing them with the disturbing calculating look that pigs. Give

Many of the details in the novel like the pig we're so quirky and distinctive they felt like I had to be true other scene seemed contrived pure Hollywood. I kind of felt like I had got myself a guidebook that was about half accurate. There was a true story in here a real piece of History. I could just you know extracted.

Yeah easier said than done. I started making a to-do list. Like I'm going to the grocery store something only mine went something like this one reach out to your contact at the FBI. Make sure Ned's not a kook to call the CIA hear. I feel today anyting 3 visit the guy who smuggled 300000 pounds of pot in the u.s. In a single shipment supposedly now lives in Hawaii for track down that long-lost mistress who's living somewhere in South America.

All of a sudden the story felt like one of those 5000 piece puzzles that my kids like to open up on vacation and just spill across the floor.

Then you see a corner piece in a matching Edge piece and damned if they don't fit and then well there goes your vacation.

I'm Jake Halpern and this is Deep Cover.

episode 1 the masked man

All that I really remembered about the drug wars of the 1980s was there was this huge problem that the government was trying to fix with slogans. You might remember just say no that was the Battle Cry of President Reagan and his wife Nancy distributed all the way down to our teachers in high school. I remember these electors and thinking even then that they were an idiotic remedy to the drug war. I even wrote an op-ed in my student newspaper just saying know know to just say no corny. I know I was fourteen a little slogan was not going to kill the demand for an entire drug market and it sure as hell was

Stem the flow of marijuana that was pouring into the country and you kind of had to wonder where was all that marijuana coming from anyway to how is it getting in?

Historians are still debating this question. You can find reams of conspiracy theories. Like it was the CIA behind all the drug smuggling. That's the hot one. In fact, the CIA will eventually figure into this story along with celebrities politicians heads of state, but we're getting ahead of ourselves now because the story really starts in Detroit with Ned Timmons at a Rowdy roadside biker bar.

The bar was a Roadhouse out in the sticks in the dirt parking lot was full mostly with motorcycles nearly all of them Harley-Davidsons.

Those are the opening words of meds novel and we will begin our story. It's the early 1980s Ned Timmons is in his mid-30s and early in his career at the FBI is working fugitives. Just basically going down a checklist and rounding up wanted men. This was not a desk job was an assignment for guys who wanted some action is Ned tells it he got a tip about a fugitive. It was supposed to be at this biker bar on the outskirts of Detroit. So I grabs is jean jacket and its 357 Smith & Wesson and heads out.

There was some mean motherfukers in there and you know, there was a hard-ass hardcore biker bar. They're doing shots and drugs and was a scene out of a movie or a novel. In fact here. It is in Ned's novel.

Single sodium street light out on the far edge of the parking lot shown down on a payphone from that lonely pool of light the darkness of the parking lot reached out a good 25 yards before the glow of neon beer sign signal the borders of another America. This was the Lawless America. This was the Rebel Yell. This was easy money fast bikes and girls that were easier and faster than both.

Nowadays, it's hard to appreciate just how right are novelist is about the lawlessness of biker bars in the 80s today. We might think of these guys is old greybeards to putter around and three wheeled Harley's but not back then these were dangerous men drugging partying and fighting here's net novelist. Again. The smell was the first thing that hit old deer piss Bo reefers smoke and puke. The second thing to hit was a cover charge 2 bucks and the guy to Manning. It was a size of a freezer by Christine becoming one of only two sizes big and really fucking big

Probably smells like sweat and beer and and Jack Daniels all mixed up together all the time. That's Kathy Timmons. Also an FBI agent in the Detroit office and it's white at the time. She remembers going to one of these biker bars with Ned on another night just to serve his cover, you know his actual life pretending to be his girlfriend and then if people actually need to breathe they go outside because the smoke in the bar would be just that thick that even a smoker couldn't tolerate it. You know, I mean people like going on over here and everybody else over here at the sitting and talking other people are shooting pool at just chaos on this particular night and it says he was looking for a fugitive named Toby Anderson. Toby had quite a rap sheet. Apparently I was about six inches deep and a lot of violence stuff, you know, stop selling guns down in Kentucky and and

This guy was a career criminal. He also happened to be a country western singer and his band supposed to be had a gig that night. This was one of their hits balls Plus.

It is an rip-off Must Die.

I've been called a sucker but I'll kill the next motherfuker that tries to steal something of mine as men tells it the bar was crowded with Outlaw Bikers Ned knew that walking in here in the plain-clothes agent was extremely dangerous. Everything was about the Brotherhood the code your fellow bikers even the music so that has eyes on the band looking at the singer.

He knew the Toby was supposed to make an appearance on stage tonight, but could it be that the lead singer of this band the guy up on stage right now with his guy?

Sitting in jail who found Punk the all the pig but they've done and well we get into all of that if it took our ball bats start killing videos for fun.

So that says he saunters up to the bar takes a seat on a stool and just waits for his partner to show up. It wasn't as regular partner just a guy providing backup that particular night in the novel that describes him as a blue-blooded preppy who arrives at this biker bar dressed in penny loafers at a tie it to him watch the stage together trying to find their fugitive figure out just who Toby was all they had was 1 flimsy clue a picture. That was 6 or 7 years out of date.

It wasn't really any Mark scars are tattoos, which is nice if they did, you know, the guys got a swastika on his cheek or something the way there was nothing we could look at other identifiers. We just we weren't sure.

Ned waited for the band to take a break then he went to such things out.

I followed him in the bathroom and

and I was taking a piss beside him and I said that you told me he Anderson is no okay. I was down in the keys with Toby and I swear you're Toby use can no man. You got the wrong guy and remember so and so's boat on Big Pine Key with party down there.

Any damn Toby, you know what the fuck said to you. So we just going to have a good time then.

I reached out to shake hands with him and I and I get his hand I'm shaking hands with him and I just clean up to his ear and said Kobe FBI and goes fuck you and he starts to swing.

Okay, let's Freeze Frame right there in mid punch because this is not exactly textbook arrest protocol. I mean there are other ways to handle this like waiting until Toby headed out to the parking lot reason just following him home. But this is the first thing you need to understand about Ned and it's also the first thing that Kathy ever knew about him going back to when they first met as small town cops. It's if somebody was in a foot chase, you know, you might you know, we got his ID we got his car, you know, we can pick them up tomorrow whatever Ned would chase that guy down until we got him. She tells the story about Ned before they even started dating Ned knew where family would be celebrating Saint Patrick's Day. So he just showed up and Blended right in as if he were some long-lost cousin got it up her dad got along famously with everyone and most people don't have that level of confidence to be able to just walk in and and just immediately become a part of the crowd.

So cornering Toby in a bathroom aggressive a bit Reckless. Classic Ned. Okay back to the biker bar.

And I just bring up to his ear and said Tobe FBI and it goes fuck you and he starts to swing and right then that partner comes into the bathroom we can overwhelm them.

So we get them in cops when we going to the bar and everybody starting to realize he's in handcuffs and he's like their Superstar and people are pushing and shoving and Ned says he and his partner frog-march Toby through a bar of drunk bikers and out the front door of the Bronco and he's still wrestle around when he's handcuffed behind himself behind his back. Go ahead Toby.

I actually can't be sure if the story at the bar is a hundred percent true. I talk to Ned's partner from that day and he didn't remember it. I talk to another biker who knew chubby very well and he remembers hearing some version of the story at the time. Unfortunately, I can't ask Toby himself since he died back in 2004, but I did track down Toby's son who gave me at least a better sense of who this guy was.

I remember riding the motorcycles with them with me on the back. He was just kind of Reckless and dangerous. I was screaming holding on for dear life. Right and he just thought it was funny today. Jesse Anderson is an executive in the Auto industry back when he was a kid. He got a real close view of all the madness and Chaos that his father was in I was pretty mad at everybody. So yeah, he he was the it was Reckless, which is what everyone said the friend of Toby's told me that Toby would cut you or even shoot you without hesitation and this gave Toby street cred in the criminal world. He was the real deal which appealed to net

Let me come back and interrogate Toby the prisoner. Look at y'all be here focht. Okay, you bet you've done time and seven fucking Federal pens this time. You going back for life for a long time?

So what do you want to do?

false Must Die

Glitches and rip-offs Must Die it should be send between brand.

This is Toby Anderson singing one of his hit songs with the legendary chorus snitches and rip-offs must die.

Ned Tim and still remembers going to question Toby. He brought him breakfast pancakes hands a day or so and you can see he was just I mean just like totally burned out and we can I didn't have all those bodies were going to help them. Look at Toby. You're fucked. Okay, you bet you've done time in seven fucking Federal pens this time you going back for life for a long time.

So what do you want to do? We spent several hours with him. You know, I'm finally says why there's probably a couple things I can do.

So they started working together. Toby knew better than anyone the dangers of working for net of becoming an informant for the FBI had to be careful that says they spread a rumor that the charges against Toby were dropped because no one wanted to testify against him. This story would keep any of his biker buddies from thinking that he'd flipped.

Even while cooperating Toby tried to maintain its own kind of biker ethics. You would not write out friends or members of his own gang, but he willingly betray his enemies. So he and Ned would find a target. For example a drug house. We'd set up undercover surveillance send them in there and you know, we had Vans and and different stuff with with high-tech cameras and stuff. Ron periscopes to slow Periscope comes out of the top of the van Gogh the good old days when the drug dealer is didn't know what every TV writer new unmarked Vans with periscopes meant trouble. So then we develop a red plan and get a search warrant and kicking the doors.

All the way up to the 1970s Bureau wasn't really focused on drug suppliers that have been the job of the drug enforcement agency. The DEA the DEA did have some big investigations, but they were mostly one-off busts, you know, they'd seize the drugs lay them out on the table big photo op busted in the story.

But by the early 80s this approach wasn't cutting it anymore President Reagan's Attorney General in power the FBI to get involved in the drug wars after all the bureau or the ones taking down the mob something big had to be behind all this the feeling was it's going to be just a bunch of local mom-and-pop drug dealers. He was with the Attorney General William French Smith said at the time quote the popular notion that The Syndicate or traditional organized crime stays out of drugs is simply not true many of the syndicates families have developed elaborate drug networks. Virtually. Every one of them is involved in drugs in one way or another quote, but that's not all Smith also told Americans precisely who was Distributing all the drugs for the syndicates over the past decade Summit 800 Outlaw motorcycle gangs have developed around the country and in foreign countries and drugs represent their primary source of Revenue.

The strategies of the Attorney General and Ned Timmons had what you might call Synergy as Ned sought Toby was his way in and up the ladder. So the FBI came up with a plan Ned would go undercover and become a biker.

Ned's wife Cassie remembers how quickly things changed I didn't like that he of course started growing his hair out and he had a foomanchew mustache and it when we would go out. We always people look at us and we get seated like way at the back of a restaurant to you know, like like we were creepy.

The mustache was just the beginning Ned knew he needed to have his skills as a biker. So like any good FBI agent. He went to school provincial police motorcycle school that says you learn to ride his bike upstairs and lay the bike down high-speed. I rode a bike a lot for the FBI.

And you're very vulnerable and after Benson School you realize just how dangerous a motorcycle is after graduation net went back to the truck. He created a new persona and carefully chose a new name Ed Thomas.

Because you wanted something that was close to Ned a couple times as undercover an airport and told college buddies. I ran into him there going a net and it's an awkward situation. If you with a bunch of bikers Ned Timmons at Thomas, it was close enough that you can stumble through it at Thomas a badass biker with money and connections if you wanted the chemicals to make meth at Thomas is your guy and the ruse worked Ed help the FBI take down other Outlaw Bikers on at least one occasion. Ned told me that they cost him as well at the arrest made shirt look like you really was a criminal the FBI wanted to protect his cover because Med he was really good at this.

You know who is not so good at this whole undercover thing Toby?

Ned's wingman Toby was still living the biker life and increasingly there were problems.

Like the time that Toby was out at a bar and watching another band play. The lead singer was playing this fancy and very pricey less all electric guitar and Toby liked it a lot what happened next is kind of a legend. I heard it from a few different people including another biker who was there that night at the bar. So I don't know where Toby screamed at the top of his lungs whipped out his gun and started shooting. He snatched the guitar and bolts out of the bar like he deputized himself as an FBI agent or something and then totally went rogue and for a while he got away with it told me now has this sweet Les Paul electric guitar and right away. He started touring local horse with it. Not a worry in the world because that's Toby and because it's Toby that's not the end of the story a few weeks later Toby performing up on stage and he gets shot.

And we don't know who did it for sure. But everyone I spoke to said it had to be the guy he robbed and stole the guitar from a few weeks earlier. So Toby he shot and bleeding out on stage.

Across town it's bedtime Fitness house when the phone rings.

And I get a call again like 10 at night until you bring it down to this bar. Toby has been shot.

And so I raced on his like a 45-minute drive. He's still laying on the floor in the bar shot till I get there and say look at you got to go to the fucking hospital is okay. I'll go now if you go with me.

I got a call from somebody in my family that and say that my dad has been shot and that it was that it was pretty severe. That's Jesse and Toby's son and that day his dad got shot. It's always stay with him.

On the way to the hospital, they got stopped by a train and he almost bled out in the ambulance because the train was so long and at this time I now think I might I think I'm about 12 years old, but the again for me to hear that my dad was shop. It's like going to the store. I mean, it's

The stuff happens all the time something like this happened all the time.

Toby recovered from being shot and just kind of carried on as crazy as that sounds this was normal life for the Anderson household. In fact, you mean Jesse talk about his dad like it helped me understand what life was like in Toby's world may have just seem to follow this guy everywhere. Everything is topsy-turvy even jumping in the car to pick up a pizza became an event.

All I remember is pulling up to a stop light and up in front of us is the guy mugging another guy.

And my dad's like well, I'm not going to stand for this put the car in park says his beer up on top of the roof gets out.

Beat the living crap out of the guy who is mugging the other one stole all of the money that he had split it with the other guy.

Got back in the car with me grab his beer.

And just drive down and Son looks like we got some dinner money or something like that and just no big deal didn't say another word.

That's my dad.

A little bit Joanne T justice, that was a good night, but it could get darker with Toby a whole lot darker.

Let me come back. Mid Wade's deeper de Toby's world.

He had that dark.

Book, you know what? I'm talking about you that crazy look in your eyes that you think this guy is a psychotic person. I better not push. It is fun and Ned's wife Kathy met Toby on a number of occasions that he resembled to me Charles Manson and Kathy new The Tell-Tale signs of a dangerous guy at the FBI. She works street gangs in Flint Michigan fire to anything other than the moment when people only aspire to you know, how am I going to get out of here in the next 15 minutes and they don't care if they don't think consequence they don't think of any of that gang kids are like that. They they just do in the moment what they have to do.

And and if it means killing you that they'll think about that later.

So why didn't they just walk away from it? Let him go back to prison move on because Toby was yeah, definitely dangerous but also kind of like a dead end and it wasn't some kind of Kingpin or even a trusted Lieutenant. He was just a violent and unpredictable guy, but Ned he just had a hunch. He felt it by slipping deeper and deeper into Toby's World somewhere along the way there'd be a payoff and because he was spending so much time with bikers Ned kept hearing chatter while head sources up in northern Michigan bikers in they would talk about okay, there's a shipment in or whatever the bikers would get their supply of weed when when he's been shipments coming, you know, which is 50000 lb of hundred thousand pounds of whatever come into the Detroit Warehouse if such a warehouse really existed. It was the Eldorado a drug houses.

And confirmed what the Attorney General had said that elaborate drug networks lay behind all the small drug bust that have been happening. So that goes and tells his bosses. There's just huge deal out there and it involves shrimp boats and barges and airplanes. And so I told my boss is about it. You know, I'm That Kind of single again here. We were in a rape Timmons. What are you smoking around the same time that says he arrested another biker and tried to slip them just like you done with Toby only it didn't work. In fact during the arrest the guy just taunted dead.

Is well. He says you're missing the boat on one of the biggest fucking deals going out there. You never know. What's under your own nose, but he eats he alluded to this massive deal where there's hundreds of thousands of pounds of weed and Coke coming in and then basically said fuck you and that was Annie wasn't going to operate in Trinidad. This intel was just too enticing his bosses might have been skeptical but Ned stuck with it kept hanging with Toby. It's just I knew he was out with them all the time just until I would hear from him. I would many many times just sit there and think. Oh my God, Something's Happened and then he call and then I'd be relieved and then I'd be mad because

because of all the stress in the worry and it wasn't just Ned safety the concerned her will you hang around that long with a punch bad guys and and sitting in with them your behavior is going to change and you're you're

Your own personal bars, you know where you draw the line changes. This would be the first but not the last time the Kathy was right to worry about husband and where he was Drawing the Line, especially when it came to Toby.

You know, I was supposed to meet him or whatever and I went down to the house on my motorcycle and pulled out in the yard and put down kickstand walked in and there's dead guy laying there in a pool of blood and I got Tobe what the fuck Hasbro's masked man.

Came through the door shot. This guy. I guess he didn't like them and ran so I know.

A masked man. Come on really. This was Toby story a strange guy wearing a mask breaks into his apartment shoots. This guy is currently lying on the floor and then runs away leaving Toby to take the rat honey. This is got to be the homicidal equivalent of the dog ate my homework.

I later asked Toby son about it whether his dad was the kind of person who is capable of committing murder.

It pains me to say it but I don't I don't blink when I get when I say do you have could have done it? Did he do it has he done it? I'm sure the answer is yes to all of them in and I don't I don't think twice about it.

Ned didn't tell Kathy about this whole episode with the masked man in the dead body at the enough he seemed to take the whole episode in stride.

So in a way, if you're a hundred percent certain it was Toby the kill them. It was just a technicality that you weren't there to witness it not a witness. I'm not in charge of collecting evidence. FBI doesn't investigate homicides.

It wasn't my job to investigate a homicide. Just don't kill somebody in front of me. That's it, and I'm pretty much.

Ned says that he did call the police and someone Detroit police came and told him the same story and didn't really give a shit and I was just some shit head biker.

Net now had his Line in the Sand the trick was keeping Toby on this side of it.

But you don't make progress in you unless you're dealing with sociopathic homicidal crazy people. That's who are in the Inner Circle of of drugs by whatever.

So this is just part of the deal art of the deal.


What do you say and in that situation?

You know, I just thought it would be advantageous not to continue to have bodies laying around in your house or in your yard and tell the fucking masman to stay away.

After listening to Ned's story, you know in the shadow of his 10 foot stuffed bear. I still just didn't know what to make of it when I got home. I re-read his novel Ned is Ghost Rider we're giving me everything. They thought I wanted with all the film Noir settings and Raymond Chandler dialogue in the novel Toby's like that to menschel billing depicted on a Target at a shooting range, you know loan bad guy with a gun drawn, but what struck me most was what was missing from the novel. There's no mention of Jesse the Sun or what? It's like to grow up with Toby as your dad and Ned's wife and colleague Kathy. She doesn't even make a single appearance in the novel. I guess her Midwestern accent and buy the book thinking didn't fit into the hard-boiled narrative.

It became clear to me that the truth if I could extract it was way better but this wasn't going to be easy. Honestly, I didn't know if I could fully trust all the Nets memories part of the problem this time all of this happened 35 years ago. I mean memories fade and then those same memories have been taken off the shelf and reworked into fiction.

But I was all in and so for the last year-and-a-half, I've been trying to put all the pieces together. I've been to dive bars and horse farms to Backwater swamp sand pirate museums. I pour through FBI reports in court transcripts. The story is taking me to North Carolina Marilyn, Florida, Michigan, Hawaii in the Cayman Islands. I talked to Agents from the FBI DEA US Customs do us attorney's pilot ex girlfriends Detroit felons and a bunch of Big Time drug smugglers and all of this to find out whether a rookie agent from Detroit could really make a random bust in a biker bar one night and set off a Cascade of events the discovery of a gigantic Drug Warehouse the collapse of a nationwide smuggling ring. He wore in Central America and the overthrow of a brutal dictator.

Next time on Deep Cover, you know, you don't have to choose that path. You don't have to choose to work at case in that way. You don't have to choose to go deep cover, you know, but I know for him he felt like it was just spinning into the next into the next into the next and and he told me that he felt like he didn't know how he was ever going to get out of it.

Deep Cover is produced by Jacob Smith and edited by Karen Shakur g r story editor is Jack hit original music and our theme was composed by Luis Guerra and flown Williams star engineer fact-checking by Amy Gaines Mia. Lobel is pushkin's executive producer Ned's novel is read by Walton Goggins special. Thanks to Julia Barton Heather Fain Carly migliori, RI call Milad Maya caning Eric Sandler Maggie Taylor Khadijah Holland Zoe Quinn and Jacob Weisberg at Pushkin Industries special. Thanks also to Jeff singer. It's still way entertainment. I'm Jake Halpern.
Translate the current page