What a Drag
One bleak February afternoon a few years ago, a federal undercover agent sat listening to a surveillance radio in the parking lot of Rudy’s Tenampa Taqueria on Westport Road near State Line. With several kilograms of sham cocaine in the trunk of his black Ford Mustang, the agent was ready to bust a group of buyers. When they finally arrived, the trap worked perfectly, netting a Jamaican gang leader and two of his nephews.
The uncle was Christopher McFarlane, who had spent fifteen years funneling $20 million worth of cocaine through the Kansas City metro as part of the Jamaican Waterhouse Posse, a violent network named for a neighborhood in the island’s capital, Kingston. One of McFarlane’s nephews busted that day was a midlevel drug dealer who regularly bought large amounts of cocaine from him and sold it in Topeka.
The other nephew with McFarlane in the parking lot at Rudy’s was a University of Kansas football player named Tywanne Aldridge. By most accounts, Tywanne’s worst offenses until then had been making a fake ID for an underage friend and eating some ‘shrooms with his buddies at Worlds of Fun one night.
By the time their trial was over almost a year later, two of Tywanne’s dealer cousins (one of whom was arrested a few months after the Rudy’s bust) had been acquitted. Their uncle McFarlane, courted by prosecutors for the juicy information he could offer about the international drug trade, had bargained for a reduced sentence of nine years. But Tywanne, who had just graduated with a degree in cellular biology, faced so much prison time that he panicked and fled the country.
When federal agents caught him this summer, with help from Spain’s national police, he was living an enviable life in a popular tourist spot — getting paid to play for the Drags football team on the outskirts of Barcelona near the Mediterranean coast. Now Tywanne sits in federal prison and likely won’t get out until he’s nearly forty.
Tywanne’s friends say he spent his life trying to get away from drugs. But that was impossible once he got to know Dominic Castaneda, a government informant who was apparently eager to whittle down his own ten years-to-life sentence any way he could.
By the time Tywanne started playing football for KU, he had been immersed in drug culture for so long that he could talk just like a dealer. But around his athlete friends, the guys with whom he spent most of his time, he was a well-spoken student who took his health so seriously that he wouldn’t drink soda.
One friend remembers stopping by McFarlane’s house one day with Tywanne and noticing the big-screen TV and lots of electronics and nice furniture.
“What’s your uncle do?” the friend asked.
“Aw, you don’t want to know. Nothing, man,” Tywanne answered.
Years earlier, McFarlane had introduced a constant supply of drugs into the Aldridge family’s life.
Stacy Aldridge had gotten pregnant with Tywanne when she was just fourteen years old — the result of one drunken night at a high school party, she tells the Pitch. Tywanne’s father, an older friend of Stacy’s, left town and joined the Marines not knowing about her pregnancy. Even after he found out, more than a year later, he didn’t have much to do with his son. By the time Tywanne was in elementary school, Stacy had a steady job operating a forklift at T&T Popcorn, a small factory near the railroad tracks on the northeast edge of Lawrence. Her life was looking pretty good, all things considered, when she started dating a man who used drugs. Before long, she was getting high with him, she says.
Stacy came from a large Lawrence family and had three sisters who were also dabbling in drugs. When Jamaican Chris McFarlane came into their lives in the mid-’80s, she says, the dope started to flow freely.
McFarlane was among the tide of young and mostly poor men who fled Jamaica after hundreds died amid political unrest between the People’s National Party, supposedly aligned with Fidel Castro, and the Jamaican Labor Party, purportedly backed by the CIA. McFarlane arrived in the United States in 1985 and lived for a year in Miami before joining some of his cohorts in Kansas City, Missouri, with plans to start up a drug-running “posse.”
Trafficking drugs from other Jamaicans in Miami and New York and from Mexicans in California, McFarlane and his group set up drug houses in Kansas City, Missouri’s inner city. But McFarlane soon moved to Lawrence, where he met the Aldridge sisters.
He enrolled in classes at KU, where, Stacy says, he built an upper-middle-class, white clientele that included many students as well as a few professors and lawyers. Soon McFarlane married one of Stacy’s sisters, and the couple moved into a house across an alley from Stacy’s place at Ninth and Missouri streets.
Stacy started selling for McFarlane. When customers rang her doorbell, she’d run across the alley to raid McFarlane’s supply, then deliver the money to him. He paid her in dope.
Every day, Stacy would come home from work and hide out in the bathroom snorting cocaine and eventually smoking crack. Eight-year-old Tywanne took refuge in his bedroom.
“My poor baby,” Stacy tells the Pitch. She says she has been clean now for almost two years. But when Tywanne was a kid, she says, “I’d take a hit and I’d get real paranoid. He’d see me running to the window and saying, ‘The police are coming. The police are coming. They’re going to take my son away!'”
For the most part, McFarlane didn’t use drugs. As a dealer, he needed to stay alert. So Tywanne hung out at his house, and McFarlane would take him swimming or to his tae kwon do lessons. Tywanne also became close to his Topeka cousins, Preston Gardenhire and Monroe Lockhart, both of whom started dealing drugs at a young age through their uncle’s connections, according to court testimony.
By the time Tywanne was in high school, Stacy says, her drug habit had grown so bad that she couldn’t stand for him to be around to witness her decline.
“He just hated drugs,” she recalls. “The people I hung around with disgusted him. He was always trying to get me clean. He even dumped water on my cigarettes.” Stacy had been in and out of rehab a handful of times but didn’t want to stop using. So in 1994, she called her brother, Erick Aldridge, who picked up the teenager and took him to live in his Overland Park home.
Tywanne started attending Shawnee Mission West High School. He ran track, played running back on the football team and made the honor roll. During his junior year, he qualified for the state track championship, where his team placed third in the 400-meter relay and fourth in the 100-meter relay. During the football season his senior year, he was the starting strong safety in the Metro Dream Classic High School All-Star Game.
Tywanne went on to college. He attended Baker University for one year, then declined KU’s offer of a track scholarship so he could play football for the Jayhawks his sophomore year. Hoping he’d eventually get a full football scholarship, Tywanne spent most of his spare time in the gym or at practice.
Jayhawks reported to their coaches at 6:30 weekday mornings and were required to lift weights between classes. They practiced from 2:30 to 7 p.m. In all eleven games that season, Tywanne played on special teams.
Tywanne spent most of his spare time hanging out with a group of guys — including some KU football players — he’d met while working summers and breaks at the Prairie Life Center, a massive gym in Overland Park. Dustin Lewis, who now manages the gym, hired Tywanne in May 1996 to run summer camps for preschoolers. “He was just a real playful person,” Lewis recalls. “If you looked in the gym, there were always five or six kids chasing him, playing tag or something like that.”
Tywanne didn’t say much about his family troubles, but Lewis knew his mom had a drug problem and that Tywanne often had to take care of his four-year-old sister and ten-year-old brother. Tywanne always seemed to have financial worries, Lewis says.
When his friends from Prairie wanted to go out to bars, Tywanne usually was the designated driver; he didn’t drink. Dave Milliren, who played basketball for Youngstown State in Ohio, hung out with Tywanne whenever he was home from college. “We’d go to the track, and I’d time him, then we’d go to the basketball court, and he’d rebound for me. When we weren’t doing that, we’d usually get together at my mom’s house and watch games on TV. Or my mom would feed us, and we’d go out in Westport.”
It was through partying with friends that Tywanne met Dominic Castaneda, a big-time local drug dealer about his own age.
Castaneda had gotten his inauspicious start as a high school freshman in the mid-’90s, earning extra cash peddling pot in the halls of Roeland Park’s Bishop Miege High School. At first he sold half-pound bags to potheads. Then he moved up to selling 5-pound bags to other dealers. In his junior year, he dropped out and started dealing cocaine and the drug Ecstasy. Before he was twenty, he had a reputation around Lawrence as a baller — a really connected dealer.
Some evenings in the summer of 1999, Tywanne and a half-dozen friends would meet at the Olathe home of one guy’s parents. They’d shoot pool and watch sports on the big-screen TV. Castaneda and a friend of his, a hockey player from Ohio named Max, would stop by sometimes, and the group would drive to Kansas City to join the rowdy throngs of Westport bar-goers.
A few months after meeting Tywanne, in October 1999, Castaneda got in trouble with the law, and a Kansas state judge put him on probation. That didn’t stop him from dealing cocaine. By that December, the U.S. Attorney’s office had indicted Castaneda on drug-conspiracy charges for his part in a drug ring with Mafia ties. Accompanied by his lawyer, Castaneda turned himself in to the FBI. He was ready to sign a plea bargain. That put him in the feds’ good graces, and after he chatted with agents and an assistant U.S. attorney for a few hours, they let him go.
Once Castaneda signed on as an informant, his life improved. His sentencing was postponed indefinitely so the government could reduce his time based on how much he helped out.
Tywanne, meanwhile, was enjoying college life — except for his financial problems. That fall, he was counting on getting a football scholarship to cover his tuition. He’d played a lot and had lettered the year before, and he’d worked hard in practice over the summer. But halfway through the semester, he learned he wouldn’t be getting a scholarship. Coaches told him maybe next semester.
“His financial problems became bigger and bigger,” Lewis says. “Money always seemed to be a focus for him.” And, Lewis says, NCAA rules prohibited Tywanne from working a part-time job while he played ball.
Tywanne ignored the pain of a knee injury that season — he’d torn a ligament but didn’t have the money to get it fixed, friends say — and focused on football. Playing on special teams, Tywanne earned respect for being a fast and fearless tackler. But the season started badly with a 38-14 pummeling at the hands of Notre Dame, and the Jayhawks finished in November with five wins and seven losses.
That winter, when Tywanne was again passed over for a scholarship, he quit the team so that he could work at Prairie on weekends.
“I couldn’t keep up the bills at my house,” he said later in court. “And my mom, my mom was going through her difficulties with drugs, and a lot of times I would have to watch my little brother and sister … I could either be, you know, out there not making any money playing football and being happy, or I could accept my responsibility and, you know, watch my little brother and sister.”
Castaneda was taking on new responsibilities, too. On January 10, 2000, he started his new job, meeting with FBI agents Richard Schoeberl and Rick Young, who had been assigned to keep tabs on him. He sat down with them for several two-hour sessions to tell them about everyone he knew who was involved in buying or selling drugs. They came up with a long list of names — but Tywanne’s wasn’t on it. The agents also supplied Castaneda with cassettes and a tape recorder so he could collect evidence and, under their direction, arrange deals.
Later that month, Castaneda called Schoeberl. “By the way, there’s another guy I didn’t tell you about,” Castaneda said, according to Schoeberl’s later testimony. Castaneda said he had met Tywanne over the past summer but had forgotten about him until he saw Tywanne that winter at Rusty’s bar in Shawnee.
“This guy Tywanne was asking me about keys of cocaine,” Castaneda reported.
“Next time you talk to him on the phone, record a conversation with him about it,” the agent replied.
Castaneda later admitted that he had considered anyone he served up to the feds to be months sliced off his own sentence. If he assisted the government enough, he might be able to work off the whole ten years-to-life sentence and end up with just probation.
By night, Castaneda roamed Johnson County prospecting for people to turn in — and flouting the conditions of his bond, which required that he avoid illegal activity, maintain a curfew and check in regularly with his pretrial-services officer. Armed with his FBI-issued tape recorder, the underage Castaneda sneaked into bars — Rusty’s in Shawnee and By George’s in Overland Park — using his brother’s ID. He sometimes got so drunk that he later had trouble remembering the evening’s events.
He claimed in court that after hanging out with Tywanne one night and seeing him pull out a plastic bag of cocaine and weigh it on a digital scale, he’d forgotten to tell agents about it when he met with them just a few days later. He recalled the incident in time to describe it at Tywanne’s trial, though. “It slipped my mind,” he said in court. “I had an alcohol problem.”
One night in mid-January, Castaneda was drinking at Rio Bravo (now Chevy’s), a Mexican restaurant at 119th Street and Metcalf that turned into a dance club at night, when he spotted Tywanne. When Tywanne came up to the bar for a glass of water, Castaneda made his approach. Hinting and talking in code, he asked Tywanne if he knew what Castaneda did for a living. Tywanne said he did. Then Castaneda asked if Tywanne could hook him up with buyers.
“He said he could get kilos of [cocaine],” Tywanne would later testify. “Basically he told me it was a lot cheaper than what people usually pay for them. And that he was getting a real special deal on it. And, you know, if I found anybody, you know, we could split the money for it right down the middle.”
If that really had happened, it would have been entrapment — a government informant coercing an otherwise innocent person to commit a crime.
But in Castaneda’s version, it was Tywanne who approached him for kilos. “He came up to me and started asking me about drugs and how much a key of cocaine would cost and some pills of Ecstasy,” Castaneda would later claim.
It’s impossible to know which story is true, because Castaneda didn’t record his initial conversations with Tywanne, even though he had access to the tape recorder. Castaneda started taping only after the decision to do a drug deal had been made.
In seven recorded conversations, the two talked a lot about how much “cheese” they could make. The first week in February, Castaneda told Tywanne that his suppliers could probably do the deal in a few days. Tywanne asked how much they would charge for each kilo. Castaneda said $17,500. Tywanne suggested that he and Castaneda then sell each kilo for $20,000. “We can cheese up [make more money],” Tywanne said.
They talked again on February 9, the day before the scheduled bust. They made plans to meet in Lawrence at 3 p.m., and Tywanne gave Castaneda directions to his apartment. Tywanne was wary. He asked for reassurance that he wasn’t being set up.
“Ain’t nothin’ shady goin’ on?”
Castaneda placated him. “It’s all good, dude.”
On the morning of February 10, while Tywanne and his cousins made phone calls to their uncle to see what McFarlane thought about the deal, Castaneda met with federal agents in Prairie Village. They searched his car and installed a transmitter inside it, and they planted a tape recorder on him.
Meanwhile, Tywanne’s cousins, Gardenhire and Lockhart, were driving in from Topeka when their car started overheating. They made it to McFarlane’s duplex on Sixth Street in Lawrence, where they asked him for a pitcher of water to dump under the hood. (Lockhart later claimed that the two had gone to McFarlane’s only because of their car problems and had unknowingly been caught up in the drug deal. Gardenhire didn’t testify in court.)
At McFarlane’s, Lockhart phoned a hairstylist with whom he’d been having an affair. She wasn’t sure if she could get together with him, because she was baby-sitting and had to work that afternoon. Lockhart later said in court that it was sex he wanted that day, not drugs. Gardenhire tried to convince him to come along to Kansas City, arguing that they could go to the casinos later. Before the three men headed out to meet Tywanne and Castaneda, McFarlane grabbed $20,000 in bundled cash, a .40-caliber gun and an extra clip.
Castaneda was waiting at Tywanne’s apartment, on Indiana near Ninth Street. When McFarlane, Lockhart and Gardenhire walked in, Castaneda was sitting on the couch looking dealer-cool in a black T-shirt, black jeans and a pager.
“This is my guy,” Tywanne told his uncle and cousins.
The men — minus the amorous Lockhart — piled into Castaneda’s car and headed for Kansas City. During the 45-minute trip, agents listened in, picking up bits of conversation about strip clubs and gold tire rims. Castaneda drove down Westport Road and into the parking lot at Rudy’s, pulling up beside a shiny black Mustang. He got out of the car.
The driver of the car, Eduardo Velasquez, a Kansas City, Missouri, police officer who was working with the FBI’s Organized Crime Squad, was playing the role of a mean drug dealer, pissed off that he’d been kept waiting for nearly two hours.
As Castaneda approached, Velasquez rolled down his window and started screaming and cussing him out, wanting to know why they were late. Castaneda tried to soothe him.
“Who do I talk to?” Velasquez snarled. At that, McFarlane stepped out of the car.
“Do you got what I want?” the Jamaican demanded.
Velasquez said he had the goods, but he wanted to make sure the drug dealer had the money. So Velasquez squeezed into Castaneda’s car. There, McFarlane opened his jacket and flashed two wads of bills.
That was all the undercover cop needed. Velasquez stepped out of Castaneda’s car and opened the trunk of his own, pulling out two fake kilos. He got back into Castaneda’s car and handed the plastic-wrapped blocks to McFarlane.
Tywanne, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, turned and was watching nervously out the back window as McFarlane looked over the merchandise. To the Jamaican’s experienced eye, the kilos didn’t look right. “They feel light,” he said.
At that moment, Tywanne spotted a man sitting in a van. “That dude back there keeps looking at us,” Tywanne warned. A few seconds later, somebody else said, “Oh, shoot — FBI.” McFarlane quickly dropped the drugs, the money and his gun.
Just then, eight agents wearing blue FBI vests rushed the car.
Schoeberl and another agent moved in on Tywanne, shoving him facedown onto the pavement and handcuffing him. Other agents cuffed McFarlane, Gardenhire and, to avoid blowing their cover, Velasquez and Castaneda. One of the agents spotted a Smith & Wesson 10-mm automatic sitting on the backseat. They searched the car and found two more guns and more than $40,000 in cash on the men.
As agents were loading them into the van, Tywanne looked at the police officer who was guarding him. “I really fucked up,” he said over and over. “Man, I really fucked up.”
At the FBI office in Kansas City, Schoeberl and a few other agents took Tywanne into a room and began interrogating him. Tywanne signed a waiver-of-rights form and started talking. Following FBI policy, agents didn’t tape the session, but they later testified that Tywanne first said he was just along for the ride and didn’t know what was going on. Then they asked why he had brought his gun. “It’s a dope deal. It’s dangerous. That’s why I brought the gun, for protection,” he reportedly said.
After that, Tywanne grew more emotional. “I wish you guys would have just killed me. My life is over. I wish I was dead,” he kept saying. About ten minutes later, Tywanne asked for a lawyer, and agents ended the interrogation. Law enforcement officials took Tywanne to the Wyandotte County Jail and put him on suicide watch.
Later that night, a ringing phone woke Dustin Lewis at his Overland Park home. It was Tywanne.
“He was crying and said, ‘I’m sorry. I really messed up. I really messed up. I can’t believe I did this. I’m so sorry,'” Lewis recalls. Tywanne finally calmed down enough to give Lewis a short version of the story. After Lewis hung up, he called Tywanne’s mother and a few other friends, including Milliren, who had just graduated from college and was working as an assistant basketball coach at a school in Chanute, Kansas.
Milliren couldn’t believe what had happened. “So, I turn on the news and, sure enough, his mug’s right there, and they’re saying, ‘Former KU football player, arrested, drugs.'” Milliren says he stayed awake that night thinking about how out of character it seemed for his friend — who wouldn’t even drink soda, let alone alcohol — to mess with cocaine. “I just lay there thinking, What the hell happened? How could things change so fast?“
A few weeks later, Milliren saw Tywanne at his arraignment. He remembers his friend looking ashamed and hanging his head. The federal judge decided to let Tywanne out on bond so he could finish college while awaiting trial. After that, Tywanne moved in with Lewis and his wife. Milliren, who had quit his job in Chanute, moved in, too.
That spring, Milliren noticed that Tywanne had changed. The guy who used to work out every day stopped going to the gym. He stopped eating. He avoided his old friends, holing up in his bedroom alone to watch movies. Milliren would try to coax him to go out and get food, but Tywanne would say, “No, man. I’m not hungry,” then eat a pack of gummy worms for dinner.
Sometimes, though, the two would have 2 a.m. talks, and Tywanne would open up about how he didn’t want to show his face around anymore, how his public defender had seemed distracted and harried and how McFarlane had money from his previous drug deals to hire a good attorney.
“The dude started crying,” Milliren says. “I’d never seen a dude cry.”
Castaneda was still working for the FBI. One night in mid-March 2000, he followed two suspected drug dealers to By George’s bar in Overland Park, where he got drunk and taped his conversation with them. As he was driving home on a suspended license, a police officer pulled him over and told him to step out of the car. When Castaneda refused, the officer pulled him out. Castaneda threw a fit, cursing and screaming that he was an FBI agent. He struggled with the cop, then put his hands over his ears and started chanting. He was arrested and charged with drunken driving. But at a hearing the next morning, a federal judge decided to let Castaneda stay out on the streets.
Three weeks later, after he missed several phone check-ins with the feds, a judge finally sent him to prison.
At the same time, though, the life of a snitch was looking pretty good to McFarlane. By the end of March, he’d joined the club. He met with FBI agents and told them, “I’m willing to cooperate in any way that would benefit me.” Apparently, that meant pleading guilty to drug-conspiracy charges and ratting on his nephews in court. Otherwise, he’d be looking at a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years to 45 years. He’d been around the drug trade long enough to know that an especially cooperative informant could cut a sentence in half. And he had what the feds wanted — a juicy story about Caribbean gangsters ruling Kansas City.
Hungry for information on a group they thought was responsible for about twenty homicides, agents accepted McFarlane’s help and promised not to charge him with his prior drug crimes, which were numerous. He made a list of his buyers and suppliers and drew a chart of his drug network. Tywanne’s name wasn’t on the list, though McFarlane later testified that Tywanne had bought drugs from him once or twice.
Like Castaneda, McFarlane stayed out on bond doing covert work for the FBI. McFarlane told agents he was worried that Lockhart (who had worked as an over-the-road trucker and a drug dealer for years) or Lockhart’s father (who’d served time for murder) might try to hurt McFarlane or his two little girls. The FBI knew that Topeka police suspected that Lockhart was a “major drug distributor” who might have been involved in a killing, so agents wired McFarlane and sent him to hang out with Lockhart. While McFarlane was taping, Lockhart told him repeatedly that he’d kill him or anyone else who testified against him in court.
McFarlane also set up a bust, helping the FBI catch three of his Mexican suppliers.
The FBI cut him a check that summer for $3,500 — one month of government per diem pay. “The FBI was concerned for his safety and paid the money for rent and for food expense for himself and his two children,” Schoeberl later testified.
In August, after McFarlane had promised to testify that Gardenhire and Lockhart had each given him $10,000 to invest in the drug purchase Castaneda and Tywanne had arranged, the FBI arrested Lockhart.
The case went to trial in November 2001, with Castaneda and McFarlane as star witnesses for the prosecution. Castaneda stuck to his story — Tywanne had approached him about buying drugs and had pursued him relentlessly — though cell phone records showed that it was Castaneda who called Tywanne relentlessly and that the football player had never called him.
McFarlane claimed that Tywanne, though not a hardened dealer like Gardenhire and Lockhart, had sold drugs a few times before the bust.
In Tywanne’s defense, his close friends testified that Tywanne was a good guy who wasn’t into drugs. Tywanne took the stand, too, testifying that Castaneda had pushed the drug deal on him. “He just kept saying, you know, we can make a lot of money, we can make a lot of money,” Tywanne said.
In closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg Coonrod portrayed Lockhart, Gardenhire and Tywanne as coldhearted, gun-slinging criminals.
Tywanne’s public defender, Stephen Moss, said that Castaneda and McFarlane weren’t credible witnesses, and he argued that his client had been induced by Castaneda to act as a middleman. “Is it coincidence that right at the time Castaneda has just been indicted and is looking at ten years to life, all of a sudden Tywanne Aldridge comes up and says, ‘Hey, I want to buy cocaine?’ Is that coincidence? Of course it’s not coincidence. It’s clear Dominic Castaneda had the motive and the intent to set people up to shave time off his own sentence. That is clear.”
On November 30, the jury deliberated all afternoon before acquitting Lockhart and Gardenhire. But the jury members couldn’t decide on Tywanne, telling the judge they were hung. The judge sent them back, and within half an hour they had found Tywanne guilty of conspiracy to purchase cocaine.
Because he’d been out on bond throughout the trial, the judge let Tywanne stay out until his sentencing, as long as he wore an ankle bracelet and checked in with the court as scheduled.
Tywanne finished his classes and graduated from KU. He also got an estimate from his lawyer of the amount of time he’d probably serve: at least ten years.
Life in Spain was a dream compared with sitting in federal prison. With enough income to afford an apartment on the edge of very hip Barcelona, it didn’t matter that sprinting and tackling for the Drags (Catalan for Dragons) wasn’t exactly making Tywanne rich. When the Drags gathered at 10 p.m. for nightly practice at the stadium in an industrial suburb, Tywanne always played hard. During games, he was even better, helping propel his team toward the Euro Bowl.
The American football phenomenon had hit Europe in the mid-’70s, when small European teams would sometimes play against American soldiers. In the summer of 2001, more than 800 clubs from 14 countries belonged to the European Federation of American Football. The best of those competed in the Euro Bowl each winter.
The players’ salaries and lifestyles varied widely from club to club — in Germany, which had the strongest American football tradition, some clubs could afford to pay their best players a few thousand dollars a month. In other countries, the poorest clubs would offer to feed a player and put him up with some guys from the team.
By the time the U.S. Attorney’s office got word that Tywanne hadn’t checked in and sent FBI agents to Lawrence to look for him in March 2001, it was too late.
Tywanne’s close friends and family knew he was traveling in Europe. Milliren says Tywanne called him every few months at odd hours, like 4 a.m. “He always forgot about the time difference,” Milliren says. Loyal to his friend, Milliren never reported the calls to authorities.
It hadn’t been hard for Tywanne to foil the federal monitoring system. Stacy says that while her son was finishing college, Lockhart and Gardenhire helped him get a passport. The cousins bought his car and promised to send him money for it. That spring, Tywanne sold some of his things, bought plane tickets to Prague, cut his bracelet and borrowed a car to get to the airport, his mom says.
But his cousins never sent the money they’d promised him. For a while, Tywanne lived on the streets of Prague, scrounging for food with Gypsies and other outcasts, Stacy says. She says she often pawned her belongings to send her son money.
After Tywanne found out about the European football clubs that sometimes recruited coveted American players, though, he started playing for a Prague team.
By the summer of 2003, Tywanne had been in touch with Bart Barnard, an assistant coach from the University of New Mexico who was traveling to Spain to take over as head coach of the Drags. The team offered Tywanne room and board and a modest salary. Tywanne would join the team’s stable of American players, along with a squad of Spanish players who didn’t get paid.
“He was a heck of a player for us,” Barnard says. “He was real aggressive and real charismatic on the field and inspired the other players to play harder.”
Tywanne and his teammates would usually hang out at Mexclat, a bar owned by one of the players, eating tapas and drinking beer or coffee. Tywanne smiled a lot and made friends easily. He spoke decent Spanish and some French.
Although no one knew his secret, Barnard recalls that Tywanne sometimes seemed very lost. And even by the standards of a city where twentysomethings walk down the street smoking joints, Tywanne’s marijuana habit drew attention. “Basically, everyone was just like, wow, he smokes a lot of pot,” Barnard says.
Last summer, the team was gearing up for a tough Euro Bowl game against the Stockholm Mean Machines. While the Drags practiced on the field, some players noticed ten guys loitering around the parking lot. People assumed they were soccer players who had just finished practice.
As one of the players’ girlfriends was leaving the stadium, she saw Tywanne walking up the hill toward practice. The loiterers, undercover agents from the Spanish equivalent of the FBI, drew guns. A few of them jumped Tywanne, threw him in a dark, unmarked car and sped away.
When Spanish TV stations reported the arrest and the details of Tywanne’s conviction, the news astounded many of the athlete’s teammates, Barnard says. The Spanish Football League’s Web site published a story about the arrest and trial. “The Drags have distanced themselves from Aldridge, saying that each player’s private life is his own responsibility, not the team’s,” the story announced in Spanish.
“Everyone was shocked when they finally knew the story, because Ty was such a nice guy,” Barnard says. “Such a great guy, just a guy that was here in Europe to play some ball, see the world.”
At the Euro Bowl a few weeks later, the Drags barely won a few tough games, beating the Moscow Patriots on their home turf and winning the much-anticipated game in Switzerland against the Mean Machines by just one point. “We were all still pretty upset about Ty,” Barnard says of that game. Nonetheless, the team went on to win the Euro Bowl championship in its class.
The U.S. government extradited Tywanne over the summer, and in late October a judge sentenced him to thirteen years without parole.
He will remain in prison longer than McFarlane, who is scheduled to be released in less than eight years. Castaneda is already out; he was released in December 2002 after serving less than two years.
Tywanne spent a couple of months in Leavenworth before the feds transferred him in early December to the place that will likely be his home for a long, long time, the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, Texas.
There, his mother says, he has started a job teaching GED classes for the other inmates.