EVERETT — Everett rapper Swag favors lyrics about growing up hard, hustling and making something of his life.
He regularly flashes expensive-looking jewelry, luxury cars, stacks of cash and an eager entourage in his prolific online music and psuedo-documentary videos.
Swag, an avid self-promoter, has been making a name for himself on the local hip-hop scene and even appeared to have some pull with big-name artists.
His start-up record label, Paper Route Records, in 2009 booked multi-platinum rapper Juvenile at an unlikely venue — a Marysville steakhouse. Swag opened the show and later credited his friendship with Juvenile for rapper’s performance at the 500-person capacity restaurant an hour away from Seattle.
Swag’s rap persona may be more than just an image. If the cops have it right, he is exactly what his music says he is — a hustler, a drug dealer, a gangster.
Swag, whose real name is Jevon Lawson, has been the target of a lengthy investigation into drug trafficking in Snohomish County.
Lawson was indicted last month on federal drug charges. He and associates Terrance Fairman, aka Trick, and Karmen Wendt were arrested Dec. 16 when federal agents and detectives raided seven separate locations in Everett, Lynnwood and Mill Creek.
Lawson also was arrested in connection with a 2005 bank robbery at the Wells Fargo on Broadway in north Everett. A federal grand jury quietly indicted him in July after authorities reported that Lawson organized the armed robbery that netted more than $40,000.
Lawson, 37, remains locked up pending trial. Federal prosecutors convinced a judge the rapper is a flight risk. Lawson, also known as Goldie, is associated with 25 aliases, seven birth dates and eight different Social Security numbers, according to court records. He has previous felony drug convictions out of California and Washington.
Authorities say Lawson has been linked to two men who were arrested in July for the murder of an undercover police officer in Arizona during a marijuana deal gone bad.
He also is a self-proclaimed member of the West Covina Neighborhood Crips, a southern California-based street gang, prosecutors wrote.
“What some people may not realize is some of these gangs are making a significant amount of money and living a high-roller lifestyle from drug sales,” said Everett Lt. Mark St. Clair with the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force.
It didn’t take long last month for word to spread that Swag had been grabbed by police. Messages started popping up on his Web site and Twitter account encouraging fans and friends to send him letters at the federal lock-up.
Several messages read: “Free Swag.”
Wendt and Fairman are under indictment but free on bail.
Drugs and money were seized in last month’s raids. Police have declined to discuss what other evidence they may have recovered. Several of the search warrants were authorized by a federal judge. Those warrants were sealed and remain unavailable to the public, said Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle.
A few unsealed warrants were filed in Snohomish County courts. They provide some details about the allegations against Lawson, Wendt and Fairman.
Detectives started investigating Lawson in 2007 after confidential sources reported buying crack at the Mill Creek-area house Lawson shared with Wendt, according to the court records. The indictment alleges that Lawson has been selling drugs in Snohomish County since at least 2004.
Informants have told police that Lawson had been running the illegal OxyContin market in Everett, according to the search warrant.
Based on travel records, detectives suspect that Lawson is getting the dope in California, where he grew up.
Police used informants to buy drugs from Swag. The informants told authorities they’ve bought hundreds of pills from Lawson and his associates. One source told investigators Lawson approached him about finding a source who could supply Lawson 10,000 to 20,000 pills. The man told authorities Lawson was willing to pay up to $460,000.
Lawson made the inquiry even after federal agents in 2008 raided the Mill Creek-area home he shared with Wendt.
Police said Lawson didn’t hide his criminal ties. He allegedly told agents that he’s a gang leader who came to Everett from California in 1998.
He said he came up on a bus with a half-ounce of cocaine and turned that into a successful drug-dealing business, investigators wrote in the search warrant. Lawson said he brought up six fellow gang members, and told investigators that he quit selling crack cocaine after he discovered that he could make even more money selling prescription painkillers.
Police reportedly seized some marijuana, $10,000 and financial documents from the home during the 2008 search. Investigators spent two years piecing together their case, analyzing financial documents and interviewing witnesses.
Lawson continued trying to launch his rap career. It wasn’t working out, so he paid established artists including Juvenile and Jim Jones thousands of dollars to appear with him on stage.
Informants told investigators that even though Swag hadn’t made any money in the music business, he appeared to have plenty of cash, according to court records.
Investigators haven’t found any record of reported earnings by Lawson or Paper Route Records, according to court records. Paper Route Records doesn’t appear to even have a business license in Washington, and detectives haven’t found its business license anywhere else.
Wendt is listed as the owner of an Everett clothing store, Mimi’s Urban Wear. Detectives say bank records for the store showed deposits between 2008 and 2010 totaling more than $125,000. Meanwhile Wendt reported about $34,000 in sales during the same time. The police said the math suggests money laundering.
There are no state employment records for Fairman even though it appears that he has considerable expenses, detectives wrote.
Documents seized in 2008 from Lawson’s house included bank deposits totaling more than $100,000, according to court papers. Records of pre-paid debit cards showed more than $90,000 loaded onto cards held by Lawson and his associates. Numerous high-end vehicles have been purchased for tens of thousands of dollars, often in cash, according to last month’s search warrant.
One of the cars, a customized Buick Skylark, is featured in one of Lawson’s music videos. That same video shows Lawson cutting and bagging white powder as if it were cocaine.
Detectives seized financial records in December from two local car dealerships that sold cars to Wendt.
Last spring Lawson was stopped at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where agents found $15,000 in cash wrapped in his clothes inside a Louis Vuitton carry-on. He told authorities he didn’t like to use banks and the money was from two recent concerts.
Informants told police that Lawson has spent thousands of dollars on lavish weekends and they found more than $150,000 cash in apartments he rented, most of it in the freezer.
They told detectives Lawson paid Juvenile $40,000 to participate in the concert in Marysville and paid Jim Jones $100,000 to appear with him, court papers said. A video featuring Swag and Jim Jones was released on BET in January 2009.
In the video Swag raps, “It’s obvious I’m being tracked by the feds.”
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.