Dead Man Talking

Ben Guillory helped the DEA bust some east Houston dope dealers. But he says the agency's cavalier approach has left him a marked man in his old neighborhood.

Ben Guillory is a nervous wreck. Sitting in a purple chair around the blond wood conference table at the Houston Press offices, Guillory fears for his life. He is a desperate man who sees the paper as his last hope.

It's early February, and Guillory has just come from the law office of Dick DeGuerin. The high-profile criminal defense attorney told Guillory there was nothing he can do for him except advise him to hide in plain sight -- convince some journalist to write a story about his situation. In DeGuerin's opinion, the publicity might provide Guillory a bit of protection from the people he is convinced are plotting to do him in. Now, after an introductory call to a reporter from the attorney, Guillory finds himself at the offices of the Press.

Guillory explains that his journey into a state of constant paranoia began last October when he contacted the local office of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Guillory, an admitted illegal-drug user in the past, says he was concerned about drug sales to and use by children, so he offered to give narcotics agents information about dealers in his far east Harris County neighborhood. Guillory agreed to help set up transactions between the dealers and DEA agents, and he even claims that he became a registered informant. His only caveat was that when it came time to make the busts, it be done in such a way that the suspects not realize he had narced on them. But instead, Guillory charges, the DEA dropped him in the grease. He says threats have been made on his life. He is convinced it's only a matter of time before he's murdered.

Ben Guillory: "I might as well go ahead and write a last will and testament."
Deron Neblett
Ben Guillory: "I might as well go ahead and write a last will and testament."

After spending an hour or so listening to his story, you come away with the distinct impression that Guillory might have indulged in illicit substances a few times too many. He rambles. He digresses. He whispers of conspiracies involving former presidents and foreign countries. He acknowledges having been busted for marijuana possession in his home state of Louisiana. Occasionally he weeps as he talks about kids and drugs. He also reveals that he is currently taking a shopping list of prescription medications for work-related injuries, as well as antidepressants. It's tempting to simply dismiss Guillory as someone who needs a psychiatrist instead of a journalist.

Guillory contends his dream to help the children of his neighborhood turned into a nightmare this past December when he arranged for undercover agents to purchase a large amount of marijuana from some of his eastside contacts. He says the deal went down December 13 in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart on the East Freeway. That led to a raid on a house on Falling Tree Court in northeast Harris County. In all, five people were arrested. The problem, says Guillory, was that DEA officials, who did not return phone calls from the Press, promised him that there would be no busts, that the agents would make several buys before finally bringing down the hammer, in order to provide Guillory some cover. It didn't play out that way. The dealers were arrested, and Guillory says he's recently been told there is a contract out on him.

As unbelievable as the story sounds, significant elements of it do pass the pee test. A check of criminal charges on file in the Harris County district clerk's office confirms that on December 13 members of the Harris County Organized Crime and Narcotics Task Force, of which the DEA is a participant, arrested five people and seized 2,000 pounds of marijuana in connection with raids at the same Wal-Mart and the house on Falling Tree Court. Suddenly, Guillory sounds much more credible.

"Now, I'm a walking dead man," says the stocky, graying and fidgeting 50-year-old Cajun with pathetic hangdog eyes and salt-and-pepper mustache. "And what bothers me is that I'm dead because I tried to help the kids. And it's all the fault of all those people over there at the DEA."

If he is nothing else, Ben Guillory is a talker. By his own assessment, the Louisiana native is more than a little obstinate, and extremely opinionated. Indeed, he ended up in Houston, he says, "because of my mouth." That orifice, which seems to rarely take a break, has obviously kept him in trouble here. Because much of the time when Guillory is running his mouth, he is usually holding forth on doing the "right" thing: saving the kids, exposing union corruption, and ridding his eastside neighborhood of the dealers whose drugs he has consumed. The problem for Guillory is that, sometimes, people just don't want to hear it.

During a brief departure from his main story line about being a marked man, Guillory reminisces about growing up in a shotgun shack on a 14.5-acre farm in southwest Louisiana. The closest town was a small community called Iowa (pronounced "I-oh-way"). His father provided the family with laundry water by exploding dynamite on the property.

"We used to haul water out of those dynamite holes so my mother could do the washing," says Guillory. "Our drinking water and our water for cooking came from a water cistern built on the side of the house. I was about six or seven when we finally had a well dug."

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