Monday, Feb. 4, 2008 | Just before the Drug Enforcement Administration caught up with Richard King last month, the former Rancho Santa Fe resident complained that his associates should have rented a hotel room to carry out their exchange.
But they didn’t. Instead, agents busted King in the parking lot of a Bennigan’s restaurant in Hauppauge, N.Y., as he dropped two suitcases he thought contained 38 kilograms of cocaine into the trunk of his rental car.
King’s arrest shed some light on questions still lingering in the minds of residents who knew King and his wife, Patricia Dolan-King, during the eight years they lived in Rancho Santa Fe — one which has always been: What do they do for a living?
Four years after leaving, the family is remembered in the Ranch for one thing: The bitter and absurdly costly saga that began with the homeowner’s association’s denial of the Dolan-King’s application to build a fence around their property.
That dispute has so far inspired five lawsuits, created more than $1 million in legal costs, prompted physical threats to Rancho Santa Fe Association employees and justified property liens and arrest warrants against King and his wife in at least two states. Oh, and it’s not done yet.
What may be over, however, are Mr. King’s days of freedom. After being held without bail in New York on drug charges that could earn him 10 years to life, King has been moved to Phoenix, where the DEA presumably has more to prosecute him for than last month’s single attempt to purchase over $600,000 worth of uncut cocaine.
“It’s obvious that he’s more than just a bit player,” said a DEA source familiar with the case. “Nobody comes up with 38 kilograms of cocaine who doesn’t have some pretty good hooks.”
To put it mildly, King’s bust heaps intrigue on a story that started with the sort of hum-drum property dispute that occurs in Rancho Santa Fe all the time.
To build any physical structure within the Rancho Santa Fe Homeowner’s Association, a group called the Art Jury has to give aesthetic approval. When, in 1996, King’s wife sought approval for a perimeter fence around their roughly $2 million home, the Art Jury denied it on the grounds that wrought-iron fences aren’t in the local style.
The Dolan-Kings had the fence built anyway.
It was association employee Mike Meeker’s job to write the Dolan-Kings a series of letters asking, in increasingly stern terms, to remove the fence. They refused.
“He really believed that he knew best and that the Association was unable to tell him that he couldn’t put up a fence if he wanted to,” Meeker remembers.
Eight years later, after lawsuits and counter-lawsuits and two refusals by the California Supreme Court to tackle the dispute, an appellate court ruled finally that the private HOA could in fact tell the Dolan-Kings they couldn’t put up a fence, even if they wanted to.
By that time, though, King and his wife had left Rancho Santa Fe for New York, trading the house (with fence) for a pair of apartment buildings in the Bronx.
While they had repaid legal fees to the Rancho Santa Fe Association from the first lawsuit they lost, the Dolan-Kings still owed about $600,000 from the second legal battle, according to the HOA.
The RSFA subsequently unleashed teams of lawyers in New York and Florida (where Patricia Dolan-King owns a home) to reclaim the money and settle the dispute once and for all.
But as attorneys got closer to perfecting liens on the couple’s property, weird things started happening back in Rancho Santa Fe.
Pete Smith, manager of the Rancho Santa Fe Association, answered his office telephone one day last June to a mysterious voice wishing to confirm his home address. The caller eventually identified himself as Richard King, Smith says, and rather explicit physical threats — tinged with King’s infamous vulgarity — spewed forth.
In August, Meeker, who had signed the letters to the Dolan-Kings and testified against them in court, went to his front door to meet a young man with a package to deliver. It was about 4:30 p.m. on a Sunday, and “at the time I was thinking ‘God, this poor guy has to make a delivery,’” Meeker said.
Standing in the doorway, the deliverer wanted Meeker to take his driver’s license out of his wallet. But Meeker refused, handing him the entire wallet and taking the man’s clipboard to sign for acceptance — when he realized what was on it didn’t look like any receipt he’d ever seen.
“And just as I started to look up, he cold-cocked me,” Meeker remembers. “Hit me either with the box or his fist, right below my left eye on the cheekbone. Knocked my glasses off, knocked me back into the room.”
Still holding Meeker’s wallet, the man took off — but not without leaving the rest of what he came to deliver.
“Tell Pete he’s next!” Meeker remembers the man yelling, as he took off up the driveway.
He took Meeker’s driver’s license — proof of having made contact — and tossed the wallet away as he ran. Stunned, outraged, bleeding and barefoot, Meeker took off after him and managed to rip the side mirror off the man’s car before it roared away, he said.
No one has proved that King is involved with what happened to Meeker. But the former HOA employee has no doubt about it.
“As soon as he said ‘Tell Pete he’s next,’ I knew what it was,” said Meeker, who, like many employees of the Rancho Santa Fe Association, has less than fond memories of the man.
King’s name also appeared on a pair of Christmas cards sent to the homes of Smith and another Rancho Santa Fe resident this past December, both of which prominently featured Santa’s middle finger and sincerely wished the pair a terrible holiday and a terrible new year.
But until Jan. 11, when King was apprehended on Long Island, what motivated his seemingly inane behavior was a local mystery. Many say his stated reasons for wanting the fence have changed several times. King’s steadfastness earned respect among a small group of residents highly critical of the HOA, but no one really understood why he pursued his goals the way he did. Calls to the family were not returned.
To say the least, new developments in the Dolan-King story now invite a vast spectrum of interpretations — and questions. The couple’s latest lawsuit against the Rancho Santa Fe Association claims that King never lived in California. Rumors of them splitting up have persisted for years (they currently claim to be married but separated). And it seems the DEA isn’t sure that Richard King is the real name of the man they caught anyway.
What is clear from the complaint filed against King in New York is that the DEA didn’t stumble across him randomly making a drug deal. The court papers give these details:
Agents were listening when King — whom they also knew as “Sonny” — got a call from a confidential source in Arizona on Jan. 3 offering “over 100” in the near future. They heard King say he “had ‘guys’ who could ‘bang them all out’ as long as they ‘get the right price,’” according to the complaint.
“If we can make money, that’s the name of the game,” King reportedly told the source during that conversation.
They tracked a UPS shipment King sent — $99,700 in cash — from Suffolk County, N.Y., to the source in Arizona: advance payment, the DEA says, for seven kilograms of cocaine.
They were watching when King met the source at the Benningan’s in Hauppauge to plan the transaction two days before it went down. There, the source introduced King to “Jota,” an associate, who would carry out the transaction.
Two days later, King and “Jota” were alone in the Bennigan’s parking lot with what the Ranch misfit believed was two suitcases of high-quality cocaine.
Jota was an undercover agent wearing a wire. When the suitcases went in King’s car, the DEA pounced.
A hotel room probably wouldn’t have made any difference.
Ian S. Port is assistant editor of the Rancho Santa Fe Review, Carmel Valley News and Del Mar Village Voice. Contact him at email@example.com. Or send a letter to the editor.