HOUSTON -- Heroin, 10 pounds of marijuana and a loaded handgun were allegedly found on the tour bus of rapper Nelly on Wednesday night. And if he were considering a war of words with local law enforcement, singer Fiona Apple might advise him to think twice.
The seizure occurred at a Border Patrol checkpoint on a lonely stretch of West Texas’ Interstate 10 that has become infamous for celebrity drug busts. Also busted were country singer Willie Nelson, actor Armand “Armie” Hammer, rapper Snoop Dogg and the aforementioned Apple (more on that arrest later).
Nelly, born Cornell Iral Haynes Jr. in Austin, was detained but not arrested in Sierra Blanca (population roughly 600), Hudspeth County sheriff’s officials told the Los Angeles Times.
Nelly’s tour bus was traveling east on I-10 when it was stopped at about 8 p.m. at the Border Patrol checkpoint about 80 miles east of El Paso, according to the El Paso Times. Officials brought in a drug-sniffing dog, which led to the discovery of a box containing marijuana, 36 “very small” plastic bags of heroin and a loaded .45-caliber handgun, officials told The Times.
The drugs and gun apparently belonged to Nelly’s bodyguard, Brian Keith Jones, whom Hudspeth County sheriff’s deputies arrested. Jones was still being held at the jail Friday pending a bond hearing later in the day, officials told The Times.
Nelly, 37, who has a new album and whose hits include “Hot in Herre,” was not pleased, judging from his Twitter account.
“I’m not gone front I’m MAD as Hell about this,” he tweeted, reserving most of his anger for Jones: “2have some1 who works 4u n who u call a friend 4 ova 10years jeopardize ur life WTF?... No excuses for wad he did!!!”
But let’s get to the bigger question (posed by bloggers at Vulture): Why do musicians and other celebrities keep tempting fate by driving through Sierra Blanca?
Numerous bloggers have advised musicians to avoid the checkpoint, suggesting alternative routes through Albuquerque and Amarillo. And you’d think they’d have learned their lesson after singer Fiona Apple (perhaps best known for her 1998 Grammy-winning hit “Criminal”) was busted last month on her way from Tucson to Austin.
Apple’s tour bus was stopped at the Sierra Blanca checkpoint, and officials brought in a drug-sniffing dog -- which zeroed in on a blue backpack containing a small amount of marijuana and hashish, according to the El Paso Times.
Apple (whose legal last name is Maggart), 35, “freely admitted that the controlled substances belonged to her and she was placed under arrest by U.S. Border Patrol agents and detained,” sheriff’s officials said in a news release.
She never made the Austin show.
Apple spent the night in jail, was released the following day on $10,000 bond and made it to Houston in time for a Friday show.
That’s when things got publicly interesting.
In a little pre-show banter posted on Pitchfork, Apple told the Houston audience about her time in Hudspeth County Jail and the “inappropriate and probably illegal” behavior of four sheriff’s employees.
“I want you to know that I heard everything you did. I wrote it all down with your names and everything you did and said stupidly thinking that I couldn’t hear or see you,” she said. “I then ripped the paper up, but not before I encoded it and… I got two lock boxes. We’ll call them ‘holding cell one’ and ‘holding cell two.’ In ‘holding cell one’ is the encoded version of the [stuff] that you did that I know was inappropriate and probably illegal. In ‘holding cell two’ is the decoder. I’m the only one who holds the key, and you and I will be intimate forever because I will hold that secret forever… Unless you’re interested in being a celebrity.”
Hudspeth County Sheriff’s spokesman Gary “Rusty” Fleming fired back with an official statement.
“1. If Miss Apple has a legal complaint we urge her to immediately contact the state Attorney General’s Office for the State of Texas-(We’ll give her the number if she needs that)
“2. If she has an ethical complaint against any employee/jailer/deputy of this department, she needs to report that directly to the internal affairs division of the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office. (She spent the night with us here, so she probably already has that number.)”
Fleming followed up with a personal statement just for Apple:
“In my capacity as a citizen of the great state of Texas, I would address the rest of Miss Apple’s allegations as follows;
“First- Honey, I’m already more famous than you, I don’t need your help.
“However, it would appear that you need mine. Two weeks ago nobody in the country cared about what you had to say -- now that you’ve been arrested it appears your entire career has been jump-started. Don’t worry Sweetie, I won’t bill you.
“Next, have you ever heard of Snoop, Willie or Armand Hammer? Maybe if you would read something besides your own press releases, you would have known BEFORE you got here, that if you come to Texas with dope, the cops will take your DOPE away and put YOU in jail.
“Even though you and I only met briefly in the hallway, I don’t know you but I’m sure you’re an awesome and talented young woman and even though I’m not a fan of yours, I am sure there are thousands of them out there, and I’m sure that they would just as soon you get this all behind you and let you go back to what you do best - so my last piece of advice is simple ‘just shut-up and sing’.”
Reached Friday, Fleming sounded a bit apologetic about the letter.
“I did not mean to be misogynistic or chauvinistic in that letter... I was being ridiculous because I thought two lockboxes and a decoder was ridiculous,” he told The Times. “It just seems like in our country celebrities can do or say whatever they want. She had made a threat to my coworkers. Do I actually think I’m more famous than her? No. That wasn’t the point. I was being facetious.”
Apple didn’t respond, but a lot of other people did.
“I got thousands of emails and phone calls of people applauding that,” Fleming said.
And in Hudspeth County?
“They really don’t care. We’re a very small community,” he said, “a little secluded from the rest of the country.”
“The only time they see or read about Hudspeth County in the news is when we bust somebody out at the checkpoint. That’s sad.”
With 98 miles of international border in the county, Fleming said, law enforcement stays busy. Each month, officers seize about 20,000 pounds of narcotics, he said, but “very little of that makes the news until we pop somebody of note.”
Fleming said Apple and other entertainers traveling I-10 are not targeted for searches.
“Everybody gets pulled over into that station — it’s not a thing where people get profiled,” he said.
Avoiding Sierra Blanca won’t do much good, he added.
“We have patrols on those back roads,” he said, “The better thing to do would be to throw the dope away before you get to Texas.”