Breaking Real Bad: Inside the Sam Hurd Drug Case
On Nov. 13, former Cowboys and Bears receiver Sam Hurd faced possible life in prison for drug trafficking. Was he the cocaine kingpin the government made him out to be, or the victim of an overzealous prosecution and excessively harsh narcotics laws? An exclusive 22-month investigation reveals how it all went wrong for one of the NFL’s most promising and well-liked young talents—and why there was more to Hurd’s downfall than we were led to believe
By Michael McKnight
Update—Nov. 13, 8:00 p.m. ET: Taking into account Hurd’s status as a first-time offender, U.S. District Court judge Jorge A. Solis sentenced Sam Hurd to 15 years in prison, followed by five years of supervised release. Under federal guidelines Hurd will have to serve 85 percent of that sentence before being eligible for parole. Hurd’s mother said he would appeal the sentence.
Update—Nov. 13, noon ET: With Sam Hurd’s sentencing set for Wednesday, Michael McKnight has a few updates on where the case stands, including details of the loss of a witness and reactions to Tuesday’s story.
At 7:35 p.m. on Dec. 14, 2011, Sam Hurd’s black Escalade arrived in a light rain outside a Morton’s restaurant in Chicago and backed into a street space near the entrance. The Bears’ receiver, then 26, had driven to the steak house following practice to meet with two Mexicans who moved cocaine for one of their country’s most violent cartels, the Zetas—a murderous army known for beheading its enemies and dumping their bodies on public streets.
It had been a tense workday for the Bears, who had just lost three games in a row after starting the season 7-3, and after practice Hurd had called one of the Mexicans, Manuel, and asked if he and his cousin would come to Hurd’s suburban Lake Forest home instead of dining out. But Manuel (not his real name) had gently insisted on the restaurant, suggesting the Morton’s near O’Hare because the traffickers were headed that way to pick up cash from an incoming courier.
With his gangly strut, Hurd followed a hostess through the bustling Morton’s dining room and was seated at table 54. When the two Mexicans arrived a few minutes later, it became clear that Manuel’s cousin—a stone-faced man wearing a black leather jacket and holding an expensive cowboy hat in one hand and a white gift bag emblazoned with HAPPY BIRTHDAY in the other—was in charge. The diminutive Manuel, who had only spoken with Hurd on the phone, shook the player’s mammoth right hand as the cousin introduced himself in a soft voice: “Juan.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Juan,” Hurd said.
They sat. Within two minutes Juan (also a pseudonym) got to the point: “My cousin was telling me that you’re interested in getting some stuff up here. … Now, where did you wanna pick it up?”
“Where?” Hurd asked in his deep baritone.
“Did you want it all the way here, or in Dallas?” Juan said. “If we get it in Dallas it’s cheaper.” Then Juan named his price: “Veintidós.” Twenty-two thousand dollars per kilo. “How many we looking at?” How many kilos do you want?
“Right now?” Hurd asked. “I can do five, but I can do as many as—by next week, 10 in a week, all the time. Or more. … Thing is, I’ve never had nobody to provide it.”
“O.K.,” Juan said. “And see, what I’m getting right now is really good stuff. I mean this is like, uncut, 98 percent pure cocaine coming in from Colombia, and it’s just some good s–t. … So, um, if you say you want it here, I can do it for 26.” Twenty-six thousand per kilo.
Hurd haggled a little, knowing the price went down the more kilos he ordered. “I’ll be at 50 [kilos] a week soon, because they go like that,” he said. “I just don’t have—I just never had nobody that could give me more than four a week.”
“Quantity is not a problem,” Juan said over the din of the room. “I mean, I can get you—”
Hurd cut him off. “Quantity was always a problem for me,” he said, sounding every bit the drug lord U.S. news consumers would soon imagine him to be. Translation: Sam Hurd could import, mark up and sell as many kilos of cocaine as he got his hands on—he just couldn’t get enough of it.
As with most things in Hurd’s life, however, things were not what they seemed to be behind Morton’s rain-beaded windows that night. The three men seated at the table next to him—the guys who looked like lawyers on an expense-account splurge—were undercover federal agents. And the 77-minute conversation that Hurd had just begun with Juan and Manuel was being recorded.