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October 19, 1982, John DeLorean Arrested With Briefcase Full Of Cocaine - Today in Crime History

On this day, October 19, in the year 1982, auto executive John DeLorean was arrested in a Los Angeles, California, airport motel with a briefcase containing pounds of cocaine.  According to law enforcement officials, DeLorean was trying to organize a huge drug deal in order to save his bankrupt automobile business, the DeLorean Motor Company.

As a young industrial engineer, John DeLorean worked for Pontiac, where he was credited with developing one of the classic muscle cars of the 1960s, the GTO.  He soon moved to Chevrolet, becoming one of the youngest general managers in that company.  In 1972, DeLorean was selected to be vice president of car and truck production for the entire General Motors line.   In 1973 DeLorean abruptly resigned from General Motors and soon formed his own company, the DeLorean Motor Company.

In control of his new automobile company, DeLorean set out to create and manufacture his dream sports car.  With celebrity investors like Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis, Jr., the company eventually developed a two-seater sports car prototype, featuring a stainless steel body and gull wing doors.  A factory started manufacturing those cars in early 1981, but when an global economic recession happened later that year, the company was soon near bankruptcy and DeLorean was in dire need of additional financial backing to save his business.

In the summer of 1982, DeLorean received a phone call from James Hoffman, a convicted felon turned FBI informant.  According to DeLorean, Hoffman told him he could find investors to save the DeLorean Motor Company.  Over the course of the next three months, Hoffman slowly explained his intricate plan which eventually morphed into a scheme involving cocaine smugglers and a bank for laundering money.  DeLorean would be required to front some money to procure the deal.  DeLorean went along with these discussions, planning to trade company stock for the seed money for any deal that would benefit the company.  Before going to meet the “investors” to consummate the deal, DeLorean wrote a letter to his lawyer, sealed it, and gave instructions that it should only be opened if he did not return from the meeting.  In the letter DeLorean claimed that he didn't know Hoffman’s investment scheme involved a massive drug deal until it was too late.  DeLorean wrote that he was afraid to back out and that he was in great fear for his family's safety if he tried to back out of the deal.  

The meeting occurred in an airport hotel room on October 19, 1982.  Unbeknownst to DeLorean, the hotel room had been wired for audio and video recording by law enforcement.   Videotape made moments before DeLorean's arrest show him briefly examining 25 kilograms of cocaine and saying "It's better than gold."   Soon thereafter, law enforcement agents burst into the room, took custody of DeLorean and charged him with trafficking in cocaine.

During DeLorean's jury trial, prosecutors relied heavily on the videotaped evidence. Hoffman, the prosecution's star witness, was on the stand for 18 days.  To counter the accusations of the prosecution, the criminal defense attorney contended that DeLorean had been conned by a lying, convicted drug smuggler, turned paid government informant, who enticed DeLorean with the prospects of big investments in his dying company.  DeLorean’s defense lawyers relied upon the entrapment defense and claimed that the he had not been predisposed to commit the crime of drug trafficking until the government’s informant initiated the illegal “investment” scheme.  Defense lawyers also argued to the jury that government agents lied, destroyed crucial notes, backdated documents and withheld important evidence.  DeLorean did not testify at his trial.  After 29 hours of deliberation, the jury acquitted DeLorean on all criminal charges.

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