Retired Detective Phil Ramos’ 33-year-long career with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department sounds like something out of a movie. He spent 12 years undercover trying to infiltrate the Cuban Mob, and was present during famous rapper, Tupac’s autopsy (yes, Ramos assured us that Tupac really is, in fact dead).
But he barely skirted death during his years undercover trying to rid the city of the Cuban drug lords.
“At the time, I was one of the few Hispanic officers who spoke Spanish so it was a natural fit for me to try and get in to the Cuban drug dealers and the Colombian cartels,” said Ramos.
Back in the 80’s, Fidel Castro released inmates from prisons all over Cuba and simultaneously President Carter allowed Cubans to immigrate to the U.S. According to Ramos, that’s when he saw an uptick in drug-related crimes in Las Vegas and marked the beginning of his undercover career.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of gang members, organized crime figures, and outlaw motorcycle gangs, but these guys were hardcore. Nobody was as ruthless as the Cuban drug dealers,” said Ramos.
It was a member of the Cuban mob that put a gun to Ramos’ temple and asked if he was with the police one night. Ramos said he’s seen mobsters stuff people into the back of a car, tell them they’re going to drive them out to the desert, kill them, and leave them there.
“We always found discarded bodies around Vegas that had the telltale signs of a drug deal gone bad,” said Ramos. “The mob would pull over on the side of the road on a major freeway, shoot someone in the car, and throw them outside and take off or they’d march them out into the desert ten yards and shoot them in the back of the head and leave them there.”
As far as his undercover work went, Ramos never left a trail that led back to the police station because he was always being followed by mobsters who were making sure he wasn’t a cop.
“I had an undercover apartment, two really cool cars, a fake ID, driver’s license, and credit cards for that very reason,” Ramos said.
Ramos and his team worked out of a nondescript building that had no ties to the main police department where they would go over suspects and drug routes.
Every time Ramos left to do a drug deal, there was a surveillance team surrounding him to make sure that he stayed as safe as possible. They used hand signals to communicate back and forth since Ramos didn’t have a radio.
In one scary scenario, Ramos entered an apartment to follow through with a drug deal when he ran into someone he had arrested for dealing drugs a few years before.
“He said ‘Man, I know you. You’re the guy that put me in prison.’ I said no way and gave him my undercover name. He goes ‘oh okay, because the cop that busted me was a guy named Phil Ramos.’ You have to be able to think fast on your feet.”
After his undercover work came to an end, Ramos found out that the Cuban mob and Colombian cartel had three contracts out to kill him at one time.
“One day when I was heading home, a car pulled up next to me and shot up my undercover car. I was able to duck and get away without being hit.”
Later when he was promoted to homicide detective, Ramos worked on several murder cases that made the national spotlight including Jeremy Strohmeyer, Margaret Rudin, and Tupac Shakur.
“Becoming a homicide detective was my goal. Ultimately, I wanted to go out and catch killers,” said Ramos. “The mental aspect of the job was the toughest part. When you’re sitting across from a serial killer, they know what they’re doing. They’re pretty smart.”
Ramos said catching a killer is a total cat-and-mouse-game.
“People’s jaws would drop if they knew how many serial killers were actually active and working right now,” said Ramos. The only ones you hear about are the Green River Killer or BTK, Charlie Manson, but the reason you never hear about the ones who are active is because you can’t disclose that information as a detective.”
With the Tupac Shakur murder, Ramos’ squad worked on the case and interviewed witnesses and suspects.
“I went to the autopsy and he was shot three times. Why they kept him alive as long as they did, nobody knows,” Ramos said.
These days, Ramos co-hosts a podcast and web series with his niece, Sara Ramos Buckley, called Murder Talks.