“It’s kinda weird to take someone’s name and identity and claim it as their own,” reformed drug kingpin “Freeway” Ricky Donnell Ross told comedian Joe Rogan during a 2013 podcast. “If somebody steals something from you and it takes you 10 years to catch him, if it has all the makings on it that it’s yours, how can you not be made to give it back?”
The former dealer, who began dealing crack cocaine in early 1980s Los Angeles near Interstate 110, would go on to make hundreds of millions of dollars selling drugs.
Although Freeway Ricky spent much of that era in and out of prison — where he learned to read and write — he wasn't sentenced to life until 1996 when he was convicted in a federal sting operation of purchasing more than 100 kilograms of cocaine. Since the conviction was his third, the punishment was mandated by law. His sentence was later reduced to 20 years after a successful appeal based on the logic that numerous charges for which he was jailed actually constituted one “continuous criminal spree.” He was then released on parole Sept. 29, 2009.
But when Ricky Ross emerged from behind bars, he quickly discovered that famous Miami rapper Rick Ross had adopted his name to promote his musical persona and copied the trappings of his street life as a way of projecting a gangster image.
“He’s not even from the hood,” said Freeway Ricky, lambasting the corrections officer-turned-rapper.
The once-wealthy dealer’s financial state now pales to the rapper’s success. So Freeway Ricky launched a string of so far unsuccessful lawsuits with the aim of earning compensation for what he sees as a form of identity theft.
William Leonard Roberts II, the rapper whose stage name is “Rick Ross,” never was the drug-dealing hustler that his nom de musique — or his lyrics — suggest.
Freeway Ricky filed a $10 million lawsuit against Roberts in 2010 for copyright infringement, only to have it thrown out on a technicality in a preliminary hearing before the trial.
Two years later, the ‘real’ Ricky Ross lost a second case alleging trademark violations, and a judge ordered the dealer to pay the rapper’s legal fees totaling $490,000.