Ex-Miss Navajo Nation heading for U.S. prison
Illegal drugs derailed Radmilla Cody's career.
By Mark Shaffer and Dennis Wagner
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 13, 2002
Radmilla Cody was on her way to stardom this year after winning honors as top female artist from the Native American Music Association. Since becoming Miss Navajo Nation five years ago, she had made two albums, performed at Bank One Ballpark and across the country, and spoken out against substance abuse.
But the 27-year-old singer was on a very different path as a member of a national drug syndicate.
Now, instead of serving as a role model for her people, Cody is about to enter federal prison, where she will serve 21 months.
Authorities say she was a willing participant, a woman who enjoyed the benefits of drug money, including cars, clothes and forays to Las Vegas casinos. But Cody blames her "sick, crazy life" on an abusive boyfriend, a leader of a Phoenix-based drug ring.
In a recent interview with the Navajo Times, she said, "It's in every single domestic violence relationship. . . . (He) beats you, gives you gifts, breaks you down, makes you dependent, reels you in so you believe your life focuses around them. It's a combination of fear, love, hate."
Darrell Dwight Bellamy also helped.
The daughter of a Black man and a Navajo woman, Cody was born into abject poverty and alcoholism and raised by her grandmother on the reservation near Flagstaff. As a child, Cody herded sheep and survived taunts about being half-Black. She mastered the tribal language, sang her way through life in the windswept Navajo outback and used her cultural skills to win the Miss Navajo Nation title.
She parlayed that into a successful musical career singing traditional songs, for which she created her own company, Cody Productions.
But Cody had one major problem: a boyfriend named Darrell Dwight Bellamy.
Boyfriend a kingpin
Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Horn in Tulsa said Bellamy was reared in the Valley, became involved in gangs, got shot, moved to Tulsa and became a crack cocaine "kingpin." He was arrested in the late 1980s, served prison time, then came home to Arizona after his release in the early 1990s.
Cody did not respond to interview requests from The Arizona Republic to her attorney, manager and record company. However, she told the Navajo Times that she met Bellamy while attending Mesa Community College six years ago. She said it was a good relationship at first, but over time he became jealous, controlling, violent.
He also launched a much larger drug syndicate, according to prosecutors, importing kilos of cocaine and tons of marijuana from Mexico.
The drugs were shipped to Tulsa; Wichita, Kan.; Cleveland; Chicago and other cities. And Cody helped. She wrapped marijuana in plastic smeared with mustard and pepper to conceal the hemp smell. She slipped through airport security stations wearing cocaine body bags. She continued seeing Bellamy while he was one of the nation's most wanted fugitives, Horn said.
Earlier this year, Cody was convicted of misprision of a felony, meaning she failed to report criminal activities. As part of a plea agreement, two drug charges were dismissed.
In all, 18 people were indicted last year by a federal grand jury in Oklahoma and convicted in U.S. District Court. Authorities also confiscated a condo in Fountain Hills, a house in Phoenix, a 24-foot cabin cruiser and jet skis.
The defendants were charged with dealing millions of dollars in marijuana and cocaine since 1993. The indictment alleged that money was laundered through Las Vegas casinos and that witnesses were threatened.
Although the drug ring was based in Phoenix, news of Cody's arrest and conviction didn't reach the nation's largest Indian reservation until the Navajo Times published her letter of apology late last week.
Without revealing her drug-related conviction, Cody sought forgiveness from the Navajo people and lamented her plight as a victim of abuse. "I tried to slowly edge myself out of the relationship, but each time I was faced with physical harm and, at other times, even death."
That letter prompted Tribal President Kelsey Begaye this week to declare he was "shocked and quite disheartened" to learn his friend had "seemingly compromised her role as a model Navajo citizen."
Symbol of success
After Cody became Miss Navajo Nation in 1997, she traveled around the country sharing her culture and performing Native American songs. She also became a symbol of success on the reservation and an advocate for clean living during appearances before Navajo students.
Begaye urged tribal members to hold Cody accountable for her actions but also said, "We must keep our child, our relative, in our prayers."
Cody's business manager, Sarah Cody, said, "I never got involved with that side of her life nor did I want to know anything about it."
However, in the Navajo Times interview, Radmilla Cody said Bellamy had beaten her, blackened her eyes and even placed the muzzle of a gun in her mouth.
"I keep wondering why I stayed with him," she added. " . . . I was so scared out of my mind.'"
Cody described those fears in her plea agreement but admitted they "did not rise to a level of a complete defense of the crime." She confessed to a direct role in distributing up to 367 pounds of marijuana.
Horn, the federal prosecutor, said he believes Cody enjoyed the lifestyle afforded by the drug business. As for her domestic violence claims, he added, "She raised that in a motion, and the federal judge didn't buy it . . . She got significant amounts of money. She got apartments. She got an automobile."
Horn and Sgt. Harold Adair of the Tulsa Police Department said Cody even lied to investigators after she signed a plea agreement to cooperate.
"She can turn on the tears at the drop of a hat," Adair said. "She's a very skilled performer. She knew exactly what was going on. She helped mule drugs through airport security."
Cody's attorney, Stanley Monroe, said his client met Bellamy when she was 19 and fell in love with him.
"He told her that he was in the car business, and she didn't realize until a couple of years later that wasn't his line of work," Monroe said. "When she found out about the (drugs) she tried to ignore it. . . . She kept telling herself to get out of the relationship, but only a woman who's been through this can tell you why she didn't leave. When she learned that she had been charged, she finally decided to get out of the relationship."
Bellamy, 34, is to be sentenced next month. Cody will report to the Bureau of Prisons on Jan. 6 to begin her sentence. Monroe said it was unclear where she will be housed.
Robert Doyle, president of Canyon Records in Phoenix, for whom Cody records, said he was "quite surprised" when Cody told him about her legal difficulties in September.
"There's no clause in her contract that addresses this, and it won't affect our relationship," Doyle said. "We had been working preliminarily on her next CD but had done very little development."