Larry Lavin was as much an enigma to his neighbors as he was to the FBI. When the outgoing young dentist and his reserved, pretty wife, Marcia, moved to the Main Line suburb of Devon and into their quarter-million-dollar white-brick colonial home in 1982, they were just twenty-seven years old and by far the youngest couple on Timber Lane, a long winding road of large, custom twenty-year-old homes on beautifully landscaped wooded tracts. Larry had a dental degree but no job, and he didn't seem to be looking for one either. Yet without any visible source of income they seemed to have more money than anybody else on the quietly affluent block where wealth was never paraded and definitely took a back seat to respectability. A retired Navy admiral lived across the street from the Lavins and John Eisenhower, the son of a former United States president lived next door. His wife, Barbara, wondered how this "awfully pleasant young man" could afford to buy a house in an area where most families were enjoying the financial fruits of middle age, then go on to install expensive additions like a pool, a greenhouse, and a solar heating system. While there was the usual gossip, most of the neighbors accepted Lavin's explanation that he'd gotten into the record business in college and had become very successful managing rock bands.
Dr. Lavin made a point of reinforcing his successful image by inviting neighbors like Mrs. Eisenhower into the tastefully decorated house and proudly showing them the framed gold record hanging in the bedroom he'd converted to an office. Usually the gregarious dentist did the house tour, happily chatting about the marvels of solar energy and his plans to remodel the recreation room, while Marcia Lavin kept to herself and puttered about the kitchen. Larry was always the friendlier and more visible of the two. He spent a lot of his time gardening and encouraging neighbors to borrow his tools or offering to help them with chores like putting in a new azalea bush. When he discovered that the retired admiral across the street was also a dentist, he made a point of walking over to discuss some new technique he'd just read about in a dental journal. The admiral thought it odd that someone so interested in dentistry didn't seem interested in working at it, until Larry mentioned he was looking around for the right opportunity. He finally found it that spring about a year after he'd graduated, when he bought a small practice in Philadelphia that catered to patients on public assistance. Based on the elegant life-style he'd established, the neighbors viewed his dental practice as more of a rich man's hobby than an economic necessity.
Indeed when FBI agent Chuck Reed visited Dr. Lavin at his unpretentious office early in 1983, the dental practice was in better shape than Lavin's drug business. He'd probably sold one thousand kilos of cocaine in the last five years, and if he included the money pocketed by all the principals in his ring, the total earnings came to nearly ten million dollars. His personal share of that had been a million annually since 1981. Money wasn't the problem; it was management. Brian Riley, a kid he'd brought down from New England to buy coke for him in Florida and distribute it out of his Philadelphia headquarters, was threatening to walk out. That left him with only Bruce Taylor-another New Englander, a tough biker type and cocaine addict with tattoos on his forearms. What little brains Taylor had brought with him into the world were well on their way to being fried by all the cocaine he used.
On top of Larry Lavin's business problems, and unquestionably more serious, was the increasing heat of a tax-evasion case. During the investigation of the WMOT bankruptcy the government had found at least seven $50,000 checks along with other receipts of monies paid to him through various Mark Stewart enterprises, on which he'd never paid income tax. He'd hired a lawyer to handle his tax problems and knew there was a chance he might go to jail. And in addition to all this there was Marcia's ongoing pressure to get out of drugs so they could lead a normal life. Maybe the time had finally come to take up an offer from one of his suppliers to buy him out.
Lavin had heard through the grapevine that Franny Burns wanted to purchase his business. He'd been getting cocaine indirectly from Burns for several months, ever since he'd had trouble finding top-quality product from his usual Florida sources. A mutual friend connected them-and acted as broker-so Burns and Lavin never met face-to-face, although, oddly enough, they lived quite close to each other in the vicinity of Valley Forge National Historic Park. Despite the geographical proximity, the dentist and the dealer lived worlds apart. Lavin, the young professional, was the product of an exclusive private school and Ivy League college and resided in luxury at a prestigious Main Line address. Burns, a high-school dropout, was educated in the streets, owned a Dairy Queen ice-cream franchise, and rented a nice but undistinguished house in a middle-class development. Drugs were all they had in common. But that was enough.
What Lavin had to sell Burns was nothing more than a tiny hand-held computer-calculator that contained the names and phone numbers of all his drug customers: his company's total assets. There was no inventory and no property, just this valuable list of some fifty upscale users and dealers that Lavin estimated had a market value of $750,000 because it would give Burns exactly what his own business lacked.