By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"I slimmed down to about 240 pounds," says Bishop, whose square jaw and thick neck give him a don't-mess-with-me look. "I was in the best shape of my life." (His playing weight was a muscular 280 to 285 pounds.)
The hard work didn't go unrewarded. After earning his degree and undergoing a nine-month background check, he shipped off with 40 others for 14 weeks of training courtesy of the DEA. It wasn't easy. Each prospective agent had to pass aptitude tests ranging from a two-mile run in under 10 minutes, 30 seconds (you're not that fast) to push-ups to sit-ups to firearms. If that and the lack of sleep and physical exhaustion weren't enough, the DEA instructors caught wind of the fact that Bishop was a former NFL star. Unlike his friends in Denver's Metro SWAT, the boys at Quantico didn't think it was such an endearing quality.
"They got on me pretty good," Bishop laughs, remembering the verbal abuse. "Afterward, we got to be friends, and they told me about why they did it. They had the agency's best interests at heart. They wanted to make sure I was sincere in wanting to join the DEA."
"You're not thinking 'Oh, I could have gotten hurt there,'" Bishop says, already forming 5 o'clock shadow at a little past 10 a.m. "It's more 'I'm upset that someone might have forced me to kill them in order to defend myself and my group.' I would have to live with that for the rest of my life. That's the hardest part."
So far, he hasn't been forced to fire his gun. Primarily, he works with wiretaps, helping to coordinate joint efforts between his agency and local law enforcement. In 1997, he worked on Operation META, which targeted the Amezcua-Contrara drug cartel from Mexico. It was the largest methamphetamine sting in DEA history. Bishop, local police and sheriffs departments, the FBI, customs, and DEA branches that had wires in 17 cities from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey, were involved in the investigation. By the time it was all over, Operation META resulted in the arrest of 121 members of the trafficking ring and the confiscation of 1,765 pounds of marijuana, 1,100 kilograms of cocaine and 133 pounds of methamphetamine. At the time, the street sale for the bounty, using Dallas-area drug prices, would have been approximately $20 million (the cost of narcotics has since gone down, making it a buyer's market for all you interested parties out there). It's the type of effort that would have been difficult to organize without proper cooperation.
"Nowhere in law enforcement are egos bigger than in narcotics," says Dallas narcotics detective Paul Ellzey, who worked on Operation META. "And when you have local guys dealing with Feds, the right hand doesn't always know what the left hand is doing, know what I mean? But at least in Dallas, with Keith, there was an open door policy. There always is with him. Everything is on the table. With other agents, they don't always let you know what's going on. With Keith, it's not like that at all. I've worked narcotics for 23 years and bar none, he's probably the ace No. 1 guy. He has an outstanding reputation."
"He's one of those guys who always says what 'we' did," agrees Dallas sergeant Rod Bray of the Interdiction Group, who has frequently worked with Bishop. "He doesn't mind the long hours. He'll fall out of bed at four in the morning, do 'round-the-clock investigation, put in his 12-to-18 hours with everyone else, do his paper work the next day and then ask if you need a hand."
Bishop's motivation has served him well. He recently received a promotion that will make him a staff coordinator (a supervisory position) with DEA headquarters outside of Washington, D.C., in Crystal City, Virginia. It's a big step.
"As far as we're concerned, we're losing a very talented agent," says Mike Dromgoole, assistant special agent in charge at the Dallas DEA office. "It's great for the DEA, though. It's a position a lot of the senior guys want. Keith is probably two or three years ahead of what you'd expect for that type of move, especially for somebody without any prior law enforcement experience."
Whereas most of us would have careened off the track and smacked into the wall on turn three, he's had no trouble negotiating the learning curve. Already he's moving up, already he's proved more worthy than the rest.
But, like we said, Keith Bishop isn't most of us.