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Up In Smoke: From Millionaire Go-Getter To Imprisoned Dope Addict

June 5, 1988

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ Raymond Riha Jr. was worth between $6 million and $10 million before he was 45, had a successful company, owned property in Alabama and Florida, drove expensive cars and was married with two children.

That life collapsed in less than two years after he began smoking cocaine.

He recently pleaded guilty to two cocaine trafficking charges and one possession charge, and was sentenced to 15 years on each. A hearing is scheduled June 17 to determine how much of the sentence must be served behind bars. He also awaits trial on a fourth charge.

During a recent series of interviews at the Jefferson County Jail, Riha, 45, told the Birmingham Post-Herald about his downfall.

″That pipe, that person, that thing in my hand, it was very much alive; it was a living thing to me,″ Riha said. ″I talked to it, and it answered me. It came back with positive-plus reactions and answers and made me work everything out in my mind. It lies all the time.″

His personal net worth is down to $100,000 by some estimates. The company he founded in Pelham, Southern Resistance Welding, which grossed about $6 million a year and employed 25 people, is bankrupt.

He says he had never used any kind of drug until one day in October 1986 when he walked into the home of a friend and walked out about 12 hours later, hooked on cocaine.

″I said, ’What is this? There is no such thing on earth that could do that to me, that could take control of me,″ Riha said. ″I took the pipe and smoked it so nonchalantly that first time.″

The drug relaxed him. ″All my worries disappeared,″ he said.

He had plenty of money and plenty of time, and gave himself over to binge after binge.

″It is not unusual for a person to lose everything they have,″ said Dr. Joe Rice, clinical director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Center for Health Professionals in Chelsea. ″The unusual situation here is that this individual had so much to lose.″

The drug interfered with Riha’s closest interests.

A horse-racing fan from his childhood in Cleveland, he was one of the first to invest in the new Birmingham Turf Club, purchasing 1,000 shares of stock and 51 limited partnerships. He signed up his company to rent of one of the prestigious boxes at $25,000 a year.

But when the horse track opened March 3, 1987, ″it took everything I could muster to get there,″ he said. ″I almost didn’t make it through the evening. And I found myself leaving to go to my car between the races to hit the pipe.″

He fulfilled another lifelong dream by investing about $400,000 to put together a dragster and crew, but when the car was ready to race in January 1987, it held no interest and Riha only made it to a few races.

″It’s amazing how the drug can take your interest in everything away, from hobbies to your business, sex, love, everything, and replace it with itself,″ said Riha.

Riha was arrested on drug charges twice but returned to cocaine use late last year after a month in a rehabilitation program.

On Christmas Day last year, Riha said, ″I sat there looking at bankruptcy papers, the suit my father filed against me for the $400,000 I had borrowed from him over the years, divorce papers that never went through and the criminal charges. ‘Well, merry Christmas, Ray,’ I said. But at least I had my pipe there, too.″

Later he was arrested for allegedly giving cocaine to a minor, the 17-year- old daughter of his mistress. He said she took it from him. She testified she was working for the police and that he gave her cocaine when she asked for it.

″I don’t think I was meant to go sit in prison,″ Riha said. ″I didn’t go through all this to end this way.″

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