By RUSS OLIVO
PAWTUCKET – Napoleon “Nappy” Andrade was tired of the street hustle.
“When he was in prison, we exchanged letters,” says his best friend, Todd “The Hulk” Chattelle, a retired MMA champion and city native. “He told me, ‘I’m done with this life.’ He wanted to be about doin’ right, about being right for his family.”
But “this life” may have not been done with Andrade. The 37-year-old career criminal was gunned down Sunday morning on the sidewalk in front of the Neil J. Houston Halfway House on Slater Street, where he’d been transferred days earlier from a federal penitentiary after serving time – among other things – for a home invasion robbery at the residence of an associate of the Gambino crime family in Stamford, Conn., in 2010.
No arrests have been made in Andrade’s killing, but police say they do not believe the homicide was a random act of violence – Andrade was targeted. By whom – that’s the mystery for investigators.
“We will be looking at all avenues,” said Detective Sgt. Chris Lefort. “We are very early in the investigation and we are not going to speculate.”
It was about 9:30 a.m. Sunday when Andrade was struck by “several gunshot wounds” in front of the halfway house – next door to a church where a priest was saying Mass at the time. Police are continuing to interview witnesses, Lefort said, but he declined to elaborate.
Chattelle said it was many years ago when he met Andrade for the first time. Chatelle was lifting weights at the YMCA when Andrade, who was about 13 years old, approached him with some questions about bodybuilding. Even though Chatelle was a little older than Andrade, the two struck up a rock solid friendship.
“He was one of the strongest persons I ever met in my life,” said Chattelle. “He was only 17 years old and he could bench press 185 pounds.”
Andrade was not only a man of exceptional athletic abilities, said Chatelle, he was smarter than most people realized. If only he’d had better role models to point him in the right direction, he might not have met such a tragic demise.
Because they didn’t know any better, Chattelle said he and Andrade both tried earning their keep as young adults by peddling drugs. They both ended up in jail, says Chatelle, adding, “We made some mistakes. You do the best you can with the knowledge you have.”
The Andrade that Chatelle knew was “a funny kid, a good kid, real intelligent.” Chatelle said his friend had “a photographic memory” and was always fun to be around because cracked jokes all the time.
“If he had had the proper guidance, he could have been anything,” he said. “He could’ve been a UFC champion or a professional football player – anything with a little guidance. Everybody wants to look at the hood but nobody wants to talk about the things society is not doing.”
Andrade was already serving a 10-year prison sentence on federal drug-trafficking, money-laundering and firearms charges in 2010 when prosecutors tied him to the home invasion robbery at the residence of an associate of the Gambino crime family.
During the probe that led to the drug charges, federal law enforcement agents surreptitiously recorded phone conversations in which Andrade discussed his involvement in multiple home invasions, including one in Stamford, Conn., at the home of Nick Melia. A convicted loan shark suspected of having mob ties, Melia, then 78 years old, was bound and blindfolded by two men who posed as delivery drivers when they broke into his home, stealing more than $16,000 in jewelry, $200,000 in cash and a double-barreled shotgun.
Andrade landed in federal prison after he admitted to the court that in March 2010, he broke into a vehicle in Central Falls which he believed contained 100 grams of crack cocaine; $500 in cash; and purported stolen jewelry. The car was placed on a street in Central Falls by ATF agents as part of a “sting operation.” The drugs were fake.
Andrade also admitted to the court that in April 2010, he provided a fully loaded .357 caliber revolver to a person working with government agents, with the intent that the firearm be used in a “drug-rip” of a kilogram of cocaine from a home in Connecticut.
Under surveillance for some time, Andrade admitted to several other crimes, including the theft of more than $30,000 worth of cigarettes and the sale of marijuana.
“At the time of Andrade’s guilty pleas in August 2011,” a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s office said at the time, “he admitted to the court that his principal source of income was derived from drug trafficking and other crimes...”
Chattelle, who’d been working out with Andrade at an East Providence gym as recently as a couple of weeks ago, is convinced his friend was ready to turn things around – but now he’ll never have the chance.
And, like the police, he can’t help but wonder if the misdeeds of Andrade’s past are the reason why.
“He went to prison 10 years ago,” said Chattelle. “I really don’t know why these people would be after him now. I really don’t know.”
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo