There was a time when Atlantic City was what Miami is today – the spot for sea, sun and fun on America’s East Coast. Along its boardwalk and beaches, families from New York, Philadelphia and throughout the Northeast came to see Sammy Davis, Jr. and the Rat Pack perform, and to crown Miss America. But Atlantic City began to collapse in the ’60s, and all that glamour went away. In a desperate attempt to revive its boardwalk, in the 1980s the state of New Jersey approved casino gambling at the hotels that lined that coast. The effort to revive the hotels was a success, but the gambling and hotel money didn’t trickle down to the city. In fact the multi-million-dollar casinos that dominated the Atlantic City skyline actually destroyed the rest of the city. Visitors didn’t venture out of the hotel “safe zones” and spend money in the rest of the city. Nor did the hotel/casinos generate the number of jobs for residents needed to stem the rest of the city’s decline.
Into this vacuum stepped a short, native son with a big smile and a huge ego. He may have been nicknamed Midget Molley, but this man saw himself as the black Nucky Johnson of the Northside during his generation. Midget was so caught up in his own “largeness,” he even wore a gold crown around Atlantic City. His career as a creator of a drug empire which established businesses and seed money for local political candidates on the Northside of A.C. is the hook for the show, but there is more to Midget’s story.
- March 4, 1959 Robert Edward Molley is born in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
- 1969 Molley's father, a strict, Pentecostal preacher, dies. The family spins into chaos. Molley heads to Kentucky Avenue and begins hustling on the streets.
- 1972 Elsie, an eyewitness to one of Molley's violent stabbings, falls in love with the gangster. This is the start of a life-long romance.
- 1980 Now officially on the streets hustling drugs and hanging out with gangsters, Molley is arrested for attempted murder.
- 1986 Molley is released from state prison. He tries to go straight, but returns to the streets soon after.
- January 1, 1989 now making nearly $1 million dollars a month in the drug trade, Molley steps into a casino wearing a $1.5 million bejeweled crown.
- February 14, 1989 Police bust Molley's drug ring after his appearance with the Gold crown. It becomes the largest shakedown in Atlantic City history.
- 2005 Molley claims he was beaten for his Islamic faith in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He is moved to death row 24-hour lockdown for security reasons.
- 2006 Molley is released from prison, and returns to Atlantic City. He begins working as an advocate for prisoners who suffer abuse in jails.
Robert Molley began his life as the son of a preacher. By the time he was 18; he had strayed from his faith and found the call of the drug underworld. Drug kingpin Midget Molley was born Robert Edward Molley (a.k.a. Hakeem Abdul Shaheed) on March 4, 1959, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Molley's father, Benjamin Franklin Molley, was a Barbadian immigrant and a Pentecostal pastor who "spoke in scriptures." His mother, Helen Louise Molley, worked to raise her children in a stringent, Christian home. Family life was strict, and Molley and his 12 siblings would often sit at church well into the night, forced to listen to their father's sermons.
Around the age of six, Molley's physical appearance began coming to the attention of his family. Molley's aunt noticed that the young boy wasn't growing as quickly as the other children in the family, and jokingly called him a midget. As Molley reached his adult height of 5 feet 2 inches, the name persisted. Soon, children in the neighborhood also began calling him "Midget Molley" to help distinguish him from his many siblings. Because many children tried to capitalize on Molley's small stature, the young man learned to use his mind to his advantage. He often took dares, arranged hustles, or jumped into leadership roles as a way to prove his superiority. This tenacity would serve him well in his later life, but the arrogance that accompanied it would become his downfall.
In 1969, shortly before Molley's tenth birthday, his father died of a brain tumor. Molley's mother was forced to find work in local hotels, making it difficult for her to keep an eye on her children. Relieved of their strict religious upbringing, the children began seeking release in destructive ways. Molley headed to the streets, specifically the popular Kentucky Avenue, or "KY and the Curb," to compete with big name hustlers. He started running illegal numbers for the local criminal element, and shining the shoes of gangsters in Atlantic City. Within a year, Midget Molley acquired a reputation as an eager and enterprising young hustler, associating with the local criminals whose shoes he shined.
Molley's life changed in 1972, when he and some friends entered an apartment complex on Bacharach Boulevard. During a heated exchange with another youth, Molley stabbed a resident of the complex. The only eyewitness, a girl named Elise, approached Molley about the incident. But instead of threatening him with police action, the couple soon began dating. Within a few years, Elise gave birth to three children, Hakeem and Hakeema.
In the absence of a religious influence, Molley became deeply interested in and involved with the Nation of Islam in 1974. Molley changed his name to Hakeem Ali Abdul-Shaheed in 1976 in reverence to his teacher and attended the Mosque regularly. But that same year, he also began running errands for a local drug dealer. By the time he was 16, his religious life was on hold indefinitely. Instead, he was selling heroin out on the streets.
At 18, Molley had dropped out of high school and committed himself to the criminal element of Atlantic City. He especially admired drug kingpin Leroy "Nicky" Barnes, also known as "Mr. Untouchable," and sought to emulate him. With the help of his brother Michael, Molley started making his own drug runs into New York City and selling his wares on Kentucky Avenue.
In 1980, Molley went into prison for another attempted murder. He was sentenced to ten years, but served only six at Bayside State Prison before his release. Once on the outside, Molley married his long-time girlfriend, who then gave birth to their third child, Haneef. Now a husband and father of three, Molley tried to leave his life of crime behind. He graduated from culinary arts school, and became a sous chef for several New Jersey casinos and reputable private restaurants. The money was stable and the work was good, but the lifestyle didn't appeal to Molley. "I didn't have to go back into the lifestyle for money; I was pretty good," Molley said. "I was just addicted to the street life...and I wanted to get into that."
By 1986, Molley was heavily involved again in the cocaine and crack trade. Drawing on his previous experience as a dealer and hustler, he quickly installed himself in a leadership position, and began helming a drug ring that extended to California, Detroit Miami and New York. At the height of his tenure, Molley was earning in the range of $1 million each month. Molley used this income to invest in several businesses—including a car detailing service, a limousine service, and a jewelry store—which he used as a front for laundering much of his money. He also used his cash to fuel his extravagant tastes for clothing, partying, women, and jewelry. He kept his family sheltered from his life of crime, housing them in a seven bedroom mansion in the New Jersey suburbs, and giving them everything they wanted.
As Molley felt more and more invincible, he began to flaunt his wealth. The final straw for law enforcement came January 1, 1989, when the kingpin stepped into Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino Ballroom sporting a custom-made gold crown worth an estimated $1.5 million. Surrounded by his most trusted distributors, Molley had crowned himself king of Atlantic City. The police saw this ostentatious display of wealth as a challenge to officials. Enraged Federal Agents, who had been investigating Molley's criminal activity for years, decided they had enough evidence to finally put the drug lord in prison.
On February 14, 1989, a task force comprised of 180 federal, state and local law enforcement agents raided Molley's businesses and drug fronts around Atlantic City. They apprehended Molley, all those who had also participated in his illegal ventures, and all the profits from his business dealings, making it the largest drug ring bust in Atlantic City's history.
Molley was convicted and sentenced to a 25-year term in Federal Prison, but after a speech against injustice at the prison he was transferred to Atlanta, Georgia. Again he stood up against injustices, and finally was transferred to the most secured federal prison in the country, Marion Federal Prison in Marion, Illinois, where he was housed with the notorious mob boss John Gotti, and leader of the Gambino Crime Family.
During his imprisonment, Molley relinquished his drug ties and reconnected with the Islamic faith.
In the wake of the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Midget Molley was tortured by nine prison guards for his outspokenness. To keep him safe from abusive guards, prison officials moved Molley to death row in Terra Haute, where they felt 24-hour lockdown security would protect him from those officers who sought to silence him. He served the remaining eight months of his sentence there until his release in 2006. As a result of his experiences, he now acts as an advocate for abused inmates and speaks to youths about staying free of crime, gangs and violence.