Before he probably butchered his wife. Before the “Chase.” Before the decade in prison he did for an armed robbery in Las Vegas to steal back memorabilia he believed had been boosted from him in the first place.

O.J. Simpson, 72, was at the center of two state drug probes during his NFL playing days with the Buffalo Bills in the 1970s and it was the company the Hall of Fame running back and corporate pitchman kept that wound up corralling him into a pair of inquiries (one by the Buffalo Police Department and another from the New York State Police), neither of which bore any fruit nor led to any charges. These revelations were first reported by the Buffalo press 25 years ago, around the time Simpson was a tabloid and nightly-news staple for allegedly carving up his wife in a fit of jealous rage, shattering the lucrative image he had built for himself as a fun-loving, charming former jock turned Hollywood actor.

When he played for the Bills, the “Juice” was known for hobnobbing his way through the Buffalo nightlife scene with reputed drug dealers and mob associates and attracted the attention of law enforcement because of it. Two of Simpson’s favorite hangouts were reportedly tied to the Buffalo mafia: Club 747 at the Executive Hotel, across the street from the airport, and Mulligan’s, the trendiest club in Western New York at the peak of the disco era, located on Hertel Avenue and hailed as Buffalo’s own version of the uber-hip Studio 54 in Manhattan.

The Executive Inn was owned by the Cosentino family, long rumored to be mob affiliated. Mulligan’s was owned by Mike Militello, a slick, handsome Vietnam War hero who was the undisputed prince of the city in the 1970s and 1980s, Simpson’s best friend outside pro football and a person the Buffalo police believed, at least for a period of time, was a major cocaine dealer and mafia associate.

Militello has always denied having anything to do with narcotics trafficking or the mob, although he admitted in a radio interview in the 1990s that he and Simpson engaged in cocaine use together in their younger days. Simpson was Militello’s best man at his wedding. Police tried unsuccessfully to prove that Militello sold drugs to Buffalo pro athletes on the Bills (NFL), Sabers (NHL) and Braves (NBA) using Simpson as his middle man and his club as a distribution point.

Mulligan’s was the place to be and be seen in Buffalo, attracting a fast crowd of movers and shakers, politicians, celebrities and gangsters. Low-level burglar and mob wannabe Frankie D’Angelo was gunned down leaving Mulligan’s on October 5, 1974 for allegedly neglecting to kick-up tribute to the Magaddino crime family. One of the Magaddino clan’s nerve centers was less than a mile away from Mulligan’s at the Fallmark Social Club.

Another Buffalo nightclub frequented by Simpson in the 1970s was Casey’s Nickelodeon owned by drug kingpin and mob associate Casimir (Butch Casey) Sucharski. During an April 1975 police raid of Militello’s stylish apartment on Delaware Avenue — famous for lavish “after-parties” attended by the Buffalo social elite and raucous guys- night-out get togethers for Militello and his high-living inner circle — , Sucharski was arrested for possession of cocaine, marijuana and two guns. Simpson had just departed the apartment minutes prior to the police hitting the door, possibly via a tip from one of Militello’s many political or law enforcement contacts. Militello wasn’t present at the apartment either when the raid occurred.

Simpson’s Miami home was searched by DEA agents on December 5, 2001 as part of an investigation into an international Ecstasy club-drug ring. No pills were found in the raid, but agents did find four bags of marijuana and cocaine residue. Three high-ranking members of the drug ring told the DEA in plea agreements that they socialized with Simpson at his home and accompanied him on nights out on the South Beach nightclub circuit. All three admitted to selling Ecstasy and cocaine to Simpson on a regular basis.

Back in the 1970s, Simpson was one of the most recognizable and beloved celebrities in America, both the No. 1 tailback in the NFL and the face of the Hertz Rent-A-Car company on television – he had shot to stardom as a Heisman Trophy winner at USC years earlier and became the first player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season in 1973 behind his offensive line with the Bills dubbed the “Electric Company.” After his retirement from football in 1979, he returned to California and transitioned into acting and sports broadcasting and despite a number of documented instances of domestic violence and being investigated by the FBI for bookmaking, was able to maintain his popularity and a positive public image.

That was until the summer of 1994.

On the night June 12, 1994, Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman were stabbed to death outside Brown Simpson’s Los Angeles condo. Less than a week later, Simpson was charged with the double homicide and on June 17, he led police on a nationally-televised low-speed chase in his white-colored Bronco that captured the attention of the entire world. At the wheel of the Bronco that day was Simpson’s confidant, childhood friend and college and pro teammate Al (A.C.) Cowlings, who helped convince him not to commit suicide.

It was Cowlings who introduced Simpson to Mike Militello during their days as teammates with the Buffalo Bills. Militello and Cowlings supported Simpson at his heavily-publicized, racially-charged trial in 1995 which ended in a controversial not guilty verdict. Days following Simpson’s arrest in June 1994, his and Militello’s one-time buddy from Buffalo, Butch Casey Sucharski was slain in a gangland triple homicide in Miramar, Florida.

Simpson was arrested in September 2007 for an armed robbery pulled off at the Palace Station hotel and casino in Las Vegas where he stuck up memorabilia brokers he believed were selling items that had been stolen from him. He was convicted at a 2008 trial and sentenced to 33 years behind bars in a Nevada state prison, but only did nine, getting paroled in October 2017.

Militello, 72, is a restaurateur in Buffalo today. His Bijou Grille on Main Street is credited with bringing “California Cuisine” to Western New York.

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