Dumb & Dumber

If they'd sold drugs on a street corner, punishment would have been swift. Instead, they used the Internet -- and the party lasted for years.

Joshua and Cassandra Harvey, the brains behind Miracle Cleaning Products, were in a tight spot.

The mother-and-son team from Jefferson County learned in August that they were under investigation for trafficking millions of doses of a date-rape drug disguised as an all-purpose cleaner. Desperate to hide profits, they called lawyers, but the attorneys weren't any help.

"They're a bunch of fucking idiots," Joshua told his mother after a tax attorney recommended a criminal-defense expert. "We need to talk to a lawyer who realizes that there's businesses out there that ride the line and sometimes shit can happen."

Roy Tompkins
Cassandra Harvey (left) and her son Joshua were among the nation's biggest traffickers in a drug that mimics GHB, prosecutors allege.
Cassandra Harvey (left) and her son Joshua were among the nation's biggest traffickers in a drug that mimics GHB, prosecutors allege.

In scores of telephone conversations, the Harveys discussed trust accounts, safe-deposit boxes, safes and storage units as places to stash hundreds of thousands of dollars. They considered renting an apartment or an office. Perhaps a woman -- someone they barely knew -- would let them install a safe at the photocopying center where she worked. Grandma liked secrets -- maybe they could put the money in her house. Cassandra's bookkeeper suggested burying the loot.

Then Cassandra got a better idea: They could invest in a new business.

"We're not the only ones," she told her son. There are lots of people who need to hide assets and don't trust the banking system, Cassandra figured. She and her son could use their money to build a Swiss bank of sorts that would be fireproof and explosion-proof -- a vacant skating rink near their homes would be nearly perfect, although humidity might be a problem. They'd subdivide it into brick cubicles and rent space, self-storage-style, to customers who would register under any names they wished, no identification required. They could post an advertisement on their Web site: "Do you have goods, cash, coins that are valuable to you that you don't feel safe with?"

Like most of their other plans, they discarded this one after a few minutes. The government, they decided, would eventually close down such an operation.

"Man, what are we going to do, Josh?" Cassandra asked. He didn't have an answer.

A week earlier, the Harveys had bordered on cocky after learning that Drug Enforcement Administration agents were seizing shipments from customers who had grown accustomed to overnight delivery of jugs filled with a potion that mimics GHB, a drug that's addictive, deadly and used by rapists to knock women out. The chemical the Harveys sold over the Internet had the same effects and risks, but Joshua and Cassandra didn't think that was their problem. They were mad at the DEA. Word was spreading about the seizures, and the Harveys blamed the cops for cutting business from $30,000 a month to $16,000.

Once they figured out how to hide their money, Joshua told his mother he wanted to put a message on the Miracle Cleaning Products Web site inviting the DEA to call them. "Evidently, all they're able to do is harass our fricking clients," Joshua said. "'When you order Miracle Cleaning Products, the fucking DEA knocks on your door.' We're going to lose all of our damn sales. That's what they're trying to do, I guarantee it. They can't get us, so they're fucking with our clients."

Joshua couldn't have been more wrong. And he didn't have to invite the DEA to get in touch. Agents equipped with wiretaps were already listening in.

Arrested on September 18, the Harveys are each facing more than twenty years in prison for selling 1,4-butandiol, commonly called BD. When the cops came, they found 2,200 gallons of BD -- enough for ten million doses -- stashed in Cassandra's basement and two St. Louis storerooms. It was the largest single cache seized in a nationwide investigation called Operation Webslinger, which aimed to shut down distributors of BD and similar drugs. Police made 170 arrests in 100 cities. In a Washington, D.C., press conference called to announce the arrests, top law-enforcement officers cited Miracle Cleaning Products as an example of a dangerous drug that had been sold with impunity.

"They used the World Wide Web as a worldwide drug market," Asa Hutchinson, DEA administrator, declared.

John Ashcroft practically gloated. "Asa, your work here represents outstanding leadership," the attorney general said. "Today's announcement is a dose of harsh reality for drug traffickers who seek to exploit the vast markets and anonymity of cyberspace."

But the Harveys were hardly anonymous.

They left their tracks all over the Internet as they sold BD and GBL, another chemical cousin to GHB, for more than three years. Customers in Internet chat rooms devoted to drug discussions openly praised Miracle Cleaning Products, and Joshua posted links to the Miracle Cleaning Products Web site on drug-related message boards beginning in 1999, when he and his mother went into business. In January 2001, the New England Journal of Medicine tagged Miracle Cleaning Products as a drug that was killing people. The publicity didn't hurt sales, nor did it bring any immediate heat from the cops, who got their first direct tips about Miracle Cleaning Products in 2000.

In short, the Harveys as drug traffickers moved from dumb to dumber, first leaving clues in cyberspace, then sticking around even after finding out that the cops were moving in.

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