By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
By Jake Rossen
By Lindsay Toler
By Kelsey McClure
By Lindsay Toler
While Brooks was going through withdrawal, the Harveys were getting rich.
They bought a 2000 Dodge Dakota pickup truck in the name of Miracle Cleaning Products. Joshua moved out of his mother’s house, buying a split-level home in nearby Herculaneum for $110,000. He also bought a Harley-Davidson Sportster. He often drove a 1997 Camaro Z28 and a 1999 Cadillac DeVille that were registered to him and his mother.
The Harveys' bank accounts swelled into six figures. According to his federal tax returns, Joshua earned $34,900 in 2000 and $60,400 the next year. His mother made $119,470 in 2000 and $136,200 in 2001, according to her tax returns, and business was getting better. When she was arrested, Cassandra was paying herself $12,116 a month -- more than $145,000 per year.
"They were just making money hand over fist," Lassing says.
The lieutenant says police could have brought down the Harveys much earlier than they did. But allowing them to sell illegal drugs unchecked served a greater purpose, he insists.
"We wanted to identify everybody involved," Lassing says. "Had we swooped down on her in April or May of 2000, when this all broke, had we swooped down on her and locked her up then, we wouldn't have put nearly the dent in it that we did by waiting two years. By waiting two years, there were more people arrested, more targets identified and more quantity taken off the street."
To date, 170 people have been arrested as a result of Operation Webslinger, which brought down three primary BD distributors in addition to the Harveys, according to the DEA. Although the Harveys were sitting on the largest cache when the feds moved in, the biggest dealer may have been Daniel Pelchat of Quebec. He had been selling to customers around the world since at least 1997.
"He's the big cheese," says Trinka Porrata, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer who now heads Project GHB, the anti-drug group. Pelchat openly peddled GBL and BD in chat rooms and on four Web sites, including one with testimonials from BD customers who said the product gave them energy and helped them sleep. He grossed $10,000 per day and raked in $3 million in two years, according to the DEA. Police have seized cash and assets totaling more than $2.6 million from Pelchat and two alleged conspirators, including $1.9 million found in two Texas banks.
Dozens upon dozens of Pelchat's customers, including 35 people in Buffalo, New York, alone, were snagged in Operation Webslinger. St. Louis DEA spokeswoman Shirley Armstead won't say how many of the people arrested did business with Miracle Cleaning Products, but most of the Harveys' 441 customers have escaped punishment. With UPS trucks stopping at Cassandra's house six days a week, hundreds, if not thousands, of gallons of BD made their way from Festus to points unknown.
"There's no way that we got everybody involved," says Lassing, who watched some of those trucks.
Porrata says crackdowns such as Operation Webslinger "could have and probably should have" taken place years earlier. "Almost all the GHB stuff could have been done sooner," says Porrata. "I was glad to see it finally happen, but, in reality, there were reasons why it took so long. The problem is, on the federal level, originally GHB was very low-level in terms of sentencing, and so it wasn't taken terribly seriously. Then the penalties were upgraded at the federal level, and so DEA agents could then justify spending more time on GHB issues. And they put together this massive Operation Webslinger."
Although distribution and possession of GHB and its chemical cousins were made illegal by Congress in early 2000, tough penalties didn't take effect until November 2001, when the U.S. Sentencing Commission ratcheted up punishment so that a first-time offender faces twenty years or more in prison. Previously, the penalty for someone with no criminal record was less than four years.
William Glaspy, a DEA spokesman based in Washington, D.C., says increases in penalties played no role in the timing of Operation Webslinger. He won't say why it took so long to bring down people whose sales of GBL and BD were an open secret. "That gets into our investigative activities, and that's something I can't talk about," he says.
Nearly three years ago, authorities in California and Arizona demonstrated how fast police can take down Internet drug traffickers when they set their minds to it.
The case began on February 8, 2000, when a Palo Alto man overdosed on GBL. His mother called police, who checked the Internet and confirmed that Brian Michael Hall of Phoenix was the source. Posing as a friend of the overdose victim, an undercover officer telephoned Hall and told him that GBL was illegal in California. The officer subsequently ordered a 55-gallon drum of GBL for $3,000 and a two-and-a-half-gallon container for about $200. Hall shipped the orders to San Jose and Gilroy, California. On March 15, 2000, exactly five weeks after the case began, police arrested Hall, timing the bust so that he could be charged under the new federal law. He wasn't prosecuted by the feds, but Hall pleaded no contest in state court and received a five-year sentence.
"It was kind of like shooting fish in a barrel," says Rob Baker, a Santa Clara County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Hall in California. Police were shocked when they found more than a dozen empty drums stacked on Hall's patio. "We had no idea he had so much," Hall says.