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.

The case didn't end there. Police searched Hall's computer and arrested several customers, including a sex offender in Florida who had purchased a 55-gallon drum. The Florida man received a 30-month sentence, according to his attorney. "I know that in California, investigators followed up on eight to twelve shipments," Baker says.

Two months after the bust, Ethan M. Posner, then deputy associate attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice, cited the case during congressional testimony in response to criticism that the government wasn't doing enough to stop Internet drug trafficking. Posner called it a "very successful crackdown" and said that the case generated eight arrests and resulted in the seizure of 400 gallons of GBL.

Baker says he would have prosecuted Hall no matter the penalty. "When we saw this, there was no question we were going to go after him," he says. "Even if he was looking at local county-jail time, we would have done this. He was distributing so much of this with impunity. Our office felt, and the California Bureau of Narcotics and the DEA felt, that we needed to stop him immediately. We didn't know who he was sending this to."

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.

Robert Mecir, the undercover officer who bought from Hall, says BD has largely replaced GBL and GHB in Santa Clara County. "To be honest with you, that's what we're seeing the most of, is 1,4-butanediol," Mecir says. "A lot of it has to do with GBL being listed. A lot of these traffickers think they're going to do an end-around."

The Harveys and others arrested in Operation Webslinger may find hope in a September decision by a federal court in New York. In that case, the court threw out indictments against two men found with BD, which prosecutors argued was illegal under federal law that criminalizes chemicals that are substantially the same as GHB. The fact that the body metabolizes BD into GHB isn't enough to make it illegal, U.S. District Court Judge Robert W. Sweet wrote in his September 9 decision. The judge noted that BD has been used as an industrial solvent for decades and that sales are not tracked the same way as GBL's. "Nothing has prevented Congress from either scheduling or listing 1,4-butanediol as a controlled substance," the judge wrote. "Congress had the opportunity to address the substance when it scheduled GHB and when it listed GBL [as a precursor chemical], but it took no action." The government has appealed Sweet's decision. "Anything can happen," says Andrew A. Rubin, attorney for one of the men.

One Miracle Cleaning Products customer has already pleaded guilty. Michael Caricofe, owner of a Nebraska nutritional store called Hardcore Nutrition, pleaded guilty to two federal drug charges in July. He admitted buying BD from the Harveys approximately 46 times between late 2000 and February of last year, when he was arrested after DEA agents in New York found BD being sold in a Manhattan store and traced the product back to him.

No one is pretending that Operation Webslinger has put Internet traffickers out of business forever. But it's made a dent.

In the weeks after the busts, addicts in chat rooms comforted one another and gave tips on how to handle withdrawal. They talked about the end of an era and scrambled to find online suppliers who weren't scam artists. And they rejoiced when they found that a glue remover contains GBL and is available in grocery stores, although the manufacturer has ceased production. DAMN this is so funny, wrote someone who scored at half-a-dozen stores. We've been bustin our ass trying to get a source and all along its being sold at the grocery stores.

About a week before police arrested Cassandra, the handle on her toilet broke. Monte DeClue, the landlord's son, came to fix it.

Cassandra was behaving oddly, DeClue recalls.

"She really acted nervous," DeClue says. "She said, 'Maybe it's dirty.' She took the handle to the kitchen sink and started scrubbing it -- really scrubbing it hard. It didn't make any sense. I was, like, 'Gosh, take a chill pill, lady.' It was kind of strange. I guess she knew what was going to happen to her."

If she didn't know, she should have guessed. Joshua and Cassandra had known for weeks that the cops were after them. Their first hint came on August 2, when a customer in Utah sent an e-mail to Cassandra informing her that police had confiscated his shipment. Three days later, he ordered another quart.

Judging from wiretaps and e-mails intercepted by the DEA, neither Joshua nor Cassandra seemed particularly concerned about police until August 23, when Cassandra heard from a customer in Chicago who'd been buying twenty or more gallons per month. The DEA had seized his latest five-gallon shipment and searched his house. DEA agents in Alabama and California had also seized two other shipments from customers who notified Cassandra.

Joshua couldn't understand why the cops hadn't moved sooner. "We've been doing the exact same thing for so long," he told his mother. "I'm surprised it's taken them this long to start seizing any of our packages."

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