The Agony And The Ecstasy

Until his arrest, Sandy Pofahl was the king of Dallas' '80s ecstacy scene. Then why did he serve only four years while his "blindly loyal" wife, Amy, was sentenced to 24? Because she asked for it.

From their first date on, ecstasy occupied a central role in the couple's relationship--not just as entertainment, but also as a source of income.

Now 59, Pofahl still cuts the profile of a man in his 40s, though his brown hair has gone gray and the sparkle in his blue eyes, which once charmed Ralston so, is a notch or two dimmer. When asked about his past, a subject he'd just as soon not talk about, Pofahl doesn't hesitate to say that his decision to deal ecstasy was terribly wrong.

"I'm sorry I was involved in it," Pofahl says. "I'm sorry I got involved in the manufacturing and sale" of ecstasy.

At its peak in 1989, the international ecstasy smuggling operation that Pofahl controlled was the largest in U.S. history. Pictured here in his North Dallas Office in the late 1980s, Pofahl says that his decision to manufacture and distribute the ecstasy was a terrible mistake.
At its peak in 1989, the international ecstasy smuggling operation that Pofahl controlled was the largest in U.S. history. Pictured here in his North Dallas Office in the late 1980s, Pofahl says that his decision to manufacture and distribute the ecstasy was a terrible mistake.
After serving nine years of hard time, Amy Ralston celebrates her freedom at a San Francisco restaurant shortly after President Bill Clinton commuted her 24-year mandatory sentence. Unable to beat the legal system, Ralston used the political system and won Clinton's sympathy.
After serving nine years of hard time, Amy Ralston celebrates her freedom at a San Francisco restaurant shortly after President Bill Clinton commuted her 24-year mandatory sentence. Unable to beat the legal system, Ralston used the political system and won Clinton's sympathy.

Pofahl does not, however, regret using the drug. Throughout his life, Pofahl was extremely health-conscious and kept his distance from drugs, even avoiding aspirin, but he became a disciple of ecstasy in 1981 after some friends gave him a tablet for his 40th birthday. At the time, ecstasy was still legal.

"I said, 'No thank you, I don't do drugs.' They said, 'Take it, you'll like it.' I did go ahead and take it that day," Pofahl says. "It was a positive experience to take it with them."

Taking ecstasy soon became a recreational pastime that Pofahl enjoyed over the weekends, usually inside the homes of friends or sometimes in dance clubs. "For the next three, three and a half years, [our] group of about 25 people would do ecstasy in Dallas and Austin," Pofahl says. "[It was] just a time to be together, take ecstasy, and talk."

After her wedding to Pofahl, Ralston gladly joined the party. For her, ecstasy became an integral part of her relationship with Pofahl and her life in general.

"When Sandy and I were together, we used ecstasy the way a lot of couples would. We'd sit beside the fire. It's a great way to talk, if you're familiar with it. It's like a truth serum," Ralston says. "It was the ceremony of ecstasy."

Where Sandy preferred to use the drug in the privacy of her home, Ralston says she was fond of hitting the clubs.

"I'm the one who would definitely use it and go out," she says. "I would like to take a quarter [of a pill] and, a little bit later, another quarter. It elevated my mood to where the world was just the greatest place to live in."

While Pofahl didn't expose Ralston to ecstasy, he did show her its potential for profit: By the time the two were married, he was well on his way to becoming an ecstasy kingpin. It was an unlikely occupation for a man who once studied theology at Princeton and obtained a law degree from Stanford University in 1967.

After law school, Pofahl moved to Dallas with his first wife and went to work for Trammell Crow, then the world's largest real estate developer. Two years later, Pofahl left the company with hopes of building his own real estate empire, which he called Commonwealth Development. He fell woefully short of his goal. By 1974, Commonwealth was bankrupt and Pofahl, whose first marriage was failing, couldn't even afford the custom drapes his wife had ordered for their house.

Despite the setback, Pofahl continued his quest for The Big Deal, incorporating more than a dozen companies throughout the late 1970s and 1980s. Pofahl managed to complete a few successful ventures, most notably the sale of an oil and gas drilling company he owned. The transaction netted him $600,000 in 1985. The sales price wasn't bad, but it was nothing compared to the potential profit ecstasy offered.

That opportunity arose in 1984, when Pofahl says his dealer revealed that his source was drying up and asked Pofahl whether he wanted into the business. As part of the pitch, the dealer told Pofahl he could realize a $2.50 profit on every tablet he sold. Being the businessman he was, Pofahl smelled a fortune.

To his benefit, the U.S. government would soon outlaw ecstasy and, ironically, give Pofahl the one key to success that he could never seem to find as a real estate developer: good timing.

I Want a New Drug

In 1985 there was a side of Dallas that was in the mood to party. With the oil and real estate businesses at their peak, people made piles of cash during the day and flooded into the clubs with it at night. The drug culture was wide-open.

"When I moved to Dallas, cocaine was everywhere," Ralston says. "If you would go to a card shop at the time, there were Christmas cards [that said], 'Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow,' [and they featured] Santa Claus with the cocaine spoon. It was just so accepted."

For people who didn't like coke's edgy effects, ecstasy offered a more seductive, mellow alternative and, for them, Dallas was the place to be. By 1985, Dallas had earned the reputation as the nation's ecstasy capital, because it was one of the few cities where the drug was openly sold in nightspots like the Texas Ranch bar, which catered to the dance crowd.

Pofahl wanted a piece of the action. In early 1985, he picked up the telephone and called his friend, Dr. Morris Key, a Dallas chemist who ran his own consulting business. An ecstasy enthusiast, Key was game.

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