By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Unlike illegal drug rings, this one was unusual, because Pofahl and Key actually made efforts to keep the operation aboveboard. That was easy enough to do at first because ecstasy was still legal.
"The whole idea, from the beginning, was never to break the law. It was to make it as long as it was not illegal from the DEA's standpoint and to quit immediately if it became illegal," Key says. "At first I thought, you know, this is an amphetamine, this can't not be illegal. But when I looked into it, I saw that it wasn't illegal."
As part of their business plan, Pofahl coordinated sales and distribution while Key oversaw production. Specifically, Key arranged to have the powder used to make ecstasy manufactured at a laboratory in California at a cost of 10 to 20 cents a tablet. The powder was then shipped to a lab in Frisco, where it was converted into tablets. In all, the operation produced some 600,000 tablets, which Pofahl sold through a network of dealers in Dallas for about $3 each. For his efforts, Pofahl paid Key $30,000 a month.
"My first deal was a million, and then [much later] he gave me another million," says Key, who adds that his total payment during the entire operation was "a drop in the bucket" compared to their overall proceeds.
Just when the money started to roll in, ecstasy emerged as a social menace. It was a long time coming for a drug that was patented by a West German pharmaceutical company in 1917 and deemed useless by the U.S. military in the 1950s.
In what now stands out as a classic example of reactionary thinking, on July 1, 1985, the DEA put into effect an emergency ban on ecstasy, temporarily classifying it as a "schedule I" controlled substance on a par with LSD and heroin. Interestingly, the psychiatric community, which hailed the drug as a way to help patients overcome everything from child abuse to broken marriages, rose to ecstasy's defense. The move caught the DEA off guard, forcing it to hold a series of public hearings during which the psychiatrists argued that ecstasy should be classified as a "schedule III" controlled substance, allowing them to continue prescribing it.
Their voices, however, could not rise above the din of First Lady Nancy Reagan's mounting "Just Say No" campaign. In the end, ecstasy became one of the early casualties of the Reagan administration's war on drugs. On October 27, 1986, the drug was permanently outlawed.
Had Pofahl and Key stuck to their original plan, they would have had no troubles. But by the time ecstasy was banned, they were hooked on its profits.
"All of a sudden you look around you and you say, 'My god, I'm way out here,' and you're used to the money and you're used to the thrill and you just don't stop," Key says. "In the '80s, ecstasy was considered to be a nice sex drug that really didn't hurt anything, and the DEA was just simply trying to control it because they could. That was pretty much the attitude and that was our attitude. Of course, we had that attitude for a different reason. Our attitude was we wanted to do it, so of course we're gonna rationalize it any way we can."
Instead, they moved the operation to Guatemala, and EIEIO was born. The men hired a company called Unipharm to produce the drug, using chemicals Key supplied, in exchange for payments of $2,500 to $5,000 a month. In March 1986, Unipharm completed its first batch of 86,960 pills.
In the meantime, Key traveled to Germany in search of a chemical company that could supply raw materials. Ultimately, he settled on a company called Imhausen-Chemie.
At the time, the men thought they could legally export the raw product from Germany into Guatemala, where ecstasy production and sales were legal, and sell it without breaking any laws. Key was so sure that the business was kosher that he didn't go to great lengths to hide it.
"I had it registered. We had it licensed by the Guatemalan health department. We had it licensed for export, and I had good quality control on it," Key says. "I mean, it was fine stuff."
And there was a lot of it. Between March 1986 and February 1989, when Key and Pofahl were arrested, Unipharm produced a total of 3.3 million tablets. Typically, Pofahl would smuggle the pills back to Dallas--either by plane, car, or mail--and stash them inside a series of safety boxes and storage vaults he rented in North Dallas. Once the drugs were on location, his dealers would enter the units, remove the drugs, and replace them with cash.
Unfortunately, Key's mistake was assuming that Imhausen, like most upstanding companies, wouldn't agree to sell a product if it was illegal in Germany. Key says he soon found out otherwise--thanks to U.S. officials.
In early 1989, the United States accused Imhausen officials of supplying chemicals that it believed Moammar Gadhafi, the Libyan dictator and arch-U.S. rival, was using to manufacture mustard gas. That January, tension over the plant resulted in a Top Gun-like air chase that ended when U.S. fighter pilots shot down two Libyan fighters over the Mediterranean Sea.