Longform

Bad trip

Page 8 of 10

Other young men and women who were hooked on heroin had similar epiphanies. Some went into a long-term residential

treatment program run by the Texas Department of Corrections. Some underwent private treatment. A few relapsed or remained on the street. By February, almost everyone who would later be included in the federal indictment had been through the state court system.

And despite the arrests, despite the announcement that the problem was under control, the deaths continued. On February 9, 1998, 17-year-old Natacha Campbell, a popular young Plano dropout and regular on the party circuit, died of an overdose. Her panicked companion abandoned her at a gas station and called police to come get her.

Police continued to make arrests. In March 1998, a contingent of Plano police and DEA and FBI agents showed up on Plano school campuses with warrants for a dozen students. Another dozen or more individuals were arrested off-campus in what the task force called "Operation Rockfest." All were charged with possession of small amounts of heroin: a gram here, four grams there. The task force paraded its achievement before the media.

That was when George Malina really began to get angry.
To deal with their grief, Malina and his wife had set up a foundation in their son's name. They began to talk with experts, to look for money, to act as a clearinghouse for information. They studied the problem of drug addiction, and the more they studied, the more they became convinced that the arrests were window dressing. They believed not only that the problem had not been contained, but that it was simply uncontainable.

Then, too, there was the problem of police tactics.
"I get this call from an AP reporter," says George Malina. "He says, 'This defense lawyer I know has some pretty explosive documents, and he's scared to death.' So the defense lawyer comes over, and he gives them to me. And there it all is, how the minister's kid got jammed up by the undercover cop."

In the fall of 1997, Brenda Leudke, an undercover officer in her mid-20s, passed herself off as a teenage junkie in search of chiva. The act was good enough to fool Jonathan Kollman, a minister's son who had been struggling with heroin addiction. According to police reports signed by Leudke's supervisor, she drove Kollman to get dope and gave him the money to buy it. On one occasion the previous October, after the two bought 15 caps of heroin and two of cocaine with $100 of Plano's money and $10 of Jonathan's, Leudke let Kollman keep four heroin caps and the cocaine.

Kollman was one of those in Operation Rockfest. When his defense attorney leaked the story of Leudke's action to The Associated Press, Glasscock denied wrongdoing. (Kollman later recanted his accusations against Leudke in exchange for probation on drug charges, one of his attorneys says.)

"So I call up Julio Mercado," recalls Malina, "and I say, 'Do you know what this task force is doing with your money?' I said, 'You're supposed to be going after criminals, not addicts.'"

For Mercado and the other drug warriors, however, the end justified the means. "Look," Mercado says. "We don't just go out and target innocent people. When we target somebody, we have intelligence that they are involved in drugs."

He has little patience for the argument that we shouldn't be jailing addicts.

"If you go across the country, everywhere you go, addicts are the ones who are pushing the drugs. They're the ones who are destroying [communities].

"I mean, sooner or later, we have to stop and say this is a war. They're destroying our kids. Our economy is being destroyed by these people...Look at all the money. Treatment centers. Medication. Hospital bills. This all a result of drugs. Instead of going out and having to spend so much money on treatment centers, on hospitals, you know, we can use it on something else--on jails to put them in."

On July 22, 1998, Sheila Cooper attended a graduation ceremony for all of the kids who had completed treatment at the House of Isiah. "Everyone got up and told their stories. We all cried and cried again. It was this...picture of redemption. It was very moving."

Three days later, someone pounding on her door awakened her from sleep. "I tried to look out the window, and all I could see was this dark car in the driveway. And that's about the time I heard the guys around back, yelling, 'FBI. Open up.'"

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Christine Biederman