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Featherstone, who says he smoked marijuana and used psychedelic drugs throughout the Seventies, was arrested for selling LSD to undercover Miami Beach police officers in 1985. Judge Ellen Morphonios withheld adjudication but levied a sentence of 90 days in the Dade County Stockade. Featherstone says he no longer uses illegal drugs. He also claims the official records of the bust are inaccurate, and provides an account of the incident that is highlighted by alleged CIA involvement. "Because of my work with other psychotropic drugs and different things I've done, they tried to incorporate me," he explains. "I really don't want to get into it. I was offered a job with that aspect in Canada with the Secret service and basically working with Sandoz LSD, the real pharmaceutical stuff from Switzerland. I can tell you things that are totally off the wall. Let's just say this, someone in the CIA payroll did not give it to me, but those were definitely drugs from the drug-testing branch of the CIA."
He offers no apologies for his dealings with the members of the Arch Creek Trust. "Sometimes it's uncomfortable to be put on the outside automatically," he says. "All I have to do is open my mouth. Sometimes I used to go to these trust meetings and they were so dead and boring, so self-serving, so moronic that a million one-liners kept coming into my mind. Once in a while I couldn't help myself, and some of them would come out."
It might be considered fitting that Featherstone refused to have his photograph taken to accompany this story. Then again, so did most of the rest of the people involved, including Lawrence Forti, Maureen Harwitz, and Ron Bell.
One of the allegations the Arch Creek Trust made against John Featherstone before his banishment was that he had impersonated a naturalist in front of a school group. A related, though not identical, charge has been leveled by the Metro-Dade police and county prosecutors.
Naturalist Jim Kunce, the new manager of Arch Creek Park, found out about Featherstone's off-duty nature walks late last summer, when an elementary-school teacher called and asked whether the aide was available to lead a tour. No, Kunce explained, Featherstone no longer worked there. But Kunce had a few questions of his own. Had Featherstone taken her class on a walk the past fall? Why, yes, the teacher answered. And how had the school paid for the tour? She told Kunce she had the canceled check.
Kunce says he had heard rumors about Featherstone's extracurricular activities that spring, when several people told him that the aide had talked about tours he had given the previous fall. "Of course we had zero evidence that that had occurred," the naturalist recalls. "When we had a few leads, we'd follow them up and nothing panned out."
Until the schoolteacher called. When Kunce called Ron Bell, the district supervisor for county parks, Bell instructed him to request copies of the canceled check. Meanwhile, another teacher called with the same request and the same story. Ron Bell and his supervisors examined the bank drafts, some of which had been made out to Arch Creek Park, but endorsed and cashed by Featherstone. They called in Metro-Dade police.
Michael Holmes, a detective in the Metro-Dade Police Department's public integrity squad, subpoenaed all of Featherstone's bank records from City National Bank, whose Biscayne Boulevard branch was across the street from Arch Creek Park. "I had to go around and gather all the canceled checks. It took me two months to wrap it up," says Holmes, who was able to trace a total of nine checks, totaling $1262, that Featherstone deposited into his bank account. On November 21 of last year, Holmes arrested Featherstone on a single count charge of grand theft. Set free under the county's pretrial-release program, Featherstone pleaded innocent to the charge, a third-degree felony.
Ron Bell says he was unaware of Featherstone's free-lancing. "I had heard rumors from a series of people, but I don't put much credibility in rumors," recalls Bell, an easygoing man with a deep tan who seems more like an aging lifeguard than the district supervisor for more than ten county parks. Had he known that an employee was keeping profits from tours, he would have immediately disciplined him. For one thing, Bell points out, Featherstone had no vendor's permit, which is required of anyone who wishes to sell anything in a county park. A fee for such a permit, negotiated between the vendor and a district supervisor, might be a flat rate, or a percentage of the vendor's gross. But Bell probably would not have granted Featherstone a permit even if he'd requested one, says the district supervisor, because he would have been offering a service the county already provided as a revenue raiser. Arch Creek Park nature walks had generated more than $1000 per month, which went toward defraying the annual $69,000 cost of operating the park.
Featherstone, who's trial is scheduled for April 6, insists he's no crook. He says he changed his mind about the nature walks in October 1990, when a teacher suggested he might go into business for himself as a tour guide. "I certainly didn't steal anything," he says. "To steal something would imply there was something there for me to steal. I created this. There was no naturalist there. There were no tours being given." Indeed, when Featherstone began leading his off-hours tours, no one else was offering the service at the park. Under the aegis of Patricia Cunningham, students toured the park at an average of 700 per month. Wes Wilson, another part-time park maintenance worker, rarely led walks for paying customers. Featherstone also says he was very open about the walks during the time he gave them. "If I was a thief, I had to be the bloody stupidest thief, because I told everybody about it," he insists.