Inside the Miami Purple Drank Ring That Allegedly Supplied Lil Wayne and Chris Brown
Harrison Garcia (back) partied with some of the biggest names in hip-hop, including Wiz Khalifa (right). See more photos from Harrison Garcia's purple drank empire.
Courtesy of Dania Jimenez
High above a leafy Westchester neighborhood, a helicopter full of federal agents zeroes in on a gated house with a red-tiled roof. On the ground, a Homeland Security SWAT team surrounds the ranch-style home on a dead-end street off the Palmetto Expressway. Scores of agents in body armor crouch nearby, rifles ready. It's around 5:30 p.m. on a sun-drenched Friday in October, and the 40 agents lie in wait as a confidential informant places a call to lure out their suspect.
Soon enough, a Chevy Suburban pulls out of the driveway, and the agents watching from the sky give the go-ahead. Four blocks from the house, an agent steers a Dodge Charger toward the SUV and slams to a stop in front of it. The Suburban veers onto someone's front lawn. Other cars materialize behind it, and more feds jump out. "Put your hands up!" the agents holler as they converge with guns drawn.
They shatter the window on the driver's side and haul out their guy: a 26-year-old aspiring music producer named Harrison Garcia.
Better known as Cuban Harry, the Hialeah-raised hip-hop artist has a round face, heavily tattooed arms, and long dark hair in tight braids. In the car with him are two Young Money rappers, HoodyBaby and Gudda Gudda, who look on in shock as a panicked Garcia is thrown to the ground and cuffed.
Back at the house, the SWAT team uses Garcia's keys to unlock the tall white gate and get inside. They toss a smoke bomb on the tile floor, startling two stocky gray dogs, and then sweep the place room by room, rifling through drawers, slashing mattresses open, and hurtling everything into the hallway.
The search goes on for five hours. In the end, the feds leave with a loaded FN semiautomatic pistol, a Glock, a bag packed with two pounds of marijuana, jars filled with higher-potency pot, a digital scale, a Porsche Panamera, and a Polaris Slingshot roadster.
But they weren't looking only for weed, or even cocaine or heroin, in the October 18 raid. They'd plotted this massive operation in large part to find cough syrup.
Mixed with soda and served on ice, the prescription-strength medication becomes "purple drank," "lean," or "sizzurp," a potent and addictive concoction that's long been the drink of choice for hip-hop stars. The woozy cocktail — often sipped in double-stacked Styrofoam cups, sometimes with a Jolly Rancher at the bottom — has become as quintessential a hip-hop status symbol as gold chains, fast cars, and stacks of cash. It has also killed more than one high-profile act.
Garcia, who built a following by palling around with music industry giants Lil Wayne and Chris Brown, built his persona around syrup. Photo after photo on his 40,000-follower Instagram page with the handle "muhammad_a_lean" showed bottles of the stuff lined up on the kitchen counter, packed into crates, and spread out on the floor.
By the time the raid ended, the feds had turned up just one bottle. But Garcia would soon be charged with using social media to sell mass quantities of lean, along with Xanax and marijuana. State prosecutors later added a racketeering charge, claiming he masterminded a burglary ring that had snatched thousands of dollars' worth of cough syrup from dozens of pharmacies.
Garcia's charges — which carry a mandatory minimum of 30 years behind bars — have sparked worldwide headlines thanks to his two most famous friends, Weezy and Breezy, who are listed as witnesses and remain under investigation by the feds. Convinced Garcia snitched to law enforcement, many of his influential friends have abandoned him, while angry fans have sent death threats.
But friends and family of the Miami musician, speaking for the first time about the case, insist Garcia's only crime was getting caught up in the high-rolling culture of hip-hop. Garcia was addicted to cough syrup, they say, but was just a pawn in investigators' overzealous quest to take down big-name rappers.
"My son probably smokes, drinks the syrup. I know that," his mother says in careful English. "But he's not the guy they say he is. He is a good boy, good son, good father."
Law enforcement agents tell a different story. They say Garcia is a dangerous criminal who made his connections in the music world by dealing drugs, operated the Westchester home as a trap house, armed himself with a small arsenal of guns, and cornered South Florida's lucrative cough syrup market, counting celebrities among his clients.
"Mr. Garcia was definitely a very prominent mover," says Tony Salisbury, a deputy special agent in charge of gang units for Homeland Security investigations. "He was one of the largest dealers that we've encountered."
The story of Garcia's rise from Cuban refugee child to figure on the highest rung of the hip-hop industry — and his downfall to convicted drug dealer facing a potential life sentence — opens a window into the outsize role cough syrup plays in Southern hip-hop culture, the black market that feeds it, and the epic fallout that can follow the drug.
Harrison Garcia, AKA Cuban Harry
Miami-Dade County Corrections
Up-and-coming Miami rapper Fat Nick leans back in the bathtub, frothy water pooling around his considerable belly. His blond dreadlocks are tied in a haphazard bun, and a chain with the letters "YRH" — short for "young, rich, and handsome" — dangles from his neck. He cradles a bowl of crème brûlée in one hand and uses a spoon in the other to gesture toward two baby bottles of purple liquid sitting on the edge of the tub.
"I got some syrup," he boasts in the video, posted to his Twitter account last month, the words garbled by his diamond-encrusted grill. "Baby, come join me, baby — young, rich, and handsome lifestyle. Look at my chain! Look at the diamonds in my teeth!"
Fat Nick may be Miami's loudest and proudest syrup sipper, but the drug is everywhere in hip-hop culture. Everyone from Justin Bieber to Future to DJ Khaled has name-dropped lean in their lyrics, and the drug reportedly caused the series of seizures that put Lil Wayne in the ICU for six days in 2013. Promethazine codeine is hard to get and usually comes at a steep cost, so boasting about it on social media earns instant street cred. Hashtags such as #codeinecrazy, #doublecups, and #siplean have thousands of posts apiece.
The unlikely relationship between cough syrup and rap traces its roots to 1960s Houston, where blues musicians began pouring Robitussin into their beers, according to author Lance Scott Walker, who has written two books about the city's hip-hop culture. The recipe evolved over time — beer was replaced by wine coolers when they hit the market in the '80s, for instance — but the biggest change came with the Food and Drug Administration's approval of cough syrup containing codeine and promethazine.
Codeine, an opioid, suppresses coughing. Promethazine, an antihistamine, treats other cold symptoms, like sneezing and watery eyes, and acts as a sedative. The combination, sanctioned by the FDA in 1984, was far more potent than Robitussin. Houston's sippers soon made the switch, savoring the sweet taste and mellowed-out feeling.
"It's like liquid heroin," says Ronald J. Peters, a retired associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston who has studied the use of prescription cough syrup. "And my research found that most people that drink it once said they were addicted from the first time."
Sizzurp, later mostly made with soda instead of beer, became part of life in Houston — especially for the city's hip-hop artists, who came up in the same neighborhoods as the blues musicians. The cough syrup phenomenon, which Peters calls "an epidemic," for decades was mostly contained to Houston, until one of those hip-hop musicians blew up.
DJ Screw's music sounded the way drinking lean felt. It was slowed down, like playing a 45 record at 33 rpm, and cut with beats and scratches. Like so many other Houston musicians, the DJ (real name: Robert Earl Davis Jr.) constantly had a codeine cocktail in hand, and his music often referenced it. By the '90s, his "chopped and screwed" style went national.
"His sound was unlike anyone else's," Walker says. "He had a different swing, and the rappers that free-styled on his tapes became superstars."
As DJ Screw's style became influential beyond Houston, so too did his drug of choice. In February 2000, a Three 6 Mafia song, "Sippin' on Some Syrup," peaked at number 30 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, taking drank to new heights. Eight months later, DJ Screw was found dead on the bathroom floor of his Houston recording studio. He was 29 years old. A medical examiner listed the cause of death as an overdose of codeine, along with marijuana and alcohol.
Screw was mourned as a visionary, but his demise didn't slow the spread of the substance that had caused it. Nor did the 2007 codeine-related deaths of Texas rappers Pimp C, who was featured on "Sippin' on Some Syrup," and Big Moe, whose first album dubbed Houston the "City of Syrup."
The drug's reach today is hard to quantify. It's not tracked by any one agency, and both local and federal officials say it is considered a lower priority than other prescription medications that have ravaged America in recent years, such as fentanyl and oxycodone. Miami-based Homeland Security agents say they don't have figures: "If we don't see it, we don't know how much is there," spokesman Nestor Yglesias says.
But in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, more than 11,000 emergency room visits were attributed to nonmedical syrup use, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That year, the National Drug Intelligence Center put out an alert about increased use of the substance, warning about addiction and a limited number of overdose deaths. Experts say side effects include constipation, dental decay, urinary tract infections, insomnia, weight gain, and difficulty standing (which explains the nickname "lean").
"This isn't like the Nyquil you're taking at home," says Salisbury, the Homeland Security agent. "This is really potent stuff."
Despite the pitfalls, many have found the highly addictive drink difficult to put down. Going without it, Lil Wayne told MTV News in 2008, "feels like death in your stomach." He added, "Everybody wants me to stop all this and all that. It ain't that easy."
As more music came out name-checking codeine, a new generation of hip-hop hopefuls started sipping — including some of Miami's most talked-about new rappers. Fat Nick, part of a wild cast of so-called SoundCloud rappers who've built their fan bases online, was one of them. The high-school-dropout-turned-drug-dealer-turned-rapper regularly racks up millions of listens on SoundCloud and has nearly 130,000 followers on Twitter. Last year, he released an album called When the Lean Runs Out, on which he rapped, "Drowning in drink, can you hear me?"
But Fat Nick's ties to lean would soon be overshadowed by another aspiring Miami musician: Harrison Garcia, who had long idolized rappers like Lil Wayne and dreamed of one day finding his place alongside them.
Garcia graduated from Miami Springs High and briefly pursued a career in radiology. His family says he dotes on his sons and his dog.
Photos courtesy of Dania Jimenez
For Cuban kids growing up in Hialeah, listening to traditional music from the island meant inviting harassment from classmates. "If you listened to Cuban music, you were considered a 'ref,'?" says Dania Jimenez, a longtime friend of Garcia's who in 2015 became his godsister through a Santería ritual. "A refugee. People would make fun of you."
So Garcia, like almost every other student at Miami Springs Middle, instead obsessed over rap: Tupac, Biggie, Lil Wayne. He would come home from school and turn it up — loud.
"Sometimes he would drive me crazy," his dad says in Spanish, shaking his head. "Too much of a difference in age. I don't like the music."
Garcia, whom the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami declined to make available for an interview, was raised worlds away from the kind of fame and glitz with which he'd later be associated. At 4 years old in 1994, he began the journey from Cuba to the States in a duffle bag. He and his parents, who asked not to be named due to threats from fans, were detained at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay, in a tent city that swelled with thousands of Cuban and Haitian refugees. When they finally made it to Miami, Garcia's parents carved out a modest life with working-class jobs at Pizza Hut and Macy's. They moved into a house with a crucifix above the door in a quiet Hialeah neighborhood, where they raised Harrison and his younger sister.
As a child, Harrison was inventive and affable. His parents say he worried about classmates whose parents struggled to make ends meet, and often tried to bring just about the entire school over for dinner. He quickly became accustomed to life in America, relishing McDonald's, his PlayStation, and football on TV. When he was around 14, he discovered another interest: making his own beats. He'd spend hours on his computer experimenting and show off his work to his friends.
"He always said that he was going to make it in music," Jimenez recalls. "He would always say, 'I'm going to make it,' and 'You'll see.'"
Garcia grew up to become a "big kid" prone to pulling pranks. Once, when Jimenez was desperate for apple juice, he and some friends, fighting laughter, peed into a bottle and took it to her. She laughs at the memory, insisting he would've never let her actually drink it. He'd get someone's attention just so he could respond with "Derp, derp!" He persuaded Jimenez to buy a three-wheeled Polaris Slingshot and gleefully zoomed down the streets in it, the music blaring and his eyes shielded by a pair of Gucci goggles.
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Beneath all the showboating, those close to him insist, Garcia was a family guy. By his mid-20s, he'd fathered three sons with two women. He doted on the kids, his family says, and his dog Moonrock. After having a nightmare a couple of years ago that his mom had died, he insisted she go to the doctor for a full physical just to be sure she was OK.
For two years after graduating from Miami Springs High, Garcia had attended classes at Miami Dade College, where he studied radiology. But he soon decided college wasn't for him and took a job at UPS, making beats on his laptop around his work schedule. He picked up a lean habit along the way, carrying around Styrofoam cups of cough syrup mixed with cream soda. Jimenez says she was taken aback when she saw him drink cough syrup with eggs and bacon at 8 o'clock in the morning.
"It's a rap thing," she says by way of explanation.
Musically, things began falling into place for Garcia when he linked up with a Miami group called In2Deep. Through that crew, Jimenez says, he met HoodyBaby, whose real name is Omololu Omari Akinlolu. Sometimes mistaken for his better-known friends' bodyguard, the Houston native is a musician himself who became close with Chris Brown after the two met on a basketball court as teenagers. In 2015, he signed to Lil Wayne's label, Young Money Entertainment. When Garcia and HoodyBaby crossed paths around 2010, they struck up a fast friendship, Jimemez says. Garcia quickly won over people in HoodyBaby's circle and, before long, found himself joining the entourages of hip-hop's elite and selling his beats to big-name acts.
It's tough to verify Jimenez's claims about Garcia's musical ties to the artists. Neither HoodyBaby nor Gudda Gudda responded to requests for comment, and Garcia's name doesn't seem to appear in any song credits.
But it's indisputable that he became part of both Brown's and Lil Wayne's crews. Garcia mugged for photos with Brown, and when Brown was filmed arguing with security guards who tried to kick his friends out of a celebrity basketball game last September at the University of Southern California, Garcia was in the group. He also got face time in music videos for songs such as 2015's "Finessin," by Young Money artist Baby E. featuring Lil Wayne, and in last year's "Cut It Freestyle" by HoodyBaby.
"Look, Mami! Look!" his mother remembers him saying, pulling up the videos to show her.
As Garcia's visibility increased, so did his Instagram followers; by last summer, he'd amassed 36,000. His photos portrayed a high-rolling, gangster-esque lifestyle: guns, designer duds, weed, diamond-covered grills and chains. In one post, he spelled out the word "broke" in bills. In another, he flashed his tats of Scarface brandishing an assault rifle and Richie Rich laundering money in a washing machine. And in a third, he posed beside six bottles of prescription cough syrup.
Jimenez thought he should lay off posting pictures of drugs. "How many times did we fight about that?" she says. "And he's like, 'Well, what the fuck, how many people are posting on social media? Why are they going to come and target me?'"
But drugs repeatedly got Garcia in trouble. Between 2011 and 2015, he was arrested six times for drug-related offenses. The most serious came in 2013, when he was charged with possession of marijuana and cocaine with intent to distribute. Adjudication was withheld in that case, and the judge sentenced Garcia to probation.
Despite his legal problems, things kept looking up for Garcia. Last year, he and Jimenez launched an exotic-car rental company, banking on reeling in customers through Garcia's social media clout. He filed paperwork with the state for A-1 Exotic Car Rentals, and a friend who couldn't make payments on her Porsche loaned the luxury car out.
Last summer, Jimenez says, Garcia called her with his biggest news yet: He'd been asked to accompany Chris Brown on an international tour. For a moment, the line was silent as the magnitude of the invite sank in. Then Garcia spoke up again: "I'm really going to make it with these people," he said.
Days later, he was photographed beside the rapper on an airport runway in Albania and then on his private plane. By last summer, Jimenez says, Garcia had moved into a condo on the beach with HoodyBaby.
"Being out of Hialeah and making it where he was making it, it was amazing," she says. "He really was going places."
Promethazine with codeine syrup is typically mixed with Sprite to make lean, which is often sipped from a double-stacked Styrofoam cup, AKA a double cup.
Photos by Kristin Bjørnsen
Hours before dawn on a warm spring morning, three men in hooded sweatshirts hurried to the locked front door of a Walgreens in Pembroke Pines. One of them, his hands covered with white socks, used a large yellow crowbar to pry open the door, and the trio slipped inside.
The men rushed through the silent store, smashed a glass case packed with prescription medicine, and pulled out more than a thousand oxycodone pills and a pint of promethazine codeine cough syrup. Within two minutes of the April 16, 2016 break-in, the three had disappeared with nearly $3,000 in stolen drugs.
It was the same MO employed in dozens of burglaries at CVS, Walgreens, Target, and Navarro pharmacies across South Florida. But this time, Pembroke Pines Police were onto the thieves who had eluded law enforcement for almost a year: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement had placed tracking devices on scores of cough syrup bottles, including the one grabbed at the Pines Walgreens.
Within a month, prosecutors had filed racketeering charges against a ragtag group they believed was led by a 24-year-old aspiring South Florida rapper and felon named Darrish Bernard Martin, who went by "Young Bernie" when he uploaded videos to his 5,000 or so Facebook fans.
But Young Bernie's phone calls from jail would soon convince investigators that they'd missed the real mastermind behind the ring: "It now appears," a Broward Sheriff's Office detective wrote in a December charging document, "that [Harrison] Garcia primarily orchestrated, controlled, and profited from the commission of these crimes."
The cops' path to taking down Cuban Harry started July 23, 2015, when the first pharmacy break-in was reported at a CVS in Hollywood. The thefts came at a fast clip after that, with the perps sometimes hitting two or even three drugstores in one night. A few details were the same in each heist: It was always two to four men, they always ran directly to the pharmacy, and they always used a yellow crowbar.
Their motivation seemed clear. On the streets, cough syrup can command as much as $4,000 a pint for the Wockhardt brand, which is the variety "reserved for the Lil Wayne types," says Salisbury, the Homeland Security agent. "It's very lucrative."
A patchwork of agencies began trying to crack the burglary ring in the summer of 2015. Around the same time, federal investigators were turning their attention toward Garcia. They had discovered his Instagram account, clicked through the images of guns and drugs, and concluded he was "bragging about his life as 'the plug': a drug dealer."
Months would pass before the two cases dovetailed, but the pharmacy burglary scheme was the first to unravel. In April 2016, the tracking devices on stolen cough syrup bottles led cops to a Buick Regal in Miami Gardens. Inside was a clear sign investigators had made a break: a yellow crowbar. Authorities connected the car to Martin, whose social media accounts showed pictures of him beside bottles of cough syrup with the same serial numbers as the ones stolen from the Pembroke Pines Walgreens.
Martin and the other alleged drugstore bandits, Bryan Pitter and Alonzo Hinson, were arrested May 10. Pitter blamed Martin, telling investigators the young rapper had organized the burglaries and paid participants $800 for each hit. Authorities deemed Martin the ringleader.
But last June, a Broward Sheriff's detective began listening to recordings of calls Martin made from jail in which he allegedly directed his girlfriend Chantelle Ponce and her little brother Raul to continue the pharmacy break-ins. On one May 2016 call, Martin and Chantelle Ponce discussed selling Percocet. Another man was on the line, but authorities didn't know his identity.
The feds, meanwhile, were closing in on Garcia. A few months after Martin, Pitter, and Hinson were arrested, agents set up two drug buys from Garcia, one of them at a Taco Bell. Agents watched as he left the house on NW 29th Street and exchanged two pints of codeine promethazine cough syrup and marijuana for $2,630 cash. Later, they searched a trash bin near the home and found discarded cough syrup bottles. They obtained a warrant to search his direct messages on Instagram, finding what they say was a trove of messages about the sale of cough syrup and other narcotics.
That evidence allowed them to set up the October 18 raid, shortly after Garcia returned from touring with Brown. Jimenez's roommate Norelys Garcia (no relation to Harrison) and her boyfriend were the only ones home when the feds entered the house with their faces covered and guns drawn.
"All of the sudden we hear, like, a bomb go off," she says, adding that one of her first panicked thoughts was someone must have robbed a bank. "I see a lot of smoke. I see guns. Then they told us to get on the floor."
Over the next five hours, she says, she went from being terrified to annoyed as the house was torn apart and the feds ate all of her Halloween candy. She claims she watched agents ask HoodyBaby and Gudda Gudda for their autographs. She also alleges she overheard Garcia ask for a lawyer, only to be told the two dogs would be shot if he didn't cooperate. Because of that, his lawyers dispute investigators' contention that Garcia confessed to the crime and called Jimenez's house "the trap."
The next day, Garcia was charged with five felonies in federal court, including possession with intent to distribute narcotics, maintaining drug-involved premises, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug crime. The last charge came because of the guns in the house and in the Suburban when he was pulled over, as well as all the weapons he'd photographed on Instagram. Jimenez was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator; the feds claim Garcia paid her so he could run the drug operation out of her house.
Things were about to get worse for Cuban Harry. Shortly after her October arrest, Chantelle Ponce told investigators from FDLE and the Broward Sheriff's Office that Garcia was behind all the pharmacy thefts. He was also the mystery man on the phone, investigators concluded.
"Ponce stated that Harrison Garcia would pay Martin $7,000 per burglary," Garcia's state-level arrest report says.
Records from Garcia's phone showed text messages with photos of cough syrup exchanged between Martin, Raul Ponce, and Garcia dating back to April 2016, the cops say. It's not clear how the men knew each other. Ponce told authorities that Garcia and Martin met in 2015. Jimenez claims Garcia knew the group and bought syrup from them, but only for his own personal use. His alleged role in the ring landed him a felony count of conspiracy to engage in racketeering activity, filed in December by the Office of Statewide Prosecution.
Four months later, Garcia's federal trial began. On the stand, Homeland Security Investigations Agent Kevin Selent broke the news that the feds were investigating Lil Wayne and Chris Brown, adding that Garcia had confessed to selling Lil Wayne "a lot of narcotics." When pressed, the agent refused to explain further, saying the case remained under investigation. An explosion of headlines followed in outlets from Spin to Jezebel to Breitbart to XXL.
Prosecutors produced a screenshot of a text message from a Louisiana number asking for "sum good." Garcia allegedly sent the image to a friend, writing, "Wayne just hit me," and then adding, "Don't show that phone # to nobody."
Also presented at the federal trial: a screenshot of a $15,000 deposit purportedly from Chris Brown. Garcia sent that image to a friend, writing, "Look who just put money in my account." When the friend asked what it was for, Garcia responded, "Drugs. Lean and shit," along with a line of smiley faces. (Garcia's family and attorneys insist that there's no proof he snitched and that besides alienating him from his friends, the allegations have put his safety at risk.)
Over the five days of trial, lawyers for Garcia argued the guns, cash, and drugs from his Instagram account were just props in a bid to gain street cred as a rapper. "My client is a 27-year-old schmuck," attorney Gustavo Lage said. "He is a kid who talks big and is trying to be something he's not."
Jurors weren't convinced. On April 10, they convicted Garcia on all counts. They spent just four hours deliberating, but Judge Patricia A. Seitz noted they seemed "traumatized." Garcia's attorneys and his parents, who were in the courtroom, were stunned.
Prosecutors argued that Garcia didn't simply present a tough-guy persona online: He was the dangerous criminal behind a major trafficking operation. "It's clear he has reason to protect himself — he's dealing drugs," Assistant U.S. Attorney Rilwan Adeduntan said during closing arguments.
Salisbury, of Homeland Security, tells New Times the agency believes Garcia was also involved in two shootings — something Agent Selent testified to in trial. But the agency refused to offer any details on when or where and acknowledged no one was charged.
Though Garcia was a codeine fiend, Jimenez says the image prosecutors created in court — of a big-time drug dealer with a luxurious lifestyle to go along with it — was mostly a façade. Most of the items they seized weren't his, she claims.
"They made it seem like he's Pablo Escobar or El Chapo," she says. "No. The cars and all the property they took from him, none of it was his."
Standing outside the seafoam-green house where Harrison Garcia grew up, his mother clasps her hands as if in prayer and shakes them. With her open, friendly face and petite stature, she looks younger than her years, even though stress has stolen her sleep and siphoned off 20 pounds.
"I hope something good happens, because it's crazy, it's crazy," she says, shaking her head. "I hope."
Almost a year after the feds burst into the Westchester house, the aftershocks from that day continue to be felt. Just how far they'll go remains to be seen — authorities have been tight-lipped about whether Lil Wayne or Chris Brown could face charges. At the same time, Garcia is still waiting to learn his fate. His federal sentencing — at which he'll be sentenced to somewhere between three decades and life — is scheduled for July 17; state prosecutors have yet to schedule a trial on their felony charge.
Some argue the sentence Garcia faces is far too steep. That's his parents' belief, of course: "My son killed nobody," his mother says. But they aren't alone.
Peters, the researcher, also questions the scale of Garcia's charges, saying the problem is bigger than one person. "The drugs that are used by minorities always are stratified in a way where they're penalized more," he adds.
Prosecutions over dealing cough syrup appear to be rare. But members of another cough syrup-selling ring, which dumped 97,000 pints of promethazine/codeine onto Houston streets in a four-year span, received no more than seven years behind bars. Lucita Uy and Lemuel Uy Libunao and the Houston dealers they delivered the drugs to — Christopher Lamont Crawford and Kendra Patrice Manigault — were all charged federally with money laundering, which does not carry the mandatory minimum sentence of using weapons in a drug-dealing crime. Only Lucita Uy remains behind bars; her release date is set for next year.
Most of the South Florida cough syrup ring is still awaiting trial in state court. Two of the defendants, Chantelle Ponce and Bryan Pitter, have taken plea deals and agreed to work with the state.
The federal case is still considered open, but no one is really talking about it. A representative for Chris Brown did not respond to a request for comment about his relationship to Garcia. When a New Times reporter called the number listed in federal court records as Lil Wayne's cell, the man who answered said, "Man, please don't call my phone about nothing you asking about. I don't know nothing." Then he hung up.
It's the first time Homeland Security's Miami office has busted a lean dealer, Salisbury says: "We hope we've sent a message." Garcia's attorneys have filed an appeal in the federal case, arguing the court erred by allowing extensive social media evidence and testimony from Selent, among other things. They also argue prosecutors had little to prove the charge that Garcia possessed weapons in furtherance of a drug crime — just Instagram pictures and the fact that drugs and guns were in the Chevy when it was pulled over the day of the raid. It was that charge that landed Garcia with the lengthy mandatory sentence.
"The government's case was based on hearsay and innuendo," the motion claims.
Garcia's parents are putting their hopes into the appeal. But in the meantime, they take their three grandchildren to the downtown detention center every Sunday. They've told the boys, who are all under the age of 5, that their dad is in school.
As for Jimenez, she says she's moved out of the house on 29th Street and poured money into Garcia's defense. Brushing back tears, she says she's given up something else: rap.
"I've kind of crossed everybody off my list," she says. "I don't listen to anything or anybody anymore."
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