This week, New Times took a deep dive into what authorities say was a huge "purple drank" ring that supplied codeine-and-promethazine cough syrup (AKA "liquid heroin") to hip-hop stars such as Chris Brown and Lil Wayne. Harrison Garcia, the group's alleged ringleader, was arrested earlier this year for running a drug ring that robbed pharmacies of cough syrup so rappers could mix it with Sprite and a Jolly Rancher or two and turn the mixture into what's also called "lean."
Miami is an apt headquarters for a hip-hop codeine ring because of the city's infamous drug history. Name the substance, and you can pretty much bet a ring of organized outlaws spent time smuggling it through the Magic City. Don't believe us? Here are some recent examples:
Last week, Miami Beach Police busted a brazen cocaine and gambling operation run out of South Beach's VFW hall. An illegal betting machine ran out in the open in the smoky South Beach bar, police say, while a bartender and a regular openly sold drugs.
But the police failed to mention a few key facts that suggest those alleged criminals were even bolder than advertised. New Times has learned that not only do the Miami Beach police and fire unions hold regular meetings inside the VFW, but also the city's police chief, Dan Oates, lives in the condo building in which the now-shuttered bar is located.
Per the Miami Herald:
The investigation that cracked open one of the largest synthetic drug rings in Miami history began with an angry naked porn star jumping on her boyfriend’s white Porsche.
The police call to that lovers spat would eventually lift the lid on a cast of characters straight out of a Hollywood buddy movie. In the leading roles: Matthew Anich and Jorge Ramon Hernandez, two guys who boasted seemingly straight-arrow backgrounds of college degrees and military experience but also shared a taste for Miami’s flashy club culture.
They pumped iron, co-owned a tattoo shop, drove fancy cars and chased an array of party girls — all while, prosecutors say, secretly importing club drugs from shady Chinese labs and enlisting a crew of well-placed associates: Sexual conquests wired money overseas and picked up shipments; strippers and at least one DJ peddled pills that brought in millions of dollars.
On September 1, a Miami-Dade Police detective walked into Kareta Kafe on Bird Road in West Miami-Dade and sat down at the bar. He ordered a beer, which the bartender happily handed over.
He then ordered $20 worth of cocaine, and the bartender gave him that too.
According to police reports, Kareta Kafe was operating under the most aggressively South Florida business model: Undercover cops say they spent two months blatantly ordering cocaine at Kareta — including one huge, $140 "eightball" — all while calmly sipping beer, coffee, whiskey, and bottled water at the bar.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Miami New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Miami's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
By now, most Floridians know the story of how their state became the epicenter of a deadly pill-mill epidemic. Between 2005 and 2010, lax state rules helped shady clinics peddle record amounts of narcotic painkillers, as deaths due to prescription drugs exploded by 12 percent each year in the Sunshine State; oxycodone-related fatalities spiked by 35 percent annually.
But few know the real story of the people who did the dealing, the legit drug hustlers like Valdes who lived a life of guns and women while making big-money oxy deals out of suburban strip-mall parking lots. Valdes' tale — told in a new self-published book, Pill Mill: My Years of Money, Madness, Sex, and Drugs, and backed up with public records and interviews with his family and associates — illuminates one of the darkest chapters in South Florida's drug-fueled history.
The story is more important now than ever, as addiction specialists grapple with a new heroin crisis, which many say came straight out of the crackdown on pills. From 2012 to 2013, heroin-related deaths jumped 39 percent. A 2014 survey found three out of four heroin addicts started by using prescription drugs.
For months, Lila Steinhoff wondered what was going on in the middle bay of the peach-colored warehouse across from her home. When the wind came out of the north or northeast, the pungent stench of nail-polish remover wafted from the small commercial site onto her quiet side street in West Palm Beach. And unlike the other 9-to-5 businesses in the warehouse, the middle bay kept its employees working erratic hours.
"People came and went in the night. It had the strange odor," says Steinhoff, a plump 64-year-old with short silver hair and bifocal glasses. "You live and let live in this neighborhood. But it was a concern enough."
At a quarter past 5 p.m. Monday, May 21, a deafening explosion roared over Steinhoff's head. The walls of her house expanded and contracted, as if they had taken a deep breath and let out a sigh of relief that they were still standing.
Thirty yards away, a fury of fire spewed from the warehouse. The metal garage door of the middle bay blasted off its hinges and soared 75 feet before crashing down on a neighbor's roof. Dense waves of noxious black smoke poured into the late-afternoon sky.
Steinhoff grabbed her phone, called the fire department, and turned on her camera to document the mayhem. Mixed in with the firefighters and police officers was a small unit from the Drug Enforcement Administration working a first-of-its-kind case.
Inside the poorly ventilated space were at least five gallons of acetone — whose fumes had fueled the blast — seven industrial cement mixers, and thousands of packets of Mr. Nice Guy herbal incense.