Day 4: From the Emerald Triangle to the Sunflower State
Brand names of marijuana involved in the case.
• Bubba Kush
• Purple Kush
• Headband Kush
• OG Kush
• Silver Haze
• Sour D
• December 2005: Peter Park starts a Kansas City-area tire and wheel shop called California Connections Inc.
• January 2006: Park joins with other drug dealers to import marijuana from Canada, allegedly through Jean Francois Quintin, a former professional hockey player in Kansas City.
• 2006-2010: Park partners with other area drug traffickers to buy bulk quantities of marijuana from growers in Northern California. Park’s business partner, Wayne Swift, moves to California to manage the supply.
• December 2010: Park and Swift’s business, now called CCI Motorsports Inc., operates from offices in Hayward, Calif., and Kansas City, Kan.
• January 2012: Federal agents obtain a court-ordered wiretap on suspected Lawrence drug dealer Los Rovell Dahda.
• February 2012: Federal agents track the shipment of a 1,100-pound package from the California Connections office in Hayward to Kansas City, Kan., and catch Dahda and Park discussing the delivery by phone.
• May 2012: A federal judge orders a wiretap on Park’s cell phone.
• June 2012: Park is arrested and his Olathe home is raided. Federal agents find a collection of loaded guns.
• January 2013: Swift pleads guilty to a federal drug conspiracy charge.
• March 2013: Park pleads guilty to drug conspiracy charge and illegal firearm charge.
How they were involved
• Peter C. Park, 42, Olathe: One of the principal alleged drug traffickers indicted in the case, Park used front businesses, such as an auto parts shop and a clothing store, to smuggle marijuana from California to Kansas. Several drug dealers who bought pounds of marijuana from Park have been convicted in the case. Park has pleaded guilty to the conspiracy and a federal gun charge, and awaits sentencing.
• Wayne S. Swift, 39, Hayward, Calif.: Managed the California offices of an auto parts business, shipping bulk quantities of marijuana to his Park’s offices in Kansas City, Kan. The marijuana was concealed in packages marked “wheels,” and distributed among local drug dealers in Lawrence, Johnson County and Kansas City. Arrested in California in November 2012, Swift pleaded guilty to a federal drug conspiracy charge in January and awaits sentencing.
• Jacob Paul Forbes, 31, Lawrence: Accused of dealing drugs he bought from Park. Forbes also faces burglary and aggravated battery charges in Douglas County, after being accused of injuring a Lawrence woman — who uses a wheelchair — during an alleged dispute over drug sales in February 2012. Forbes has pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges in the case. He was placed in federal custody in April to await sentencing after his bond was revoked following an alleged theft at a local Dillons grocery store.
The road from Northern California’s lush, green cannabis fields to Lawrence did not run in a straight line.
Millions of dollars in precious — but illicit — shipments of marijuana, hidden in trucks, zigged and zagged east through Utah and Nebraska to Kansas City, and sometimes back west to Topeka, before reaching the pipes and bongs of Lawrence. Before the packages of green gold were carried into town, they often had changed hands several times among an ever-shifting chain of merchants.
This business was a tangled web, and sitting at the center of it in early 2012 was Peter Park, an Olathe entrepreneur known in his drug-dealing network as “Spiderman,” according to court documents. For several years, much of the marijuana in Lawrence went through Park’s hands, until he was caught in a sweep of arrests in Douglas and Johnson counties on June 13, 2012, and charged in a 43-person federal indictment.
The case, investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the IRS and local law enforcement agencies, was the biggest in Lawrence history and included the seizure of hundreds of pounds of drugs, dozens of guns, acres of land and millions of dollars in cash and property.
In the end, the sheer mass of the confiscated drugs and weapons was impressive even to police, said Sgt. Trent McKinley, a Lawrence Police Department spokesman. “Gathered all in one place, it really looked like something,” he said.
But how much impact the investigation will have on drugs in Lawrence over the long term isn’t clear, McKinley said.
Park, who sold auto parts and clothing in Kansas City, has been identified by law enforcement as a central player in an eccentric marijuana distribution conspiracy that linked businessmen and ex-cons in Lawrence with marijuana farmers in the “Emerald Triangle,” a tri-county area in Northern California renowned for openly growing high-quality marijuana.
The linchpin of the scheme was a tire and wheel business Park ran with a partner, Wayne S. Swift.
CCI Motorsports Inc., also doing business as California Connections Inc., was really a cover for smuggling marijuana and cocaine from company offices in Hayward, Calif., to Kansas City, Kan., according to court documents.
In California, Swift secreted the marijuana, sometimes 30 pounds at a time, into crates marked “wheels,” which he shipped by commercial trucking line to Park in Kansas City, Kan. Sometimes, several ounces of cocaine would be included, authorities say.
Once delivered, Park supplied the drugs to dealers from Meyer Boulevard in Kansas City, Mo., to 23rd Street in Lawrence. Park’s business was a hub for all sorts of local characters, allegedly including a former professional hockey player in Kansas City and a Lawrence drug dealer facing trial for beating a woman in a wheelchair over a drug debt. A variety of street-level drug operations spun around Park like the spokes of a wheel.
Park’s group also appears to have been loosely connected with two other drug-dealing networks in Lawrence, pooling their money, sharing suppliers and branching off to form their own supply chains.
A pound of pot bought in California for $2,000 sold for $4,000 in Lawrence, and the fragmented conspiracy that Park helped orchestrate generated about $17 million in revenue from 2005 to 2012, according to federal prosecutors.
The crazy-quilt organization is typical of what experts see in many drug trafficking networks, according to Howard Campbell, a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas-El Paso, who studies the drug war in the U.S.-Mexico border region. It’s likely, Campbell said, that some defendants in this case have never heard of many of the other people listed in the indictment.
“In organized crime, you often have these cell-like structures, segmented in groups where the tail isn’t really connected to the head,” Campbell said. “It often appears sort of disorganized and ad hoc when these people get busted.”
Part of the reason such groups aren’t tightly organized is that drug dealers don’t want everyone in the business to know their name and address, Campbell said.
Following that model, the so-called “Spiderman” had woven his web carefully and avoided detection for years — until 2012.
‘It could be anybody’
Park didn’t make it easy for investigators to catch him. He lived quietly with his wife and two children in Olathe and had little contact with local police beyond a couple of traffic tickets. Neighbors said they liked Park’s family and were shocked when he was arrested. Outwardly, there was little in the life of the 1989 Shawnee Mission South graduate to raise suspicion.
When Park and Swift, his California partner, talked on the phone, they spoke Korean to foil any federal agents who might be listening in. From the outside, all appeared normal.
There is no profile of a marijuana dealer, according to David Mizell, assistant special agent in charge of the DEA’s Kansas City office. “It could be anybody.”
But Park’s operation was similar to what Mizell described as the current common practice of a marijuana wholesaler working in the Midwest. California is the best place to buy marijuana in bulk right now, Mizell said, and smuggling in semitrailers is one of the most effective means of moving large quantities.
“They’ll go wherever they think they can get away with it,” Mizell said. “People who are operating as a business will have to try to hide it somewhere.”
To hide his drug sales, Park maintained a string of business fronts and storage spaces throughout the Kansas City area that, prosecutors say, he used to store and distribute the marijuana and cocaine. The businessman used his clothing store, Fashion in Motion, at 1140 Meyer Blvd., to meet some of his customers, a clientele that included a Kansas City, Kan., strip mall owner convicted of cocaine dealing and weapons charges, and a Kansas City, Mo., woman who investigators say also was dealing bath salts.
For a long time, it worked. Park and Swift were veterans in the business.
The California Connection scheme was only the latest in a series of smuggling networks the two men had set up, according to law enforcement officials. In the past, they had partnered with distributors in Lawrence to buy marijuana in bulk from Canada, with former Kansas City Blades hockey player Jean Francois Quintin allegedly acting as their middleman.
According to prosecutors, Quintin arranged for planes and vehicles to bring the marijuana south to Park and Swift in Johnson County, but was stuck with an $80,000 debt when they left him to pursue better suppliers in California. Quintin, who has continued to coach youth league hockey since being indicted in the conspiracy last year, has not been convicted and his case still is working its way through the court system. An attorney representing him did not respond to a request for comment.
Park did things carefully, but his drug network stretched in so many directions, and included so many people, that eventually a federal wiretap investigation that began in Lawrence in early 2012 led back to his Kansas City auto parts store. DEA agents heard Park on the phone referring to pounds of marijuana as “phones,” “cases” and by the brand names of different marijuana strains, such as “HBK” and “Bubba.”
When the DEA tapped Park’s phone in April 2012, agents were plugged into all of his connections, from Kansas City to Lawrence and Mendocino, Calif. They quickly cracked his code words and brought in a Korean interpreter to translate his conversations with Swift.
The ‘4-20’ holiday
English or not, many of Park’s phone conversations were easy for eavesdropping federal agents to understand, as transcribed in court documents. For example, Park was recorded talking about a shipment of marijuana with Jacob Forbes, who prosecutors say was one of Park’s dealers.
Park: “Hey, uh, um, I’ll give you a call later, um, I think those used phones might be coming in today.”
Forbes: “That’d be awesome,” Forbes added that he would “get everything together,” if the “phones” were ready that evening.
Park: “If that’s the case, I might not have it all nicely, you know, packaged for your customers, but if um, I might still be able to do that, you know?”
Forbes: “If not man, I can deal with that part, because you know today’s a holiday for a lot of.”
The phone call was recorded on April 20, 2012. And, as the federal agents dryly noted in court documents, the date 4-20 is widely celebrated by marijuana enthusiasts.
When federal agents closed the investigation, suddenly arresting dozens of alleged drug traffickers and dealers in Lawrence and Johnson County on June 13, they interrogated many of the suspects. Weeks later, the agents made a second round of arrests that included several Northern California residents accused of supplying Park and his partners.
Both Park and Swift have pleaded guilty to the drug conspiracy, which carries a mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison. Park also pleaded guilty to a federal gun charge after agents raided his Olathe home and found four loaded guns. An associate of Park, arrested in Overland Park, had an even larger stockpile of 10 shotguns, pistols and semi-automatic rifles. He told police the weapons were for protecting his drugs and money.
More than half of the 43 people ultimately indicted in the case have pleaded guilty, signed agreements with prosecutors to cooperate and are awaiting sentencing. Some of those plea agreements remain secret, sealed by the federal court in Kansas City, Kan. Other defendants, according to their attorneys, may go to trial next year.
Those who haven’t made deals with prosecutors may be out of luck, even if their involvement in the case is much less than others, said Gregory D. Lee, retired DEA supervisor and criminal justice consultant. Oftentimes, he said, the information you have to trade is far more important to your future than what crimes you’ve committed.
On the street
Who has talked to federal investigators, and what they said, remains unclear, as do the identities of three confidential informants described in court documents. That uncertainty contributed to a chilling effect on the local drug trade, Lawrence police say.
Local marijuana dealers were skittish after the arrests last June 13, complaining that their best suppliers were either locked up or lying low. And the pot they could find wasn’t the same high-quality product they’d grown accustomed to.
Those were the reports that undercover police in the drug enforcement unit brought back after talking with Lawrence dealers, according to Sgt. Trent McKinley, a Lawrence Police Department spokesman.
The drug business in Lawrence appeared to slow down, McKinley said, at least for a while. Even long after the arrests, many of those charged in the case are still working through the courts, and possibly making deals with prosecutors to trade information for years off of their prison sentences.
“People hear about that, and they are concerned,” McKinley said. “The paranoia builds. Investigations are living, breathing animals.”
Many suppliers and smaller dealers stopped taking calls from customers as they waited for the other shoe to drop. For them, the questions were troubling. How many people have your phone number? Who is talking? Whom can you trust?
And yet, marijuana still is widely available in Lawrence, as anyone can smell at a local concert or party. “It did come back,” McKinley said. There were suppliers in Lawrence other than those arrested last year, and more stepped in to fill the void, investigators say. “Whether we’re back at 100 percent, or where we were before, that’s hard to say,” McKinley said.
Local police continue writing citations and making arrests. The federal investigation of 2012 was good police work, McKinley said. It cost a lot of taxpayer money, but it took a huge amount of drugs and guns off of the street.
The costs and benefits for the Lawrence community of such extraordinary investigations are hard to calculate, McKinley said.
“This isn’t going to eradicate drugs in Lawrence — we all know that,” he said. “But in the history of Douglas County, it was significant.”