Ahh yes....the 90's. If you were a teenager during this time and you were living in the US, you may have been part of the hallucination generation.
I was living in New Mexico and had just started high school (1990). My high school years could be described as a psychedelic whirl wind of skateboarding, girls and ACID.
At that time, it was easier for me to buy a hit of acid than get my hands on a beer or weed. It was every where and it was cheap! I never gave any consideration as to why or where it was coming from. As I grew older, I began to wonder about this. Where did all that LSD come from and why was it so readily available in my neighborhood??
A friend of mine told me about two men named named William Leonard Pickard and Clyde Apperson. The rest is history..
Here is some information about him and his operation.
Suspicious Silo: Cold War relic site of LSD-related intrigue
There were suspicions about what was happening northwest of town, but Wamgeo residents had no idea of what was really going on.
By Tim Richardson
WAMEGO -- A hair cut and beard trim cost $13 at Al Miller's barber shop, but one customer always slapped about $50 on the counter.
Sometimes he would use the telephone, often he would discuss his lofty financial status, but the barber said Gordon Todd Skinner always had money to burn.
Skinner lived at 16795 Say Road. His home was a decommissioned missile base located just northwest of Wamego. He was the first in a string of strangers that made appearances in 2000 around this small, northeast Kansas community.
William Leonard Pickard and Clyde Apperson, both from the San Francisco Bay area, visited the missile base last year. They captured the attention of Kansas and the nation in November when authorities made a sizable dent in the world's supply of LSD.
"We don't have that every day," said Ken Seager, chief of the Wamego Police Department, about the arrests. "That was going to be a big operation. It just got nipped in the bud before it got cranked up."
Curiosity had been brewing among Miller and law enforcement officials, who had become suspicious of activities stirring in the Cold War relic. Two days after the Californians arrived, authorities discovered their escalating suspicions had been warranted.
But what a bizarre alliance it would come to be -- the strangers, an illegal drug that hasn't been widely used for 40 years and a converted missile silo in a small Kansas town.
'A product of the '60s'
San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, once headquarters of the 1960s counterculture, has morphed into several blocks of trendy storefronts catering to tourists' fascination with the days when the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin ruled the charts.
Still, the spirit of the Summer of Love lingers. The strangers who arrived in Kansas originated from the Bay Area's bastion of liberalism.
Rolling Stone magazine contributing editor Peter Wilkinson visited Topeka twice to interview Pickard, a gray-haired Harvard graduate who had thwarted authorities for nearly 18 hours after he and Apperson were stopped Nov. 6, 2000. Wilkinson entered the Shawnee County Jail shortly after Christmas, where he first met Pickard face-to-face.
"He's a product of the '60s, obviously, and someone who has certainly clung to those ideals, even as he has gotten older," Wilkinson said. "I think he was somebody who found himself in trouble from time to time over the years of his life and it seemed he was trying to chart a new course."
Pickard and Apperson were stopped by authorities after leaving the abandoned missile silo. Apperson was apprehended near Wamego after a brief foot chase. Pickard dashed.
A farmer told police the following afternoon that a man had fallen asleep in a farm implement on his property. Authorities found Pickard about 18 hours after the hunt began.
Pickard and Apperson are charged with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute more than 10 grams of LSD and possession with intent to sell more than 10 grams of LSD. Those offenses could land them behind bars for life.
During a motions hearing on July 21, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Rogers said he had intended to hear evidence. The date was moved after prosecutors learned that confidential information had leaked to reporters. Rogers ruled that only attorneys who had made an appearance in court could review the documents.
The two sides will square off during a motions hearing at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 17.
Court documents indicate both rented vehicles Pickard and Apperson drove to the silo contained a complete LSD laboratory, including glassware and equipment used to make the drug, by-products of past reactions and 6 ounces of ergotamine tartrate. ET is a heavily regulated precursor chemical used as prescription migraine headache medicine and to induce labor, according to court documents. Authorities said the $600,000 worth of ET in their possession is consistent only with manufacturing large amounts of LSD.
Authorities estimate the amount of ET in the vehicles would produce about 15 million doses of the drug.
A court document indicates Pickard has a "substantial criminal history." His record dates back to 1964, when court documents show he was arrested by the Montgomery (Ala.) Police Department in connection with forging checks.
Pickard remains deep in the legal system, although in his home state of California, a document dated Nov. 15, 2000, indicates that San Francisco's district attorney remains in his corner.
Court documents show that a search warrant at Pickard's California residence by District Attorney Terence Hallinan stated "when I was in private practice I represented Leonard Pickard on some legal matters. I always found him to be an honorable person who kept his word."
'Philosophy of psychedelics'
The case attracted the attention of national publications and several major daily newspapers.
In addition to Rolling Stone, The San Francisco Chronicle and newspapers in San Jose and Sacramento reported the story. A London Times reporter traversed the Atlantic Ocean to visit Wamego. ABC's 20/20 news magazine also contacted authorities in the area.
David Smith, founder and medical director of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, said the case made headlines throughout the Bay Area. Smith, who started the clinic in June 1967, has been involved in LSD research since the clinic's inception.
He said although the perception is that drugs originate in large cities, trafficking patterns are switching to rural areas.
"That just challenges all stereotypes and very often public policy is based on stereotypes," Smith said. "You don't have the law enforcement effort (in rural areas), you don't have the treatment because it can't happen here. It only happens in San Francisco."
He doesn't expect LSD to follow the pattern of methamphetamine, which Smith said has become a problem in much of rural America.
Whether the location is the West Coast or Topeka, authorities said LSD isn't the drug of choice.
Lt. John Sidwell of the Topeka Police Department said the department occasionally "will come across a couple of hits of LSD." He said the availability of other narcotics, such as crack-cocaine and methamphetamine, make those drugs more popular in the city.
"LSD was a big item back here in the '70s, but has pretty much dwindled down to just a few every once in a while at this point," Sidwell said.
In San Francisco, drug-users prefer meth, black-tar heroine or ecstasy.
"Ecstasy is used more because LSD is more potent than ecstasy," Smith said. "In 1967 they wanted to take LSD and have the universe dissolve and see God, and now they just want to take ecstasy and have the walls wiggle a little so they can dance."
The Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic has provided medical services for several rock concerts where drugs were present. When the Grateful Dead took the stage and LSD was the drug of choice, Smith said, the concerts were almost free of violence. Add meth and alcohol to the mix, and security officials can have their hands full, he said.
Smith said demand for meth far outpaces that of LSD. He said the psychedelic drug likely won't become a mainstay in Kansas, as meth has.
"Where you will see the LSD is around your college towns," he said. "Our research indicates that drugs like ecstasy and LSD tend to cluster around your universities, so it's not a state-specific, but an institutional-specific thing."
Smith said meth manufacturers use the drug to make money and get high, whereas the "philosophy of psychedelics" shows that LSD makers are more interested in a societal benefit. He said the potential for large-scale LSD production near the Wamego silo indicates that money might have been a motivation.
"In the beginning there was no question that the LSD dealers had a different philosophy, but the LSD manufacturers and dealers in the year 2000 kind of borrow from that '60s idealism," he said. "But you don't make as much as they (Pickard and Apperson) were making without financial motivation."
A parade of Ryder trucks
Suspicion about activity at the missile silo had already spread through Wamego and law enforcement officials, who were becoming increasingly curious about the missile base. Officers from the Wamego Police Department and a Pottawatomie County Sheriff's Department deputy were among several people hired to provide security at the facility.
Wamego Police Chief Seager said they hadn't provided security for more than a year when the LSD bust occurred in November 2000.
"We were just trying to figure out what was happening," Seager said. "It was kind of odd -- the money being spent and not that much activity."
Seager said the law enforcement officials, and others who weren't involved in law enforcement, had private contracts to provide security. After a system of cameras was installed, he said the security officials became unnecessary at the silo.
Authorities said springs were manufactured in the facility. Pottawatomie County Sheriff Greg Riat said he is unsure how the springs -- some as small as the tip of a ball-point pen -- were used or who received the springs. Skinner's mother had operated a similar business in Tulsa, Okla.
"If you just stop and look, there are springs in a lot of stuff," Riat said.
A spokesperson with the Wamego Police Department, who asked not to be identified, said the men planned to leave the compound on that November day with chemicals that were stored at the facility. The source said about three to five large sheds were located in the area.
Seager said Skinner had spent a lot of money to renovate the silo, adding that "it was a nice place inside there."
LSD was never manufactured in the abandoned silo, Seager said, although materials were present for producing the drug. He said the operation apparently was going to supplement LSD production on the West Coast.
Linda Lada, who owns Prairie Ridge Beauty Shop located near the entrance of the missile base, said the resurrected base had piqued the interest of area residents. She said she was unsure why people continued to arrive at the base after the spring factory had apparently shut its doors.
"I walk my dog every morning and night and I kept just seeing those Ryder trucks going by," Lada said.
Riat said although residents who lived nearby might have noticed unusual behavior, curiosity didn't spread to the rest of the community.
"My hope is that this does not give any bad publicity," Riat said. "This has not affected the people of Wamego. It's still a proud community."
Riat was a detective with the sheriff's department while much of the activity occurred. He said he witnessed "unusual behavior" at the missile base, although he remained tight-lipped, citing a request from the DEA and a continuing investigation.
"It's sad that it had to happen," he said, "and it's even sadder it had to happen here."
A first-hand look
Before the case captured headlines, Miller, the barber, got a first-hand look into the missile base.
"That one room looked like a war room where they had all kinds of stuff on the ceilings," Miller said. "He had a bathroom that had a sauna in it, Italian marble flown in from Italy, he had jade around the edges. It was just something."
The barber wrote off Skinner as a "spoiled brat." He knew Skinner's mother had a trust fund, and Skinner had said that he had dabbled in several business ventures. On at least one occasion, Miller said Skinner gave a grocery store employee a $10 tip for his assistance.
Skinner's luck ran out when he was charged in April with involuntary manslaughter in connection with a drug-overdose death. Pottawatomie County attorney Barry Wilkerson said the April 1999 incident occurred in the missile silo.
The charges were filed in Pottawatomie County District Court. Wilkerson said a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 28 in Westmoreland.
Inside Skinner's home there was always a flurry of activity. Workers, some of whom didn't speak English, labored around the silo while cameras closely monitored activity.
"They watched who came and who goes," Miller said. "There was cameras out there I think around the place and there was always people. There was always kind of a different breed running out there. They're kind of a different breed of cat. The whole outfit was kind of suspicious."
Skinner was a regular at Al's Barber and Style Shop, where Miller said the "big tipper" would often ask permission to use the phone. Skinner was always welcomed at the barber shop, although his visits were often sprinkled with special requests.
"He used to be always in a hurry and wanted special service, and I won't do that," Miller said. "One time he offered to give me a lot more than that if I just work him in ahead of somebody. I couldn't do that."
Miller said there was no evidence of drugs or illegal activity inside the silo. He said he spoke to workers inside as they showed him the spring-making process.
"They were very cordial people. They were nice," Miller said. "They were just kind of different and a little suspicious, but I didn't have a problem."
But the missile silo tour only fueled Miller's suspicions.
"We walked out of there and my wife and I said 'something besides springs are going on here,'" he said.
'60s idealism vs. materialistic '90s'
Drug dealers sometimes enter the game for fast money. At least initially, Pickard might have had other motives.
Wilkinson, of Rolling Stone, and Pickard corresponded by mail and telephone after the visit.
Wilkinson purchased two books at Topeka's Barnes and Noble store to learn more about LSD and its history.
Aside from the occasional martini at the Capitol Plaza Hotel bar, he spent most of his time in downtown Topeka or in Wamego. During his two trips to Topeka he spent about seven days in the city.
From his New York City office, Wilkinson said the case offered a chance to learn about an educated man who sought to expand the collective mind of society.
"It's also a way to look at drug culture, which a lot of people feel had sort of faded away," Wilkinson said. "The fact is that LSD is still made. It's still very difficult to identify and arrest the manufacturer."
Authorities had help in the arrest. Wilkinson reported that a phone conversation between Pickard and Skinner was a controlled call -- DEA agents were on the line.
"Beyond a drug story, this is also a story of betrayal and also a story of the collision of two attitudes -- the idealism of the '60s and the pragmatic, more materialistic '90s approach," he said.
'An evangelical quality'
Pickard told Wilkinson that money wasn't initially the motivating factor in manufacturing the drug.
Expanding consciousness was the goal -- something that would benefit society. His future now lies in the hands of society, when a jury decides Pickard's fate.
"Certainly there are people who have made money from the manufacture of LSD, but there is still a certain evangelical quality to the chemists involved," Wilkinson said. "Not to say that Leonard is a chemist. He's been charged with being that, but we'll see."
The acid king
Peter Wilkinson. Rolling Stone. New York: Jul 5, 2001.
LATE LAST YEAR, A NEW PRISONER arrived at the Shawnee County Jail in Topeka, Kansas - a polite beanstalk of a man from the San Francisco Bay Area who stood out among the petty criminals who make up the majority of Shawnee's inmate population. He spoke in a rapid whisper, practiced yoga, meditated in his cell and read difficult books on mathematics and physics. Along with his prison blues, he wore sandals with socks. A princely mane of silver hair fell almost to his shoulders.
The man's name was William Leonard Pickard. A few days before, on November 7th, 2000, the fiftyfive-year-old Harvard graduate had been arrested not far from an abandoned Atlas E missile silo outside Topeka and charged with being one of the busiest manufacturers of LSD in the world, a chemist with the means to cook up acid by the kilo. If the government's charges prove true, this would make him one of the high priests of acid manufacture, part of a clandestine fraternity that probably numbers no more than a dozen worldwide.
Acid cookers are notoriously hard to catch. A lab can be set up quickly and broken down easily, and it only takes about ten days to perform a series of complicated chemical reactions that produce a sizable batch of the drug enough, once diluted and dipped onto blotter paper, for hundreds of thousands of hits. The trickiest part of the process is obtaining the precursor chemical known as ergotamine tartrate, or ET. Heavily regulated in this country, where it is used to treat migraines, ET is often smuggled in from Eastern Europe, where sale of the compound is less restricted.
Acid manufacturing might be one of the last criminal enterprises where those involved are motivated by more than the prospect of making money. Even now, more than three decades on from the Summer of Love, to cook acid is to perform a sacrament, a public service. Members of this small band operate with great stealth and are rarely informed on by their associates, even those facing long prison terms. The Drug Enforcement Administration has not taken down an LSD lab since 1991.
The case of U.S. v. Pick is just the latest, and perhaps final, chapter in the strange and often fantastic tale of William Leonard Pickard and his journey from a privileged boyhood in Atlanta, through the manic, hallucinogenic heart of the ig6os, to the forefront of social-- drugs research in the i99os, conducted at some of the nation's most prestigious universities. Along the way - under various aliases - he crossed paths with such rock stars as Sting, and befriended members of the British House of Lords, State Department officials and the district attorney of San Francisco, Terence Hallinan. He earned a master's from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where he studied drug trends in the former Soviet Union.
Pickard also has a rap sheet stretching back to his teens and has served two prison terms for manufacturing drugs, including LSD and the rarely seen synthetic mescaline. In recent years, though, his life seemed to come together - he'd fathered a child and had become a serious convert to Buddhism. He had a job at a respected drug-policy think tank, and he planned to attend medical school so he could finally dedicate his life to alleviating the suffering of others. But he had also become bizarrely entwined with - and then, he says, hideously betrayed by - a man named Gordon Todd Skinner, a Porsche-driving pot dealer from Tulsa, Oklahoma, twenty years younger than Pickard.
When Pickard comes to trial, most likely later this year, the proceedings promise to shed light on the dangerous and secret world of LSD manufacturing for the first time in decades. Perhaps greater truths will be revealed, too. In some ways, the story of Leonard Pickard and Todd Skinner is a story about the collision of Sixties idealism with the materialism and pragmatism of the Nineties - Timothy Leary's America versus Bill Clinton's, if you will. And its moral will be clear even before the judge calls the court to order: The sweet but easily corruptible dream of the flower-power generation never really stood a chance - but it was fun while it lasted.
THE ACID TRIANGlE
MOST OF THE ACID CONSUMED IN THE PAST THIRTY YEARS IS believed to have been made in temporary basement and warehouse labs in and around San Francisco's Bay Area, a part of California drug agents call the Acid Triangle. The last time those agents made a significant (I million hits plus) acid bust, in 1993, they identified a supplier who lived in Bolinas, the northernmost point of the triangle. A supplier, that is - not a chemist. The narcs never located the chemist. LSD today is a much lower dose (20 micrograms versus zoo-plus) than the high-test stuff Augustus Owsley Stanley III sold as "orange sunshine" in the Sixties; more of a party high than an eight-hour trip. "Triple set - LSD that is reworked three times to increase purity - it's not found as often," says Dave Tresmontan, special agent in charge of the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement's San Francisco office. "The LSD today tends to be a little dirtier and not nearly as sophisticated as it once was." It's difficult to tell exactly when Leonard Pickard first involved himself with LSD. BNE believes he was part of the legendary Brotherhood of Eternal Love, which operated in and around the Acid Triangle in the late 1960s and early 1970s, selling hashish and LSD cooked by Owsley and other important chemists like Tim Scully and Nick Sand. The Brotherhood's philosophy, at least in the beginning, was simple and beneficent: with LSD, turning people on, expanding consciousness and changing the way people perceived the world took precedence over making a profit.
When the subject of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love came up one day in the Shawnee County jail, Pickard stopped short of admitting any contact with the group, but did speak of their activities with a certain knowing reverence: "I understand there have been a few LSD chemists that would never make a batch of LSD ever, ever, without offering prayers for the safety of the people that might use it. And it should act as a good medicine throughout the world. So I'm told." He added, "I think their mantra was something on the order of, `Those that say, don't know. And those that know, don't say."' Pickard smiled, conspiratorially, as he talked, sitting cross-legged and as calm as a Buddha on a plastic chair in an interview room barely big enough to contain his six-and-a-half-foot frame.
A federal trial in San Francisco in 1973 crippled Brotherhood operations and seemed to fragment the cooking culture, or at least send it further underground. BNE didn't take down a lab of any real size in the Acid Triangle for years after the Brotherhood case, just a few seizures now and again. "We might find some pretty good chunks, 15,000 hits or too,ooo hits," says Dave Tresmontan. Then, in 1988, reports came into the Bureau of strong chemical smells emanating from a warehouse in the city of Mountain View, California, about forty-five miles south of San Francisco. On December 28th, as the narcs arrived to execute a search warrant, a tall, pleasant man of forty strolled out of the warehouse, carrying multiple pieces of identification bearing a number of different names. His real name was William Leonard Pickard.
"A LICE PREPPY"
LEONARD PICKARD GREW UP PRECOCIOUSLY IN ATLANTA, A CITY
"LSD should act as good medicine: Blotters, vials and pills seized from Leonard Pickard's 1978 bust.
unfamiliar in the i96os with the concepts of tolerance and experimentation. His father, William, practiced civil law. His mother, Lucille, a Columbia University Ph.D., researched fungal diseases at the Centers for Disease Control. The Pickards lived comfortably in the city's genteel northwest suburbs, a social, church-oriented neighborhood populated by academic families. "The governor of Georgia's mother taught me Sunday school," Pickard rhapsodized in a letter from prison. "Suits on Sunday, no alcohol, learned to handle rifles at nine. Read endlessly. Azaleas, rhododendrons, lightning, fireflies. Many happy moments as a small boy observing paramecia under my greatgrandfather's microscope. Visiting scientists from all over the world stayed with us. Much conversation." Something of a science prodigy, Pickard spent the summer of 1962 interning at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. A year later, at the age of seventeen, he won a Westinghouse Talent Search, one of forty teenagers recognized as the top science students in the United States. Twenty-two scholarship offers rolled in, unsolicited. Pickard chose Princeton. The temptations of Greenwich Village jazz clubs, a brief train ride away, distracted him, and after less than a year, he dropped out: "I wasn't as smart as I thought I was."
Supported by his trust fund, Pickard hit the road, looking for "greater experience of the human condition than tenure track might have provided." As he wandered the country in the mid-i96os, trouble found him everywhere. Eighteen years old and freshly removed from Princeton, Pickard was arrested twice in Alabama in 1964 for forging checks. The following January, he was arrested for stealing a car, "joy riding," as he recalls. "Youthful idiocy."
Pickard showed up on the West Coast in 1967, where he met Talitha Stills, Stephen Stills' sister. "It was an extraordinary time," she says. "Everybody was hanging around Berkeley and Stanford, whether they were enrolled or not, because they were involved in the protests. Leonard was hanging out at Stanford with a lot of the people who were in the know. He was beyond university before he ever got to university. He had a real interest in medicine and the chemistry and pharmacology underlying the drug movement."
Stills also remembers a less studious aspect of her friend's personality. "We were sort of the rich, bright kids," she says. "Leonard had his little trust fund, so he could just dedicate himself to going out. He was all over the place. It was almost impossible to keep tabs on him. He was a pretty serious ladies' man."
For a period of about seven years, Pickard lived the life of a psychedelic freebooter, part of it in a commune in Austin. It was a time, he says, of "naked moonlight swimming, endless campfires and theology in the High Sierra, refinement of the soul in the vast deserts, finding what was of true value in the world and what was proper conduct among others." In 1974, Pickard formally returned to school, enrolling at Foothill College, in Los Altos Hills, to study biology and chemistry. Then he was off to San Jose State, from 1976 through 1978, to study organic chemistry and neurophysiology.
NI hold Sasha as a real hero": Pickard considers himself an acolyte of legendary psychedelic researcher Alexander Shulgin (above).
Then Pickard, in his early thirties, seemed to discover his calling: cooking illegal drugs, but doing so with a Californian epicure's taste and sophistication. Besides chemistry, he knew the law, and rather than brazenly break it, Pickard tried to skirt it. The first compound he experimented with was MDMA - a drug few had even heard of at the time but now known as Ecstasy. To get around the fact that it was illegal, Pickard fiddled with the formula and came up with a chemical cousin, MDA, a somewhat trippier version of the drug.
In time, Pickard's neighbors in Redwood City complained about chemical odors wafting from his apartment. Sheriff's deputies who knocked on the door on October loth, 1977, discovered a functioning drug lab in the basement. Alan Johnson, chief inspector at the Santa Cruz district attorney's office, interviewed the young chemist. "I had a delightful conversation with Leonard," Johnson says. "He struck me as a really bright kid. He was dressed in a little V-neck sweater. He was a little preppy.
"We're talking about a whole different culture back then," Johnson recalls. "Today's cookers just get a recipe from some criminal. They mix a little of this and a little of that. They don't really know what they're doing. This fellow was trying to change the MDMA to make it legal. He was making the argument, and it was a new argument, that he's manufacturing an analogue."
Ultimately, Leonard's analogue argument failed. In 1978, while taking chemistry classes at Stanford, he was found guilty of attempting to manufacture a controlled substance, a felony, and served eighteen months of a three-year sentence. In a letter from prison, Pickard offered up an elaborate excuse, denying that he had been brewing illegal drugs. He claims that he was busted after he was trying to sell some lab gear that had once belonged to a Brotherhood of Eternal Love chemist, gear that contained traces of MDA.
Incarceration didn't seem to quell his fascination with clandestine chemistry. In February i98o, not long after his release, police in Gainesville, Georgia, arrested Leonard Pickard for making amphetamines. A few months later, in June, authorities in Deland, Florida, pinched him for distributing MDA, the Ecstasy analogue. No threat of imprisonment, it seemed, could interfere with Leonard's quest to liberate the collective mind. "I believe it was genuine, his belief that psychedelics were helpful," says Rick Doblin, a Harvard Ph.D. who is leading the effort to have Ecstasy approved for clinical study in the United States, and an acquaintance of Pickard's. "I think he was after money, but he had a romantic notion about the value of psychedelics, like a lot of us do."
123,278 PILLS AND 89,802 TABS
BY 1987, THE TWO STRANDS OF PICKARD'S LIFE CAME TOGETHER when he turned up at San Francisco State University and fell under the influence of the legendary drug researcher Alexander Shulgin, a white-haired eccentric who, with his wife, Ann, has dedicated his life to studying hallucinogens and advocating their therapeutic value. For many years, Shulgin counted himself among the few researchers in the nation allowed to possess Schedule i drugs (like MDMA and zC-B), and his books on the subject, among them PIHKAL, A Chemical Love Story (PIHKAL stands for "Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved"), are perennial underground best sellers. "I hold Sasha as a real hero," says Pickard, who claims to have received "letters of condolence" from Shulgin after his arrest.
LSD fueled the freak generation (above: the Isle of Wight, 1970).
Nobody is exactly sure when, or if, Pickard actually set up the LSD lab in Mountain View, but by 1988 it was operational. The lab was contained inside a trailer - of the type you might see at a construction site - that had been dragged into a warehouse in an industrial section of the city. It contained state-of-the-art lab equipment, including a roto-evaporator, heating mantles and a pill press, an item that DEA restrictions make almost impossible to obtain. On the floor were stacked boxes of blotter paper in a raft of colorful, eye-catching designs: Escher heads, album covers, samurai shields and black-and-white tropical scenes.
After Pickard had been at the spot for some time, apparently cooking acid by the kilo, neighboring businessmen reported smelling chemical odors. Agents of the BNE moved in. "It was a huge lab," says Ron Brooks, special agent in charge of the BNE's San Jose office, who was on the scene that day in Mountain View. "He was making windowpane, microdot and blotter." And it was a diversified operation. "Pickard was making not only LSD but also synthetic mescaline, which is very difficult to synthesize, and a bunch of other stuff. He was an excellent chemist."
Excellent and prolific, on par almost with Owsley himself in terms of output. Bear, as he was known, claimed to have turned out a total of three or four kilos during his storied career. Agents found a beguiling note tucked inside a brown vial in the Mountain View trailer, which seemed be addressed to one of the chemist's distributors and to describe the scale of his operation. "As I prepare my third kilogram of LSD," it said, "I think with amusement of our last conversation three years ago, when you called me a liar, and I had to walk you down the hall to get you the very first gram that was supposed to be offered to you preferentially. Since July of 1984, our friend has taken thirty grams in that year, thirty grams in the second year and seventy-five grams in the last six to eight weeks. The recent change indicates that someone close to you has accessed an existing system as well as its potential problems. I hope you can monitor these proceedings in some way, since you come from the finest psychedelic heritage, prior to being seduced by some sleazy cocaine and qualude [sic] nightmare." Whether Pickard wrote this note, and who the intended recipient was, have never been made clear.
A kilo of drugs might not sound like much if you're talking about pot or coke or heroin, but a kilo of pure acid is enough, DEA estimates, for io million trips. One of the criminalists who donned protective gear to process the trailer crime scene, Lisa Brewer, counted 89,am tabs of acid and 123,278 acid pills, a form of acid rarely seen in 1988. Only Pickard knew how much product had already been mailed to middlemen. "This was the big one," Brewer says of Pickard's laboratory. "Nobody sees these."
Later, when Ron Brooks consulted Darryl Inaba, a leading drug expert at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, he mentioned the fact that he'd collared a guy making synthetic mescaline. "No fucking way," Inaba replied. "That's just too hard to make. There are only a very few people in the whole world that might have the capability."
"It was a beautiful, pure white, needlelike crystal," recalls Brooks. "Apparently, it was only synthesized several times, ever, and Pickard was a guy who knew how to do it. That was the only time we ever saw it. Guys like him do that just as a challenge, just to prove they can do it. I don't think there's a market for it, It probably cost him way more to make than he could ever sell it for."
Not surprisingly, a BNE search for Pickard accomplices proved fruitless. "We followed up leads in Daly City and in San Francisco," says Brooks, "also out in the southern East Bay, but we never had anything solid. He was very good about covering his tracks, and he and his circle of friends were all the masters of using multiple identities and blind mail drops and phones forwarded to other phones."
"I recall Mr. Pickard back in the interview room," says BNE agent Tresmontan. "He played a lot of things close to the vest. I remember him sitting there with his legs crossed, very calm, very friendly, somewhat guarded. My thought was, `Here's a very intelligent individual, maybe slightly eccentric.'"
When agents first encountered Pickard in the warehouse, he warned them not to dismantle the lab. "This is all bad stuff," Pickard advised. "If I were you, I'd burn this place to the ground. I wouldn't process this scene. Somebody'll get hurt.' "
Pickard proved to be right. One BNE agent on the scene, Max Houser, somehow got dosed upon entering the lab, even though he wore a full-body protective suit and a respirator. Within an hour or two, Houser went into convulsions. An article about the case in a California forensics journal describes what happened next: "The agent was taken to the hospital, where they administered Valium by IV to calm the anxiety. A few hours later, he was discharged and went home. He was in the shower when the Valium began to wear off and he began convulsing again. This time he was taken to the Haight-Ashbury clinic and treated.
"During his time in the emergency room," the article continues, "he reported a loud, buzzing and distressing sound that totally drowned out all the other sound. The hospital people were talking to him, and he could see their lips move but could only hear the loud noise. He was finally able to determine the noise was coming from the automatic door that leads to the emergency room.
"The agent is starting to feel better but still has bouts of depression and anxiety." These bouts continued for months.
Pickard expressed only limited sympathy for Houser's plight. "I regret his difficult moments," he told me, "although I suffered the same effects without benefit of protective suits" - a statement in which Pickard seems to admit, for the first time publicly, that he was indeed an acid cooker, or at least spent time around LSD labs. "Anxiety can spin out of control when taken to an ER with a mind-set expecting psychosis and surrounded by people who are inexperienced. Ideally, a talk-down should suffice. A meadow and friends would be a completely different experience than guns, radios and fear, I am told." Even now, it's almost impossible to study overdose phenomena like these. "Sustained exposure to unknown but massive dosages of LSD," Pickard pointed out, "as experienced by the few unknown individuals worldwide who are responsible for its distribution, has no parallel in clinical settings. I understand various psychiatrists and pharmacologists would like to interview them, but they are, necessarily, unavailable."
In 1988, Pickard was sentenced to eight years in California's Terminal Island Prison. Released early, in 1992, he went to live at the Zen Center, on Page Street in San Francisco, and came under the wing of the center's spiritual leader, Blanche Hartman, better known as the Abbess. "She took my hand when I left prison," Pickard said. "I lived there for two years as a monk."
Pickard claims he tried to chart a new course: "I lost contact with a large early portion of my life after the prison years." He paid about $350 a month for one of the forty small rooms at the center. With the other students, Pickard rose with the 5 A.M. bell, sat in meditation for an hour and a half, chanted, helped clean the temple and then ate breakfast. "Monastic practice involves twenty-four hours a day," says Hartman. "The bulk of the day he did whatever he was doing, and I have no idea what it was.
"I never felt fully invited into his personal life, Hartman adds. "There was always an air of mystery about him. I assumed he had some money left over from his earlier days dealing, but I have no idea.
"He was trying to change," she continues. "I don't know if I want to say `live more constructively.' I don't know how he felt about his manufacturing LSD, whether he thought that was good or bad. I never asked him about it. My guess is, even though it's illegal, he didn't think it was wrong to make LSD, because he thinks there's something beneficial about making it, or he wouldn't have done it."
Leonard Pickard returned to school during his two years on Page Street to study neurobiology at the University of California at Berkeley with David Presti, an authority on addiction and the way that drugs - from stimulants and depressants to psychedelics and steroids - affect the brain. Under Presti's guidance, Pickard focused on drugs of abuse rather than his old area of interest, the possible therapeutic applications of controlled substances. (Though Presti has described Pickard as a "dear friend," he was unwilling to discuss Pickard's work at Berkeley, missing an appointment for a planned telephone interview before backing out entirely.)
From Berkeley, with Presti's backing, Pickard arrived at Harvard in 1994 and found work as a neurobiology research associate at the medical school's Division on Addictions. There he met Mark Kleiman, a junior member of the faculty who was already a leading authority on social drugs and drug policy. Following the lead of Rick Doblin, another member of the Harvard drug-research crew, Pickard applied to the Kennedy School of Government's master's program. Kleiman oversaw Pickard's master's project, a second-year paper that focused on drug problems in Russia, discussing the extent to which the emergence of a free-market economy had led to a proliferation both of drug consumption and of drug production and traffic. "Leonard spent some time talking to people in Russia," says a Harvard source. "He was obviously very good at that. He made contact with various figures in law enforcement, including the FSB, which is the successor to the KGB."
The LSD legend: Owsley was the most famous chemist of all, but authorities believe Pickard may have produced more.
Experts in this field have to be careful about their reputations. Researching the use of illegal drugs is regarded with suspicion by many in law enforcement and on the right wing, who worry that by not demonizing these drugs, researchers tacitly advocate their use. Everything, as Rick Doblin says, needs to be done with the "permission" of the DEA and other government agencies. When another of Pickard's teachers at Harvard, Mark H. Moore, Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice Policy and Management, heard vague details about Pickard's prospective funding sources in Russia, he felt uncomfortable. "I didn't know their reputations," recalls Moore, who knew nothing of Pickard's criminal record. "They were unfamiliar to me then and remain unfamiliar to me now." One Harvard source calls Pickard the kind of student who was more talk than action. "He presented himself as a person who was well-connected and could see what was happening in the drug scene, but he was never able to make much out of that or demonstrate the truth of what he was observing. I ended up regarding him with a great deal of skepticism. Nothing ever happened with him."
Pickard received his master's in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government in 1997, and when Mark Kleiman moved to California a short time later to head an influential drug-policy group at UCLA, Pickard followed. Pickard's work was not funded by the university. He took trips to Russia to seek funding, and on one of them he met his current wife, Natasha, a lovely pre-med student in her late twenties whom Pickard brought back to the United States with him. Pickard, Natasha and her father shared a small apartment. Kleiman was impressed enough with Pickard to name him as his deputy. Pickard gave Kleiman his word that he wasn't cooking any drugs in the United States.
Again, the subject matter of Pickard's research involved drug use in the former Soviet Union. This time, Pickard concentrated on evaluating a deeply flawed Russian system of estimating the extent of its drug problem. Working with Kleiman in California, however, Pickard seemed to grow lazy. "Even though it wasn't our money, he didn't actually produce much," says a UCLA source. "We fell for the story, that he was a brilliant guy with sort of an outlaw past that he was now trying to transcend."
During this period, Rick Doblin socialized with Pickard back in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and at Sasha Shulgin's home in Northern California. But Doblin says he never trusted Pickard: "What can you say about somebody who always wears a suit and tie to meetings that are usually more relaxed? He wanted to pass in a lot of professional circles or responsible circles, even anti-drug-abuse circles. It felt like he was playing a role.
"He'd tell these shadowy stories that were somehow connected to Russians who had made out in privatization in perhaps less than completely ethical ways and who wanted to help out their country by studying drugabuse issues. I didn't know what to believe. I always felt there was more going on than he was saying. There were some major missing pieces in what he was sharing."
A BRAND-NEW FRIEND
IN THE PSYCHEDELIC COMMUNITY, THE GRAY
"There are only a few people in the world who have that capability": In 1988, drug agents collared Pickard in Mountain View, California, for running a lab where he manufactured LSD by the kilo.
ing tribe gathers several times a year, in this country or in Europe, to discuss new drugs and drug research, to burn incense and chat about Native American art. It was at one of these gatherings, devoted to the study of psychedelic mushrooms, in 1997, that Pickard met a man who impressed him with his generosity, intelligence, humor and charm. His name was Gordon Todd Skinner.
Like Pickard, Skinner is a big, rangy man, though Skinner is the bulkier of the two at about 24.o pounds, bald, with a ZZ Top-type beard. One acquaintance describes his look as a cross between an Amish man and Bozo the Clown. To Pickard, Skinner was something of a fellow traveler. "When I met him, he was using exotic structures every week or every few days," Pickard says. "He loved to eat ayahuasca [a hallucinogenic plant ]and its various analogues."
Skinner told Pickard he was an expert in international finance and boasted about various celebrities he supposedly knew, including Warren Buffett, the Omaha, Nebraska, superinvestor. In the beginning, at least, Pickard says he believed Skinner, especially when Skinner told him that he could raise money from Buffett to fund his drug research. The Buffett money, Pickard figured, would be a ticket back to Harvard. Skinner struck Pickard as somebody who had access to large amounts of money, often receiving electronic transfers but always cash poor. "He probably couldn't draw more than $3,000 out of his accounts at one time," Pickard says. Besides Warren Buffett, Skinner also
claimed to know Sting. In October 1999, when the star hit San Jose, California, on a tour stop, he attended a party Skinner threw at a house he was renting in Stinson Beach, a home formerly owned by Jerry Garcia. Chris Malone, who installed a stereo system in the house for Sting's visit, says Skinner and Sting acted like old friends. Pickard was there, too. Through his publicist, Sting acknowledges attending the party, where he met some "very charismatic people," but would comment no further.
By Tulsa standards, Skinner's family was well-to-do. His father, Gordon, operates the Skinner Clinic, a chiropractic office. His mother, Katherine Magrini, one of "Tulsa's leading hostesses," according to the Tulsa World, runs Gardner Spring, for many years a manufacturer of standard and custom-made industrial springs, with sales of $5 million to so million annually. She also started a "gourmet" candy company, Katherine's Supreme Gourmet Chocolates, and sits on a wide variety of Tulsa benefit committees. After divorcing Gordon Skinner, Katherine, in i98i, married Gary Magrini, an agent with the Criminal Enforcement Division of the IRS. For a time, Magrini was assigned to the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, in the Northern District of Oklahoma.
As a boy, Todd Skinner loved math. He attended Cascia Hall Prep, a Catholic boys' high school in Tulsa, and though he never earned a college degree, he says he studied for a while at the University of Heidelberg, in Germany. "There is no way for me to describe the depth of Todd's knowledge," says Moise Seligman, a retired Army major general who has been a friend of the Skinner family for twenty years. "I've never met anyone who could sit in the same room with Todd Skinner, as far as brain power is concerned."
All along, Skinner would tell Seligman that he loathed drugs. "He was bitterly opposed to the whole dope process. He would never stick a needle in himself, he would never sniff something, or whatever you do to take it."
On and off through his twenties, Skinner worked at his mother's spring plant. Other times, he wandered around California and the Caribbean, sometimes with a friend from Holland who described himself as a manufacturer of "powdered milk." Skinner, like Pickard, used a number of aliases, telling different people in different places that he was Dwayne Miller or P.C. Carroll or Gerard T. Finegan. He also developed a nose for trouble. After leasing a seventy-eight-foot oil-field utility vessel for use off the coast of Louisiana, Skinner installed fancy electronic gear on the boat, then wrecked the craft, which he had failed to insure, off the coast of Jamaica in a hurricane. Customs officials in the Cayman Islands boarded the boat and gave Skinner an hour to leave the country. Skinner's friend Mo Seligman ended up getting stuck for part of the 580,ooo in unpaid lease bills.
By 1989, Skinner was in the pot business. He made a poor showing with that, too. When he and a friend from Tulsa tried to move forty-two pounds of weed in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, undercover cops nailed them and indicted Skinner on conspiracy charges that left him facing life in prison as a drug "kingpin" and held him on St million bail. Waiting for trial, Skinner spent about a year in prison in New Jersey. Then, from behind bars, he cut his teeth on another business, one he would return to during his friendship with Leonard Pickard: the unclean business of being a snitch. Skinner struck up a friendship with another inmate, John Worthy, and mentioned he had thirty pounds of pot to sell. Having piqued Worthy's interest, Skinner went straight to the D.A. and laid out the deal. His bail was reduced to $500,ooo, and he returned to Tulsa, where, at the behest of the New Jersey prosecutors, he taped some calls to John Worthy. These calls are almost comical. On the tape, Skinner pleads with Worthy, who can barely scrape together $2,000, to meet him at a hotel in Vineland, New Jersey, and take possession of $34,000 worth of weed.
If Worthy wasn't satisfied with the quality, Skinner assured him, he'd take the load back. "I can sell it the next day. You're not gonna be stuck with anything with me. I'm not in the business of screwing someone over. I'm too fuckin' busy. I want you to find a product that you can get rid of in a hurry." Anyway, a man in Skinner's position never stuck people with bad shit. "The big weed dealers don't do that," Skinner tells Worthy on tape.
"Skinner was a motherfucker," says Brian O'Malley, one of Worthy's lawyers. "He got friendly with my client and said, `Hey, we can make a million bucks,' giving my guy visions of the life of Riley, whoever the black Riley is. This guy wove a web. The way he saw it, he had no choice but to screw somebody else, pass the weight on."
The day after Worthy's arrest at the Vineland hotel, Skinner pleaded guilty to one reduced count of conspiracy and was back on the street, with a threeyear term of probation, which was terminated in less than two. Years later, an appeals court would throw out John Worthy's case, ruling that Skinner's taping of phone calls from Oklahoma violated New Jersey's wiretapping laws.
Owing hundreds of thousands of dollars to various lawyers and other creditors, Skinner filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tulsa in 1992. He didn't fold his tent in the face of adversity. He simply relocated. He meandered north to Kansas, and in 1996, through a trust, took control of an abandoned Atlas E missile base on Say Road, in Wamego, and moved in. Decommissioned Atlas E and Atlas F sites ring the city of Topeka. The last nuke left the state in 1986, and since then, these eerie monuments to the Cold War have been snapped up by people looking for unusual places to live. One former nuke base serves as part of a Kansas high school. Most consist of vast, multilevel underground chambers, connected by metal ladders. Built to withstand the blast from the world's most powerful nuclear weapons, the Wamego base provided Skinner with 15,000 square feet of underground space on a twenty-eight-acre plot of land. Why would Skinner be attracted to such a place? "I have no idea," says his mother, "and I don't give a damn."
Skinner offered her a deal. "Todd said to me, `Why don't you put your manufacturing up here in Kansas?' " says Magrini. "And we did." This arm of the company, went the word around Wamego, would manufacture springs for NASA's Space Shuttle program. Some Gardner employees arrived from Tulsa. Skinner also hired a few local people to work a small spring-making machine. Big rolls of wire would arrive from Tulsa about twice a month, the wire would be wound, and the springs would be shipped back to Oklahoma. Skinner employed local cops to work around the base as security officers and gardeners.
Drawing on what seemed like an unlimited budget, Todd set about sprucing up the base interior. Computers were installed, as well as a new kitchen and a twelve-line phone system. Skinner mounted his oak bed on a pedestal and installed a bathtub lined with marble. Baskets of massage oil sat in the corner of another room. Young women, local girls in their twenties, were in and out of Skinner's tub. From an audiophile shop in Sacramento came an Boo-pound, $120,000 Dynaudio Evidence stereo system. The speakers, one of only five pairs in the United States, went for eighty-five grand. Connecting cables alone cost $10,000. "Todd would buy CDs and never listen to or even open them, just leave them scattered around the floors," Pickard recalls. His tastes didn't compare with his equipment. According to Chris Malone, who installed the system, Skinner mostly listened to Seventies pop - Cat Stevens and Styx. Outside the underground chamber, Skinner parked his latest automotive purchases: three late-model Porsches, including a 4WD Boxster, which sells for about $225,000.
Life at the missile base resembled some sort of kooky Sixties idyll. Every few days in the course of a year or so, Skinner would call Pickard in California and regale him with tales of psychedelic drug trips. Pickard, of all people, understood where Skinner was coming from. "He was in his early thirties," says Pickard. "I guess he was exploring. He had nothing else to do." Livestock, including llamas and chickens and rabbits, and even Clydesdale horses and a mule, roamed the property. A vegetable garden thrived. Fruit, nut and pine trees were planted, and a water-pumping windmill was installed. Skinner employed a number of local people, at around $7 an hour, to clean, paint and garden, paying them with checks drawn on the Tulsa accounts of Gardner Spring Inc. Much of the time, it didn't seem to matter what work got done or how quickly. One woman, who baby-sat Skinner's two young children once in a while, spent three days digging thistles, for which she received a $235 bonus.
Men, friends of Skinner's, would arrive from California and other points west and stay for weeks at a time, guys with long beards and long hair who looked like zombies. One spent hours cutting up apples for oatmeal; another urinated in a glass jar and carried it around with him wherever he went. These guests smoked weed freely. Morning beers were available. Strange deliveries were common: a dozen pressure cookers here, a truckful of acetone there. Todd and his friends worked at night. "Some of them would still be there in the mornings when I'd arrive for work, but they didn't stay around long," says Janice Eichem, a Wamego resident who worked at the base for a year. "You'd ask them their name, and they'd only tell you their first name.
"Todd thought he had all the money in the world," Eichem says. "He could buy anything in the world he wanted - to hear him tell it."
One day in April 1999, the party turned deadly. An employee of a Tulsa computer company, Paul K. Hulebak, 41, slumped over in front of a computer screen. Pickard, it turned out, was sort of a witness to Hulebak's death. "Skinner was on the phone to me, describing his latest drug episode," Pickard says, "at the time Hulebak overdosed on narcotics."
"I've got a problem," Skinner told him. "Call you back."
An autopsy turned up track marks on Hulebak's body and listed the cause of death as a multidrug overdose - methadone and hydromorphone, a methadone derivative. Sheriff's deputies investigated but found no drugs or needles. "The base," Pickard explained, "had been sanitized of fentanyl, dilaudids, et cetera."
Several rooms underground, always locked, remained off limits to all except Skinner and his right-hand man, Gunnar Guinan. The son of a carpet-industry executive from Hoboken, New Jersey, Guinan, like Skinner, loved computers but didn't seem to have an extensive employment history. Gunnar's sister, Dr. Eva Guinan, director of the Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, says her brother had lived in Kansas for a while but that she had seen him only twice in the last ten years, at family gatherings. She says she knew nothing of the DEA investigation in Wamego and had never heard the name Todd Skinner.
The marble bathroom Todd Skinner installed in his abandoned missile silo-cum-drug factory
Men in blue: Agents donned protective suits before inspecting Skinner's missile silo.
Residents of Wamego, a down-at-the-heels village of 5,000, wrote Skinner off as a spoiled rich kid and Gunnar Guinan as his loopy factotum. But coffee-shop conversation often came around to the question of what was really going on at the missile base. What was the spring-plant story a cover for? A few locals figured the base for a methamphetamine lab. The county sheriff called the DEA, but nothing came of it.
Two years ago, Skinner abruptly evicted his mother's business from the missile base. "One day he tells me to move out, at enormous cost," Magrini recalls angrily. "You've hit a subject here that I'm not going to relive. I brought everything back to Tulsa, and that's where it's going to stay."
In the course of the last year or so, neighbors noticed Ryder trucks rumbling along Say Road almost twenty-four hours a day and then disappearing behind the locked gate. "You'd see all these rigs from Oklahoma, Missouri," says Linda Lada, who runs a beauty shop near the base entrance. "I couldn't figure out why, because the spring factory was supposed to have been closed."
Security, always tight, included a sophisticated camera monitoring system, motion detectors and infrared sensors. "One day I was driving a pickup that had New Mexico tags on it," recalls Janice Eichem. "And, boy, as soon as I pulled in there and walked up to the Quonset hut to clock in, here comes Gunnar: `Whose pickup is that?' I said, `I'm driving that. It's my ex-husband's: And he said, `You're the only one in it, then?' I said, `Yeah.'" Finally, Gunnar relaxed.
Pickard and Skinner - and an entourage that included Skinner's mother and Moise Seligman - spent a few days in Las Vegas last June. Seligman came along to talk with Skinner about a solenoid valve that Skinner was sure could make them millions: "I was out there to discuss this valve with Todd, and I met Pickard. I came home from there and told my wife, 'I met a man named Leonard Pickard, and he was a distinguished gentleman. I've never met anybody who's impressed me as favorably in recent years.'"
At Leavenworth: Pickard has offered himself, and his knowledge of the drug underground, to DEA.
Katherine Magrini, there at Skinner's invitation to celebrate Mother's Day, was less impressed by her son's new friend. Pickard, she says, introduced himself as Leonard Thiessen. " `This Leonard is a real sleazeball, whatever his name is. He sounds like a bag of crap.' I was immediately suspicious of him."
Pickard alleges that Skinner, in Vegas, had more on his mind than solenoid valves. Skinner, he claims, also engaged in some "smurfing," or money laundering, buying $200,000 worth of chips, gambling a bit and then redeeming the chips for the casino's cash. Why Skinner was doing this, if he did, remains unclear. Skinner, through his Topeka attorney, Thomas Haney, declined to be interviewed for this story.
Renovating the base, Skinner did business with several local contractors and for a while paid his bills promptly, or at least his Kansas sidekick Gunnar Guinan paid them. "Gunnar was the one who would call on us when he needed work done or wanted to buy parts," says Toni Stremel, office manager at Thermal Comfort Air, which installed a hot-water pump on the property. "He would come in with his shirt unbuttoned, the hair on his chest sticking out, and he'd be bragging about how he had to go to Kansas City to pick up a bride that he'd ordered out of a magazine." Guinan would lay a briefcase full of cash on the desk and flip it open. "He'd take out what he owed us and walk away."
Leonard Pickard visited Todd Skinner at the Wamego missile base a handful of times over the past couple of years, staying either a few days or as long as a few weeks each time. But, he says, he never enjoyed the place: "It wasn't comfortable, and the karma was wrong." The only real bedroom belonged to Skinner; guests slept on mattresses out in the old missile bay. Leonard also disapproved of Skinner's manner toward his so-called friends: "Todd was imperious. He treated everybody as workers." Rather then a "psychedelic temple," as Skinner intended, Pickard says the base became more of a "temple to the ego."
Last summer, Skinner's cash flow mysteriously dried up, and, Pickard says, his use of psychedelics increased. Skinner cracked up one of his Porsches and totaled Gunnar's truck. Concerned, Pickard approached Skinner's mother, Katherine Magrini: "I talked with her numerous times about Todd's profligate ways and about how he's very accident-prone. `This boy's got to slow down, because not a week goes by where there's not some sort of situation happening. There's no peace ever.' "
Magrini's voice exploded over the phone when I asked her to verify this exchange. "What?" she shouted. "That is a bald-faced lie! Why, that sack of lying crap! Where is that son of a bitch? I'm going to go up and sue his ass with a bevy of lawyers."
For the first time, bills, thousands and thousands of dollars' worth, went unpaid. A number of contractors sued to get their money. "Gunnar," Toni Stremel says, "called here wanting to know if we would trade out a baby grand piano for our debt." The Sacramento audio store filed suit against Skinner in August, having been paid nothing on its $120,000 bill.
More important, as far as Pickard was concerned, Skinner wasn't making good on a promise to come up with $440,000 to fund some new drug research at Harvard. Months and months dragged by while Skinner supposedly arranged for the money to come from a foundation run by Warren Buffett. "I was hanging on because I really wanted to do this project," Pickard says. 11 1 was dying to get back to Cambridge." When Pickard contacted officials at the Kennedy School about the Buffett arrangement last June, they knew nothing of it. "I was taken for an enormous ride," Pickard claims. "I'd been lied to. Once I realized it was all a charade, I felt very used and started backing away."
Skinner faced difficulties of his own. One night the previous January, gambling at Harrah's Prairie Band Casino on the Pottawatomi Indian reservation, not far from Wamego, he had hit a run of good luck. Asked for identification when cashing in his chips, he produced a phony Interpol badge and declared himself to be a special agent of United States Treasury Department. Sheriff's deputies, alerted by casino officials, arrested Skinner later that night, and federal prosecutors in Topeka soon filed a two-count felony indictment against him. Skinner pled guilty last June to possession of a false identification, a misdemeanor, and was fined $10,000.
Pickard says he tried to avoid Skinner. "I decided it was best to step away from him. He was unpredictable and kind of crazy. From mid-July until October, we had no contact. His life was unraveling. Then he called me." Remembering the conversation, Pickard's eyes hardened. "It was a controlled call." Controlled in the sense that DEA agents, including Special Agent Karl Nichols, a clandestine lab hunter with the agency's Richmond, California, office, were listening in, tape recorders rolling.
Just what they discussed, and precisely why Skinner may have fallen into the arms of the DEA in the first place, remains unclear at this point, although both mysteries may be cleared up at trial, during which Pickard will be represented by William K. Rork, one of Topeka's leading criminal-defense attorneys. This much is certain: That monitored call last fall set in motion a series of events that could end Leonard Pickard's colorful life as a free man and snuff out whatever future he might have had as an innovative scientist. It may also, if the government is to be believed, have significantly curtailed the production of American-made LSD.
THE SILVER BUICK
OCTOBER 23RD, 2000, 8:40 P.M. DRIVING A RENTED TAN Buick Century, Leonard Pickard swung into the parking lot of the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in San Rafael, California. While his pregnant Russian wife, Natasha, waited in the hotel bar, Pickard met with Todd Skinner in a room upstairs, as DEA agents listened in an adjoining room. The sit-down lasted about thirty minutes. Skinner and Pickard talked about a number of LSD-related topics, including the eventual setup of an offshore lab. Skinner called Pickard on October 29th, wanting to know when he could get "the keys to the Dodge," a phrase the two men used to describe the acid lab.
Pickard and a friend of his, Clyde Apperson, a computer consultant from Sunnyvale, California, appeared at the Wamego missile base a few days later, on November 4th, driving two rented vehicles, a silver Buick Le Sabre and a fifteen-foot Ryder truck. Skinner, never shy, seemed fuller than ever of braggadocio. "I'm not afraid of the Mafia or the government!" Pickard recalls Skinner declaring, "I'm more powerful than you realize!" - whereupon Skinner left for parts unknown. Pickard and Apperson set about loading the Ryder truck with military crates full of glassware and chemicals. Six kilos of ergotamine tartrate, worth 8600,ooo, were stashed in the silver Buick. That much ET, the government claims, is enough to manufacture 15 million doses of LSD. Loading complete two days later, Apperson slipped behind the wheel of the Ryder truck, and Pickard took the Buick. It was time to move out, to a new lab site, prosecutors allege, somewhere near Aspen, Colorado. Pickard claims he was merely carting the lab away to destroy it and prevent further legal trouble for his friend Skinner.
They didn't get far before a unit of the Kansas State Highway Patrol clicked on its red lights and pulled them over. Though Apperson was quickly captured, Pickard scampered off into the night, sprinting across snowy ground into the woods, two highway patrolmen half his age in hot pursuit, a chase that was eventually joined by DEA agents, helicopters with infrared scanners and tracking dogs. Pickard eluded them for nearly eighteen hours before deputies from the Pottawatomie County sheriff's office brought him in. His wallet, later found at a convenience store in Wamego, contained a Mastercard in one of Pickard's several aliases,James Maxwell, three false identification cards under that name, a business card from UCLA in his real name and eleven telephone calling cards.
That night, Sheriff Anthony Metcalf dropped by Pickard's cell in the local lockup. Pickard's manners impressed him: "He looked like a distinguished old gentleman. If somebody said to me, `Hey, there's a bigtime doper over there,' Pickard would be the last guy you'd ever think of."
Metcalf visited the missile base during a cleanup that lasted several days and employed a squadron of technicians wearing bright-blue hazardous-materials suits. " `How big is this, and who is this guy?' he asked one of the DEA chemists on the scene. "There's probably seven people in the world that could run an operation this large, and Pickard was one of them."
PICKARD ON ICE
WHILE PICKARD ADJUSTED TO LIFE AT THE SHAWNEE COUNTY JAIL IN Topeka, I tried to track down some more information about him in California. It was a frustrating and often fruitless task. An address for Pickard in Mill Valley, just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, turned out to be a MailBoxes, Etc. in a mall. Another address, in Berkeley, was also a mail drop, the Berkeley Mailroom. LSD distributors, BNE agents told me, traditionally use businesses like these to ship their product. Until Pickard's wife, Natasha, mailed me some of his research papers, I could not find the address of the apartment in San Francisco that Pickard shared with her and her father - but neither, at least early in their investigation, could agents of the DEA.
The same was true for Todd Skinner. He moved out of the Wamego missile base, which is now on the market for a reported $1.5 million. A visit to his last known address, in Berkeley, turned up no traces of the elusive informant. A member of Pickard's defense team says that Skinner has been seen around Mendocino, the picturesque village north of San Francisco, in between trips to Topeka to huddle with federal prosecutors.
Pickard's friends - some feeling betrayed, others worried about repercussions for their own drug research - are not rushing to his defense. After Talitha Stills read about Pickard's arrest in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, she told me, quite frankly, "You just can't hold a bad boy down." But when I called Sasha Shulgin to inquire about the learned chemist's relationship with Pickard, Shulgin began, "He was a student of mine ioo years ago, but he's been in his own little world, which I really don't know that much about." Ann Shulgin interrupted our conversation. "We'd rather not comment at all on this entire matter," she said. "It's very sad, and I don't think we have any information that could possibly help you." The Shulgins are not the only friends of Pickard's distancing themselves from him. Agents who searched Pickard's apartment in San Francisco on November i5th turned up a supportive letter written by the city's district attorney, Terence Hallinan. "When I was in private practice, I represented Leonard Pickard on some legal matters," it read. "I always found him to be an honorable person who kept his word." Hallinan won't comment further. Mark Kleiman, Pickard's mentor at Harvard and his boss at UCLA, also declined a request to discuss his friend.
"Either caught red-handed or very carefully set up," said Blanche Hartman, the Abbess of the San Francisco Zen Center. "It sure doesn't look good. I was surprised and dismayed, and extremely sad. His girlfriend gave birth just days after he was arrested. She was just totally distraught."
Leonard Pickard maintains he is guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. "I am not a psychedelic chemist," he told me resolutely. Then, he adds, "Remember, I just left Boston in '97. I can't obviously be making kilos of LSD and doing my work at Harvard in the meantime." Besides, he said, LSD is more than a bit passe in the world of social-- drugs research he now inhabits: "I'm concerned with the need for new regulatory structures for new drugs of abuse. I'm more concerned with what's coming than with what's present."
After the bust, Todd Skinner called his old friend Moise Seligman. Says Seligman, "He said, 'I want to send you some articles on Leonard Pickard. I am mentioned in there. I am in no way involved with him. You know me and drugs: He was not a drinker and not a drug man of any kind." A few weeks later, Skinner called again, to invite Seligman and his wife to join him in Washington or New York, where Skinner would purportedly receive an award for his work on the Pickard prosecution. "Todd said, `If they are successful in loGating the cash that Pickard may have stashed, I would come in for a portion of that money, up to a third.'" Skinner promised to call back with more details, but never did. "I don't know where he is. I don't know if he got an award or got shot," says Seligman.
More than anything, in the course of several meetings in the Topeka jail, Pickard sounded embarrassed by the current federal case against him, frustrated that the whole business couldn't be sorted out in a gentlemanly fashion by rational men. At a detention hearing in January, Pickard stood before a federal judge and offered, in essence, to trade his freedom for somebody else's: "If released, even in the most severe constraints,I would immediately proceed to report to the federal building [and] cooperate even aggressively with DEA in any matters that they wish." The judge, however, refused to grant Pickard bail.
Almost every week, Pickard wrote letters from jail. Sometimes two or three arrived on the same day, with carefully worded answers to my questions, interspersed with Van Morrison lyrics and quotes by a wide variety of luminaries from Berkeley fixture Wavy Gravy and poet WH. Auden to Carlos Lehder, the assassinated Colombian cocaine baron ("Cocaine is an A-bomb pointed at the heart of America"). The letters gave the impression of a man in complete control, confident that the breadth of his intelect and experience would enable him to surmount all obstacles. More than once, he hinted at a wilder tale to be told only after his trial ends: "A post-disposition retrospective would be a more thrilling and soulful read."
Rick Doblin won't want to hear it. "He's been caught multiple times in the past and has felt it convenient to supply the police with information on people who have been involved in other drugs that he doesn't think are so useful. That's a difficult game to play," he says.
"Once you start cooperating, it's easy to lose sight of what your own values are.
"The drug-dealer code of honor is that you don't turn anybody else in," Doblin continues. "That's lost from the public consciousness. And that's more true from the old days, from the pot dealers. That sort of shifted when the pot dealers got into coke. But that's always been the case with the LSD dealers. That's why the DEAs been very rarely busting labs and major distributors for LSD."
The DEA's investigation of Leonard Pickard continues. Does Pickard have anything to offer the feds? Agent Nichols believes Pickard employs a worldwide distribution network. So far, Pickard hasn't shown any inclination to discuss such a network. This time, it would seem, the pressure Pickard feels is somewhat greater than it was in 1988, when he was a single guy cooking drugs in Mountain View. He missed the December 2000 birth of his daughter, also named Natasha, and held the child for the first time, for a minute, inside a Kansas courtroom surrounded by armed federal marshals. Thinking about this tearful moment later, Pickard wrote, "It was a glimpse of limitless joy. Surrounded by the sacred, I whispered what love and comfort I could, and vowed to return to them. I could have held them, and hold them even now, forever."
Says Pickard, "If this ever went away, I'd probably go straight back to Cambridge and finish my Ph.D.
"I regard myself as marginal, or as they say in Zen, `nothing special.' My regret is not giving more to society in the form of substantive research, but perhaps some time is left to do that, God willing." In March, after local jailers grew frustrated handling Pickard's many telephone calls, federal authorities transferred him from the relatively calm Shawnee County Jail to the maximumsecurity federal pen in Leavenworth, Kansas, a prison notorious for its violence and gang activity.
Even now, Leonard Pickard is surprised that Todd Skinner has done nothing to help him. "I thought he would at least provide some legal support. But I guess not. He must feel really lousy, assuming he has feelings at all."
"I forgive him his confusion," he wrote in a letter. "He is, after all, somewhat like the Wizard of Oz. Seemingly very impressive, but behind the (stolen) amplifier, quite small and afraid."
Skinner faces new problems of his own. On May 16th, state authorities in Kansas arrested him on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the drug-- overdose death of the computer-company employee, Paul Hulebak. The dead man's sister, Kirstin Reynolds, a ballet teacher in Tulsa, says, "Todd Skinner is evil. He considers himself very smart, but I can tell from speaking with him numerous times that he's used to dealing with stupid people." Skinner's sidekick, Gunnar Guinan, she says, "spilled the beans."
Looking back on his life, Pickard wrote, "All in all, a complex story. Suffice it to say that everything was done with dedication and focus, and I have prepared for this day for many years."
In another letter, Pickard enclosed a prayer, "one favored in times of trouble, among psychedelic people in the Sixties."
May the long-time sun shine upon you
And all love surround you
And the clear light within you
Guide your way home.
"If you see fit," Pickard wrote, "you might include that, for the young people."
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