Meanwhile, the FBI, DEA, U.S. Customs and local law enforcement have kept busy. Under the umbrella of Operation Flashback, the DEA opened 158 Ecstasy cases over the past three years. For the most part, rave goers and casual users are not being targeted. Rather, it is the smugglers, purveyors and rave promoters who are in the cross hairs.
Most law-enforcement officials understand that stopping the flow of Ecstasy is doomed to fail, even with stiffer penalties in place. There’s just too much money to be made. Ecstasy is made for around 50 cents per dose and sold at nightclubs in the U.S. for $20 to $30. Instead, federal and local prosecutors are waging a culture war in places as diverse as Kansas City and Virginia, using innovative methods to attack the Ecstasy phenomenon at its source: rave parties.
The most publicized episode, regarded as a test case of the federal government’s ability to go after rave promoters, unfolded earlier this year in New Orleans. A DEA sting at the State Palace Theater on Canal Street resulted, in January, in a federal grand-jury indictment of two businessmen and a rave promoter. Prosecutors alleged, under a rarely enforced federal “crack house” law, that managers Robert and Brian Brunet and rave promoter Donnie “Disco” Estopinal, while not dealing Ecstasy themselves, had facilitated the sale and use of illegal drugs on the premises. The men faced up to 200 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.
In June, the men cut a deal. “Obviously with the media right now, Ecstasy is the hot drug,” Estopinal told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I think that the rave scene is unfairly shouldering a lot of the blame for what is a major problem with a lot of different people and a lot of different scenes.”
The defendants agreed to pay a $100,000 fine and ensure that future raves are free of Ecstasy “paraphernalia.” That includes such seemingly harmless items as glow sticks, mentholated inhalers and candy pacifiers. The dreaded “chill rooms,” where ravers hang out and relax when not dancing, are also banned.
Electronic-music scenesters and civil libertarians rallied to the defense’s side in the case, which, they fear, could put the big chill on raves nationwide if similar cases are filed in other states. “The government ought to stick to legitimate enforcement of laws and not try to become culture cops,” said Joe Cook, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
But government officials said they were pleased with the outcome and promised more to come. “I think this is going to have a major effect in this area and in other areas that have the same sorts of problems,” said interim U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. “When gathering places make drugs available or actively help kids get high and sometimes overdose, we’re going to move in.”