Nate Norman was hanging out with his buddy Topher Clark when he
came up with The Idea. The two friends were sitting around Nate’s
house, a dumpy little place near the cemetery, and both of them
were extremely stoned. And yet The Idea had more legs than your
typical pot-inspired idea. It did not involve a second
Twinkie inside the first one. It did not involve
genetically modifying the bugs so their blood
would not be blood but windshield-wiper fluid. It
was, in fact, based on a practical application of global economic
theory. That, and cheap weed in Canada.

At the time, Nate was a nineteen-year-old high school dropout
who worked at a Pizza Hut in Coeur D’Alene — a gorgeous but dull
resort town in Idaho — and sold the occasional dime bag on the
side. Chubby and baby-faced, Nate had never been the type to come
up with a million-dollar brainstorm. “He was one of those guys
everybody used to pick on,” says his friend Scuzz — Ben Scozzaro,
a year ahead of Nate at Coeur D’Alene High. “He looks like the
Keebler Elf. That’s what we used to call him, actually.” Nor was
Nate much of a scholar. His girlfriend Buffy once received a letter
in which Nate spelled “pot” with an extra “t.” “He can’t spell
‘marijuana,’ either,” she adds.

Always ready with an eager grin, Nate developed a puppy-dog need
for approval — and perpetually holding proved a quick way to earn
the love, or at least tolerance, of his peers. Topher, nine years
his senior, initially met Nate as a customer. An avid outdoorsman
who hunted deer and elk for meat, Topher didn’t have much in common
with Nate but found him goofy yet likable, a “fat, funny kid” with
a “big heart.”

Nate had been getting his stash from a dealer in Spokane,
Washington. But he had heard about how easy it was to cross the
Canadian border — only an hour north of Coeur D’Alene — and bring
back the popular, extremely potent marijuana growing in abundance
in British Columbia and known, generically, as “B.C. Bud.” Rumor
had it that the town of Nelson had become a sort of hippie
Shangri-La, a place where if it took you more than ten minutes to
find someone to sell you a dime bag, there was a good chance you
were already high.

Nate turned to Topher and said, “I’m cool. Are you cool?”

Topher said, “I try to be.”

Nate said, “I’ve got a plan.”

The Idea turned out to be a textbook case of business economics:
Buy low, sell high and eliminate the middleman. Things happened
quickly after that. Suddenly, Nate and Topher and all of their
friends had more cash than they’d ever dreamed of, along with
expensive cars, hot girlfriends and fancy lakefront homes. And
then, just as quickly, they began to lose control. Harder drugs,
guns, paranoia, eventually violence — it was like a movie,
everyone agrees. “Mini-Scarface,” chuckles Nate’s lawyer
Frank Cikutovich.

“Have you seen Blow?” asks Topher. “You should sit down
and watch it sometime. That’s what it was like. We’re at these
parties, watching naked women jump into pools, feeding piranhas in
aquariums, smoking out of big, fancy bongs.”

Topher is sitting, at the moment, in the visiting room of a
federal prison in Terminal Island, California. He’s a big guy, with
solid arms and blocky features. Outside, there are palm trees in
the parking lot and a decent view of the harbor. “When I heard
about the Butler kid, I just wanted out,” he says. He attempts a
smile, but his eyes do not cooperate, the final effect being more
of a pained wince. “I was like, this is pot, right?’ This isn’t
supposed to happen. No one’s supposed to die.”

According to law-enforcement officials, the sale of B.C. Bud has
become a $7 billion-a-year industry. Though marijuana remains
illegal in Canada, the stance of the government regarding pot is
far less hysterical than in the United States, with laws enforced
sporadically and penalties never especially stringent. “Americans
like to think they can stop this,” says Donald Skogstad, a defense
lawyer in British Columbia who specializes in pot cases. “The
Canadian border is five times longer than the Mexican border. There
is no fence, no barrier at all, just a curtain of trees. Right now,
they’re catching all the dumb people. That’s all the Americans get.
They’ll never get you if you’re doing it properly.”

Smugglers have buried stashes in semi trucks filled with wood
chips and driven across the border. They have hidden pot in buses,
in horse trailers, on trains and in mobile homes driven by
gray-haired retirees. They speed across the border on snowmobiles.
They kayak backwoods rivers, or fill the fiberglass hulls of yachts
and sail down. They fly small planes, low, dropping their loads at
agreed-upon locales — farms, raspberry fields — without landing.
They have dug a 360-foot tunnel, beginning in a Quonset hut in
Canada and ending in the living room of a home in Lynden,
Washington. They drag their stashes underwater, behind fishing
boats, so the line can be cut if an agent approaches; buoys,
attached to the loads with dissolvable strips of zinc, rise to the
surface the following day. They float hollowed-out logs, outfitted
with GPS tracking systems, down the Kettle River. And some — “the
bravest,” says Skogstad, “but not necessarily the brightest” –
hike the seven-mile border crossing, through the forest, on
foot.

Once Nate hatched his smuggling plan, he and Topher realized
that their first order of business would be to scrape together
enough cash to make a buy. Luckily, Topher had salvaged a sunken
jet boat from the lake in Coeur D’Alene and had spent the summer
restoring it. To kick-start their enterprise, he dragged it to the
side of the highway and sold it within minutes for $1,500.

The two friends both had big plans. Raised a Buddhist, Topher
had essentially grown up on a boat, sailing the world with his
free-spirit parents before they settled in Coeur D’Alene when he
was fourteen. Though Topher dreamed of opening his own
car-detailing shop, by the time he met Nate he was working
part-time at an amusement park, living with his brother and barely
scraping by.

Nate was also into cars. As a kid, he restored them with his
grandfather, who became a father figure after his parents divorced
and his mother moved the family to Idaho. The oldest of four
children, Nate became especially protective of his mother. Despite
his academic shortcomings, he was always a hard worker, his string
of shitty day jobs including paper routes, telemarketing gigs and a
stint at the Taco John at the mall.

“Nathaniel has always been a really good kid,” insists his
mother, Teresia Franks. “He’d go out of his way to help somebody.
There was an old lady who lived across the street from us. Her
driveway would get blocked every time the snowplow would go by.
Nathaniel would always run over and shovel her drive, and later
she’d tell me that she tried to give him money and he’d say, ‘No,
no.’”

For their first pot run, Nate and Topher drove up to Creston,
B.C., a little farming town just over the border. Once there, they
hit the local bars in search of a connection. It didn’t take long.
“We saw this old man, and we made a hand gesture, like smoking a
bowl,” Topher recalls. “He just nodded his head and told us to come
outside.”

“You guys looking for weed?” the man asked.

The boys said yes.

“You Americans?” he asked.

The boys said yes.

“Good,” the man said.

Minutes later, they were in an apartment making their first
deal: $1,400 for a pound of B.C. Bud. “I put it under my arm like a
football,” Topher says.

Nate drove back across the border, while Topher, the designated
runner, began the long hike through seven miles of thick forest. It
was late afternoon. He’d changed into camouflage gear, stashing his
street clothes and the pot in a backpack. It was a scary trip
nonetheless. Topher was not only worried about border agents but
also grizzly bears and mountain lions, and he wanted to reach U.S.
territory before dark. He and Nate had bought two-way radios to
arrange the pickup. They gave each other code names. Nate was Joe
Blow. Topher was the Space Cowboy.

Once safely on American soil, the pair met their friends at an
Outback Steakhouse and, in Topher’s words, “ate like starving
coyotes.” Excited by the success of their first outing, they showed
their friends the weed — which was, they all had to admit, fairly
skunk-looking tourist weed. “B.C. Bud is really Chronic,” says
Scuzz, who had been brought on board as a dealer. “This was like
Cali Mexican weed.”

But the quality didn’t stop it from moving. Hitting the streets
of Coeur D’Alene, Scuzz and the others sold it all in a couple of
hours.

Having doubled their initial investment in roughly a day, Nate
and Topher quickly planned a second run. This time, they bought two
pounds. Before they knew it, they had gone from struggling to put
gas in their cars to running a major pot enterprise that was
bringing in thousands of dollars a day. “Within a few weeks I went
from selling eighths to quarter pounds,” says Scuzz, who could pass
for a pro snowboarder with his goatee and wraparound shades. “Our
plan was to make 3 million and get out. When you crunch the
numbers, that’s nothing. We figured out we could do it in fourteen
months. But when you’re making twenty or thirty grand a week, why
the fuck would you stop?”

As business boomed, the guys found a couple of steady suppliers
from Nelson — a town that Drew Edwards, in his book West Coast
Smoke
, calls “the marijuana-culture capital of North America.”
Nelson’s remoteness makes it ideal terrain for pot growers — so
much so that the town of 10,000 has its own currency exchange.

Overlooking the main street is the Holy Smoke Culture Shop, a
white clapboard house with a giant marijuana leaf painted on the
side. Next to the pot leaf is a profile of Peter Tosh large enough
to rival Soviet-era portraits of Stalin. Holy Smoke is the local
head shop — but in Nelson, it functions more like a second city
hall. Hikers, snowboarders and potheads come to Nelson from all
over the continent to openly smoke weed and to buy one of the
various strains of B.C. Bud, christened with brand names for
marketing purposes: Triple-A, Crystal Globe, SIN/D.

“You know, name sells,” says Jonas, a local who has worked
full-time as a grower and smuggler. “I read in People or
some stupid shit a list of the highest-stress jobs. Number one was
president of the United States. Number two was drug smuggler.” He
chuckles. “This is above astronauts!”

To keep up with demand, Nate and Topher soon drew their friends
into the operation. Aside from Scuzz, there was Topher’s friend Tim
Hunt, a nineteen-year-old whose family had moved to Coeur D’Alene
from Alaska after his father, caught poaching moose, committed
suicide; Scuzz’s best friend, Rhett Mayer, a supersmart kid who
never touched weed but began driving scout cars en route to the
border; and Nate’s buddy Dustin Lauer, ironically nicknamed “the
Rock” because he was five-foot-six and chubby but always tried to
be a tough guy. The dealers rarely made border runs. “Nate did it a
couple of times, just for fun,” says Topher. “He’d drink four Red
Bulls and be darting from tree to tree like a crazy guy.”

Topher remained the head runner, paid a flat fee of $1,000 per
crossing. He was also in charge of the new recruits. The crew was
immediately outfitted with hundreds of dollars’ worth of equipment,
everything from new boots to night-vision goggles to a spray,
purchased on the Internet, that was supposed to make them
“invisible” to heat sensors. (Says Terry Morgan, a police detective
who investigated Nate’s crew, “I always tell people, ‘Oh, yeah,
that works great. Keep using it.’”)

Runners would cross the border, six at a time, carrying long
canvas hockey bags filled with cash — eventually as much as
$400,000 a run. In Canada, they would meet their contacts from
Nelson on an old closed road and exchange the cash for weed. They
always crossed at night. Once they were back in America, a truck
would swing by and pick up the weed. Topher and his men would spend
the rest of the night in the woods and be picked up around sunrise.
Aside from the obvious demands of hiking for miles with heavy
loads, they had some close calls. One night, Topher stumbled across
a DEA agent, asleep in his truck; another time, they got lost and
nearly froze to death when the temperature dropped to fourteen
below zero.

Nate and his friends were suddenly making — and spending –
preposterous amounts of money. They bought four-wheelers, jet skis,
plasma-screen televisions, minidisc players. “If it had a ‘best’
option, we had it,” says Scuzz. Tim Hunt threw a lavish New Year’s
Eve lingerie party. Platinum jewelry, deemed not flashy enough, was
returned for gold. Aside from Topher, everyone involved was in
their teens and early twenties, which made the upswing in their
collective lifestyle that much more radical.

“When we started, most of us were still living with our moms,”
notes Scuzz. Now, they were buying or renting enormous lakefront
homes — one simply as a stash house for money and drugs. Nate’s
house had eight bedrooms. “I moved into a lake house that was
unreal,” says Scuzz. “My parents didn’t know about it. I told them
I lived in a bullshit-ass apartment.”

Perhaps unwisely, the guys flagrantly ignored an oft-quoted
maxim from Scarface — namely, never get high on your own
supply. “We were stoned every day,” Scuzz confirms. “Me and Nate
would just take the best-looking bags. I don’t think I had a sober
day for three years. I mean,” he quickly adds, “a lot of it was
networking. We were finding clients. You know, go hang out at some
dude’s house, smoke with him, find out if he knows anybody out of
state to sell to. Next day, go to some other dude’s house. But in
the in-between time, yeah, we’d be rolling two-ounce joints and
playing video games.”

Such behavior, while enjoyable, led to the occasional lapse in
judgment. Example: Nate decided he needed a Cadillac Escalade, so
he sent a couple of his guys — with $40,000 in cash — to buy one
from some dude in North Dakota.

“The dumb-asses,” says Detective Morgan, “took a video
camera.”

“It’s like watching Wayne’s World,” says Cikutovich,
Nate’s lawyer. “They’re videotaping themselves smoking doobies.
Then they get there and there’s no Escalade, and they’re going,
‘Dude! Let’s find this guy and beat him up!’” Nate eventually
bought the Escalade in Seattle, paying cash and telling the
salesman he won the money gambling.

“We were doing a lot of stupid shit,” groans Scuzz. “I mean, we
were living in a town where, if you get in a car wreck, your mom’s
uncle will know immediately. Everyone knows everything that’s going
on. And we’re moving hundreds of pounds of weight, making millions
of dollars. But we were a bunch of eighteen-year-olds, and we
weren’t thinking about the long run. We just had that attitude. We
didn’t give a fuck.”

Nate, meanwhile, was beginning to change. His presence had
always been tolerated with a smirk. Now, suddenly, he was Tony
Montana. He became cocky and disrespectful. He also began using
cocaine, which made him paranoid. They had all agreed, early on,
not to have guns. But now, with so much cash around, Nate bought a
Mac-10 9 mm submachine gun and an AR-15 assault rifle.

“He went from having this humble personality to thinking he was
this badass smuggler no one could touch,” says Topher. “He would
drive around town with his twenty-four-inch rims and diamond
chains, listening to hardcore rap. Just this perfect drug-dealer
image. And people were starting to fear him, because he had power
and money.”

Now the only thing the drug kingpin formerly known as the
Keebler Elf needed was a girlfriend. He found her, of course, at a
strip club.

Stateline showgirls falls, technically, on the Idaho side of the
border with Washington, in a town that’s actually called Stateline.
As Idaho law does not permit nude dancing in establishments serving
alcohol, half of Stateline Showgirls is a strip club, where you can
buy a Coke and watch a topless girl gyrate to U2′s “With or Without
You.” The bar is next door. It also has a stripper pole, and
occasionally a fully clothed server wearing, say, jeans and a tight
red sweater will perform a perfunctory pole dance.

Buffy (her stripper name; she was born Katrina Stewart) works
several nights a week at Stateline Showgirls. She’s off tonight,
drinking in the bar and wearing a low-cut blouse that could pass
for a negligee. The top shows off her rather impressive cleavage,
the surgical enhancement of which is a favorite topic of
conversation with Buffy. She’s cute and blond, and began dating
Nate Norman almost four years ago, when he was nineteen and she was
twenty-six. “I met Nathan next door, down by the stage,” she says.
“I remember he saw me and said ‘Fabulous.’ That’s my word! I always
say that. I couldn’t believe a guy would say it to me. We did some
dances after that, and became best friends. He had a great smile.”
Buffy smiles herself. “That first time he walked in here, he
looked, literally, like he was twelve.”

They soon became a couple. Buffy liked dating a younger guy with
no baggage. Nate also lavished her with gifts. They took trips to
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Buffy insists she had no idea of Nate’s
true profession — “He told me he owned a snowplow business” — but
she admits to being a longtime pothead. She once considered
submitting a topless photograph of herself with a huge bud between
her breasts to High Times. She used to refer to Spokane,
where she lives, as “Spokompton” on bad days and “Spoke Vegas” on
good ones. Now she simply refers to it as “Spokannabis.”

With a stripper girlfriend, weapons and gratuitous bling, Nate’s
transformation was nearly complete. “Oh, man, you wouldn’t believe
it,” says Scuzz. “He started buying these stupid homey clothes,
when he’s a white dude from Coeur D’Alene. And he got this
crazy idea in his head that he was going to be a rapper. He got
this little accent when he talked, and he’d always be freestyling
in the car. That’s why you couldn’t help but like him. He’d do such
stupid shit.”

They all would. One night, during an especially crazy
party at Tim Hunt’s — the place was completely packed out, at
least 150 people, and everyone’s wasted — a fight broke out over a
girl. One of the kids left and came back with a group of friends.
They bum-rushed the house, knocking down the door and starting a
full-on brawl. People were getting thrown over furniture and down
the stairs. “If you saw someone you didn’t know,” says Scuzz, “you
took a swing.” Tim ended up running outside with his .45 and
shooting it in the air. But it was so loud in the house, with the
music and the fighting, nobody heard him. So Nate, who was
piss-drunk, grabbed another Magnum, only he shot it off in the
house
. “Have you ever shot a .45 Magnum in a house?” Scuzz
asks. “It’s deafening. It was like a fucking bomb went off.” All
the girls started screaming and everyone ran outside.

Scuzz and his girlfriend made it to their Lexus and took off,
but they were immediately pulled over by five cops, who yanked
Scuzz out of the car and put him on the hood, guns drawn. Just
then, his friend Rhett drove by — on the wrong side of the road –
and took out a fence right in front of the cops. They were so busy
with Scuzz, they didn’t even notice. Eventually, they figured out
that Scuzz didn’t have a gun and let him go. Later, when he got
home, he realized that he had twenty grand in his pocket. He had no
idea how it got there. “Someone at the party,” he says, “must have
owed me money or something.”

The next night, they had another party at the same house.

By this point, the operation had expanded to include at least
thirty-two people. They were making four to six runs a month,
moving hundreds of pounds of B.C. Bud to California, Montana and
other parts of Idaho.

Topher, though, was becoming anxious. He’d already tried to quit
once, but Nate had upped his pay to $8,000 a run. “So I kept doing
it,” he says. “But I told myself, ‘This is going to have a horrible
ending.’” He tried to warn his friend about being so flashy with
his spending, but Nate just laughed, insisting he wouldn’t stop
until he went to prison.

The Coeur D’Alene police department knew about Nate and his
crew, but the cops were too busy to bother with pot dealers. “They
were back-burner cases,” says Detective Morgan. “We were doing
three meth labs a week. We don’t hold a back seat to anybody with
our meth labs.”

In the end, Nate was not undone by his own greed but by
overlooking one of the basic tenets of capitalism: Never
underestimate the competition. Nate’s most serious rival was a kid
named Brendan Butler. Born in Korea, Butler had been adopted at age
two by an upper-middle-class couple in Hayden Lake, a suburb of
Coeur D’Alene. His friends and family all called him by his
nickname, “Wang,” which means “little prince” in Korean. Butler was
a short kid, only five-foot-four, but exceptionally bright, having
graduated early, and with honors, from the prestigious Gonzaga
Preparatory School in Spokane.

Instead of going to college, though, Butler had an epiphany
similar to Nate’s. Soon after graduation, he’d set up his own
smuggling operation. And like Nate, he wasted no time in working up
his own gangster persona. He drove around town in a low-riding ’93
El Dorado with tinted windows and tricked-out rims, and began
abusing cocaine and OxyContin.

In a market as small as Coeur D’Alene, there was bound to be
trouble. Nate and Butler “were running across a lot of the same
customers,” says Detective Morgan. The crews clashed as they
encroached on each other’s territories. As Topher says, “It became
this ‘fuck you’-’fuck you‘ situation.”

Butler began to put out word that he was looking for “muscle.”
Through friends, he met an older “enforcer” type — a
thirty-three-year-old aspiring graphic artist with no criminal
record named Giovanni Mendiola, Gio to friends. Butler met with
Mendiola in Coeur D’Alene and told him that he wanted Nate and
Scuzz robbed and killed. Mendiola agreed to do the job for
$100,000. A few days later, Mendiola checked into a Howard
Johnson’s with his brother Eddie and two other men. Butler paid
them $5,000 upfront, then accompanied them on a shopping trip to
Kmart, where they bought black shoes, pants, gloves and
windbreakers, as well as tarps for disposing of the bodies. Butler
also provided guns: two assault rifles, a .357 Magnum, a 9 mm
semiautomatic pistol and a Tech 9 handgun. Mendiola had brought his
own knife. He planned to cut off Nate’s and Scuzz’s fingers.

One night in June 2002, while Butler hosted a big “alibi party”
so he couldn’t be implicated, Mendiola and his crew broke into
Scuzz’s house. Scuzz and his girlfriend, Crystal Stone, didn’t hear
anything until a group of armed men with shaved heads and goatees
kicked open their bedroom door and began yelling in a combination
of English and Spanish. Crystal, who was nude, was bound with white
plastic zip ties and gagged with tape, while Scuzz was forced to
reveal the location of his drugs and cash. After robbing Scuzz, the
men let him go. Returning to Spokane, they divided the spoils with
Butler and made plans to return later to finish the job.

Nate’s crew, meanwhile, was rattled. Nobody knew what to make of
the robbery, which only added to the overall paranoia. “We didn’t
know it was Butler,” says Topher. “We thought it must be some dudes
from out of town. All kinds of rumors were going around.” The day
after the robbery, Scuzz moved, and he began sleeping with a Tech 9
under his pillow.

Later that summer, Nate broke both of his arms in a dirt-bike
accident and moved in with Buffy. “That was a bad time,” she
recalls. “Nate’s arms were in casts. I was recovering from my
surgery.” She fluffs her breasts as a visual aid. “And my cat Titty
Bar Bob had broken his back, and he got addicted to these
painkillers. He’d crawl up the sides of the wall to get to them. It
was a weird summer.”

Back in Spokane, Mendiola was growing angry with his client.
Butler had yet to pay the agreed-upon advance and kept providing
bad information. He insisted that Scuzz had not moved (when a
simple surveillance run quickly proved otherwise) and gave Mendiola
a crude drawing of a house that was supposed to be Nate’s.

Nobody knows for certain what happened on October 11th, when
Mendiola and his men met Butler at a campground near Hayden Lake.
Butler planned to show the men a remote location to dispose of the
bodies. But at some point, his contrived “gangsta” persona
apparently rubbed this group of actual gangsters the wrong way. In
what police describe as a dispute over money, Mendiola turned on
Butler. As his brother and friends watched, shocked, he began
choking the undersized twenty-year-old, who begged for mercy.
Mendiola continued choking him until blood came out of his mouth
and nose. After Butler was dead, Mendiola slashed his throat
repeatedly with his knife, hoping to cover any fingerprints.
Leaving Butler’s body in the woods, the men proceeded to one of his
safe houses and stole sixty pounds of marijuana.

A month later, a woodcutter discovered Butler’s body. “Once they
found the body,” says Detective Morgan, “it was like, ‘Holy shit.
It’s not just kids out here smoking dope and buying Escalades and
boats. There’s a dead guy out here.’” Investigators quickly tracked
down Mendiola, after discovering his number in Butler’s cell phone;
the crew was arrested in March 2003. Police also began running
surveillance on Nate’s crew.

After news of the murder broke, Nate and his guys were shaken.
“Everybody started pointing fingers at everybody else,” says
Topher. Things, suddenly, had become far heavier than anyone had
anticipated. It was also clear that a body would bring more heat to
the scene, so they began to make plans to dissolve the operation
and either retire or leave town.

“It was like, ‘This dude Butler is done, we made all this money;
now we either need to take a break or get out of it completely,’”
Scuzz recalls. “Nate had a house rented in San Diego. It was like
one of those houses on — what’s that fucking show? The Real
World
. Nine bedrooms. An indoor swimming pool. It was
sick.”

The group assembled at Tim Hunt’s house early one morning in
April 2003, with plans to hit the road by 6 a.m. “We all met on
time, but we didn’t leave on time,” says Scuzz. “This guy’s not
packed yet. This guy needs to put his street bikes away. If we had
left on time, I don’t know what would have happened. Instead, we
were sitting around like a bunch of stoners, and we weren’t ready
to leave until nine. And that’s when the raid happened.”

Hunt’s house was one of the sites under surveillance. When
police spotted a U-Haul, they decided to strike, seizing guns,
cash, marijuana and computers. Morgan spent the rest of his summer
turning informants and building a case against the crew. In
November, his department, working in conjunction with the FBI, made
fourteen arrests, including Scuzz, Topher, Hunt, Rhett Mayer and
Buffy. The crew was accused of moving at least seven tons of B.C.
Bud, worth $38 million.

Nate, who remained at large, decided to surrender himself to the
authorities. For legal representation, he hired Frank Cikutovich,
whose e-mail address begins with the letters “FU DEA” and whose
business card folds open to reveal a stack of rolling papers.
Cikutovich recalls the reaction when he accompanied his client to
the police station. “In their mind, it’s like they’ve just caught
Noriega,” he says. “And here’s Nate, all five feet of him, in his
Izod shirt, looking like his mommy bought it for him. It was like
Geraldo Rivera opening the vault. Like, ‘Is that it?’ This is the
guy who’s orchestrated a multimillion-dollar operation? And he
looks like, and has the job skills of, a pizza delivery boy?”

Nate had promised his friends that he would cover their legal
fees if anything went down. But once they were busted, the guys
wasted no time rolling over. “Everyone told on everyone,” Scuzz
says. “If they tell you you’re getting ten years, it’s like, ‘Fuck
that. I’m eighteen years old.’”

When the cases went to trial in 2004, Nate was portrayed as the
kingpin of a drug empire. Scuzz and Topher both got thirty months;
most of the others, somewhere between thirty and forty-six. Nate
pleaded guilty to five of the fifty-nine counts against him and
received a twelve-year sentence; ten years of the sentence is a
mandatory minimum and not subject to parole. Giovanni Mendiola, by
contrast, pleaded guilty to the murder of Brendan Butler and
received a life sentence with a possibility of parole in eight
years.

Nate, currently appealing his sentence, has declined all
interview requests. Just before he went to prison, he spoke briefly
with a reporter from the Spokesman-Review in Spokane,
insisting, “I’m no kingpin. I never told anybody what to do.” The
writer described Nate as smiling and waving from the other side of
the jail’s bulletproof glass, possessing “the eager grin and jazzed
body language of someone who had just had an excellent
adventure.”

Buffy was convicted of possession and is currently on parole. As
part of her sentence, the judge ordered her to wear a key around
her neck — “the key to your future” — as a reminder to keep
straight. Buffy bought four keys: one gold, one white gold, one
Playboy bunny and one white gold with diamonds. She has
kept a scrap album of newspaper clippings from the trial, complete
with word- and thought-balloon stickers that comment on what
happened. On the day of her arrest, for example, her mug shot is
thinking, “This must be my lucky day!” Next to the POT SMUGGLER
GETS 12 YEARS headline, another balloon reads, simply, “Mr.
Right.”

Still, Buffy and Nate remain a couple. They talk once a month.
Buffy, these days, mostly strips to “missing you” songs, like
Simple Plan’s “Miss You” and — her favorite — Pink Floyd’s “Wish
You Were Here.”

Scuzz, meanwhile, avoided prison by going to boot camp; he’s
currently serving his time in a halfway house in Long Beach. We
meet at a Jack in the Box near the garage where he works six days a
week. Through the plate-glass windows, dun-colored mountains are
visible in the desert haze. Scuzz hates the halfway house and his
job. But he’s still with his girlfriend, Crystal, whom he describes
as a “down-ass chick,” adding, “I almost got her killed, and she’s
still with me.

“It’s funny,” he continues. “Everyone asks me, ‘Do you regret
what you did?’ And the answer is, fuck no. I mean, I think of
myself as an entrepreneur, and I went about some of that the wrong
way. But I’ve done more at twenty-two than most people do their
whole lives. I partied my ass off. There were so many women. I
smoked so much weed. Anyone says they regret that, they’re full of
shit. They’re saying that to please other people. I don’t care. I
had a blast.”

 
  • Ebyj88

    If you cant enjoy it then why do it.Have fun now cause tomorrow it may be all over.Peace Drugs Rock n Roll and for gods sake pass the bowl.

  • Salu08

    Wow!!!!!

  • Bbsaget22

    Give the author credit.

    • Bbsaget22

      I mean put the author’s name at the top of the piece. 

  • Jillybean081

    Reading in italics is so annoying.

  • Martins143

    Sounds like an Intense life – Awesome !