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 any thing 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 portaryed 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 bullet-proof 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 "downass 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 plese other people. I don't care. I had a blast."
This story is from the October 20th, 2005 issue of Rolling Stone.
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