Fugitive member of 1960s LSD ring arrested

By Terrapinzflyer · Sep 30, 2009 · ·
  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Fugitive member of 1960s LSD ring arrested
    Brotherhood of Eternal Love member reportedly arrested returning from Nepal.

    A fugitive member of a local group that distributed LSD worldwide has been arrested after nearly 40 years on the run.

    Brenice Lee Smith, 64, was arrested at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday after flying in from Hong Kong, the OC Weekly reported.
    He is being held at the Maguire Correctional Facility in Redwood City, a jail spokesman said.

    In the 1960s, Smith was a member of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a group of hippies who lived in shacks, tents and caves in Laguna Canyon, dropping acid and smoking weed.

    The group, which was associated with psychedelic guru Timothy Leary, evolved into an international hashish- and LSD-distribution network that was eventually brought down by authorities.

    The group smuggled hashish in from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and produced high-grade LSD nicknamed "Orange Sunshine."

    The Brotherhood of Eternal Love was nicknamed the Hippie Mafia in a 1972 article in Rolling Stone.

    Smith was one of the group's founders, and was returning home after years living in exile in Nepal, according to the OC Weekly, which first reported the arrest.

    The OC Weekly's Nick Schou, who is working on a book on the Brotherhood, published an account of Smith's life in exile after talking to two former group members, who went to San Francisco to pick Smith up at the airport.
    After authorities cracked down on the Brotherhood, some of the members who escaped arrest fled the country.

    The last member of the group to turn up was Nicholas Sand, the chemist responsible for producing more than 1.5 million hits of acid for the group.
    Sand, who was fleeing a 15-year sentence imposed in 1976, was arrested at a Canadian drug lab in 1996. He had five years added to the sentence as punishment for fleeing.

    In 1994, group member Russell Joseph Harrigan turned himself in to local authorities. He had taken an assumed name, married, and was raising his five kids.

    A judge showed Harrigan leniency, dropping the charges with the district attorney's consent.



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  1. old hippie 56
    Everybody give credit to Owsley Stanley for introducing acid to the masses, it Nicholas Sand who produced most of the acid during the Bay area drug culture years.
  2. Desertfox
    He probly thought it was all blown over by now, little did he know his name would pop up with a metaphorical red flag if he ever purchased plane tickets back into the country.
  3. Terrapinzflyer
    Turtle doubts they were that naive. His aarrdvark friend only had a brief (1yr+/-) period of having to be on the run, and says it took ten years off his life. Constantly looking over his shoulder, a completely new level of terror when those red and blues flash...he says its hell ... and not giving some sort of credit for time spent on the run during sentencing is cruel and unusual punishment.
    There have been a lot of folks that spent long periods on the run and turned themselves in when they got older and friends and family started dying...
  4. Terrapinzflyer

    Felonious Monk?
    After three decades in Nepal, a fugitive in a hippie-era hash-smuggling case returns to OC in handcuffs

    He spent decades on the run, but the last member of the so-called “Hippie Mafia” to evade the long arm of the law, has finally been captured and is now in custody at the Orange County Jail, having pleaded not guilty to 40-year-old charges of hash smuggling and LSD peddling.

    Brenice Lee Smith, who grew up in Anaheim, was one of the founding members of the Laguna Beach-based Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a group of hash-smuggling hippies who befriended Timothy Leary and sought to turn on the entire world through their trademark acid, Orange Sunshine (see “Lords of Acid,” July 8, 2005). As the Weekly first reported on our Navel Gazing blog, he was arrested by U.S. Customs agents at San Francisco International Airport on Sept. 26 around 9 p.m., just minutes after arriving from Hong Kong on the second leg of a trip that started a day earlier in Kathmandu, Nepal.

    Along with many other members of the Brotherhood, Smith, better-known as “Brennie” among family and friends, allegedly traveled to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the late 1960s and smuggled hashish back to California inside Volkswagen buses, mobile homes and other vehicles. The Brotherhood distributed more LSD throughout the world than anyone else and famously raised cash with acid sales to bust Leary out of prison and help him escape to Afghanistan, where he was arrested in 1973. Smith was indicted for his role in the group but was among about a dozen members who managed to evade arrest in August 1972 when a task force made up of federal, state and local cops raided Brotherhood houses from Laguna Beach to Oregon to Maui—where many members of the group had fled after OC became too hot—and arrested some 50 people.

    The last Brotherhood fugitive to be captured was Orange Sunshine chemist Nicholas Sand, who was arrested in British Columbia in 1996. Sand spent several years in prison for manufacturing LSD. Two years earlier, a friend of Smith’s named Russell Harrigan was arrested by police near Lake Tahoe, California, after they learned his real identity. However, an Orange County judge dismissed the charges against Harrigan because he’d lived a crime-free life while quietly raising a family.

    Despite that fact, Deputy District Attorney Jim Hicks says dropping charges against Smith “wasn’t something [he is] considering.” Hicks says the DA’s office is still investigating Smith’s involvement with the Brotherhood, as well as his activities during the past four decades, including his reasons for returning to the United States. “We’re interested in a fair resolution,” Hicks told the Weekly on Oct. 16, just minutes after he told Judge Thomas M. Goethals that he imagined Smith’s trial would take “at least” a month.

    Details now emerging about Smith’s life in the past 40 years suggest he has a strong case for having his own charges dismissed. After living underground in California for several years, Smith fled for Nepal in 1981. “He absolutely wanted to go,” says Eddie Padilla, a founding Brotherhood member who is married to Smith’s niece, Lorey James. “He was tired of running around, trying not to get arrested here in the U.S. Then he left and went over to India, then Nepal and lived in the mountains 8,000 feet up in this monastery for five, six, seven or eight years as a shaved-head monk. He fell in love with this guru, Kalu Rinpoche.”

    According to Padilla and James, Smith kept in touch with them in frequent letters from Kathmandu, where he moved after Maoist guerrillas began attacking monasteries in the Himalayan foothills. In Kathmandu, Smith—who took the name Dorje with the blessing of Rinpoche—married a Nepalese woman, Rukumani, and fathered a daughter, Anjana, who is now 21 years old.

    Recently, James says, her uncle seemed worried about both the mounting political violence in Nepal and his daughter’s future there. “He was starting to get concerned about Anjana,” James says. “He wanted her to be here because the opportunities for her are so vast here compared to any kind of life she could have in Nepal.” So Smith went to the U.S. Embassy in Nepal and applied for a passport under his real name—something he hadn’t done since before smuggling hash in the late 1960s. “He got the passport, and I think he was thinking—and so were we—that if they [the cops] wanted him, that would be the time to get him.”

    Both James and Padilla were waiting at the airport to greet Smith, as were William Kirkley, a filmmaker who is working on a documentary about the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, and his co-producer and cinematographer, Rudiger Barth. The filmmakers planned to interview Smith in the Bay Area. Kirkley says he still hopes to interview Smith soon and that the interview won’t be through the bars of a jail cell. “I am hoping they see that [Smith] completely changed his life around, became a Buddhist monk and is much more rehabilitated than he would have been if he had gone to prison,” he says. “We’re all hoping for the best outcome.”

    In a Oct. 5 court hearing, Goethals set Smith’s bail at $1.1 million. Hicks had requested a much higher amount, arguing that Smith could face a life sentence if convicted of all charges. But Smith’s Chicago-based attorney, Gerardo Gutierrez, argued that marijuana and hashish were treated much more harshly 40 years ago than they are today. Ultimately, Goethals went with what he said was a middle-of-the-road bail amount after taking other factors into account.

    “Mr. Smith has been out of the country for over 30 years,” Goethals said. However, he continued, “at least part of that time he was in a monastery in Tibet or someplace, and he came back voluntarily. . . . I don’t know what the sentence could be for this case. I can’t imagine it’s a life sentence, but it has to take into account the time he was gone and the fact he came back voluntarily. I don’t know why he did that; maybe it was because he thought everyone would have forgotten him by now.”

    Unfortunately for Smith, memories run long at the Orange County DA’s office. Prosecutor Hicks happens to be the son of Cecil Hicks, Orange County’s DA at the time of the original Brotherhood case and therefore the top law-enforcement official involved in the group’s prosecution. (One law-enforcement source who helped take down the Brotherhood remarked that the case was so old he couldn’t believe the charges hadn’t already been dropped.)

    For his part, Gutierrez believes the DA’s office is trying to punish Smith before convicting him of any crime. “I think this case is being prosecuted backward,” he says. “They want him to spend as much time behind bars as possible because that may be the only punishment he gets.”


  5. Terrapinzflyer
    Last of 'Brotherhood' defendants pleads guilty

    SANTA ANA The last defendant in a decades-old drug conspiracy indictment out of Laguna Beach pleaded guilty today to transportation of hashish and was sentenced to 75 days in jail.

    Brenice Lee Smith, now 64, was one of the original defendants charged in a 1972 Orange County Grand Jury indictment that targeted the Laguna Beach-based drug cult "the Brotherhood of Eternal Love."

    He left Orange County in the 1970s before he could be prosecuted and ended up in Tibet, where he spent 11 years living in a monastery, according to defense attorney Gerardo S. Gutierrez. Smith later married and raised a daughter.

    He returned to the United States earlier this year and was detained by federal security agents on his outstanding warrant.

    He admitted to Judge William R. Froebeg today to conspiring with others to import hashish from Afghanistan to Orange County from 1966 to 1972.

    Deputy District Attorney James Hicks today said an investigation showed that while Smith was involved in the conspiracy, he was not among the major players.

    November 20, 2009 1:47 PM

  6. Terrapinzflyer
    Case Closed on “Hippie Mafia” Smugglers

    The strange case of the so-called “Hippie Mafia,” the longest, most surreal saga in the annals of American counterculture, is finally over.

    On November 20, Brenice Lee Smith, the last remaining fugitive from the legendary band of outlaws known as the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, pleaded guilty to a single charge of smuggling hashish from Afghanistan to Orange County. In return, the Orange County District Attorney's office, which had originally charged Smith with smuggling hash in 1972, dropped all other charges against him. After having spent the previous two months behind bars, Smith left jail a free man early the next morning. He has now returned to his wife and daughter in Nepal, where he has spent the past 30 years.

    In an interview shortly after being released, Smith said he returned to California after four decades on the run to be interviewed by a documentary crew making a film about Buddhism. He claimed he spent six years in isolation during his time at a monastery in Darjeeling, India, alongside his guru, the Lama Kalu Rinpoche. Smith's tenure at the monastery ended in the mid-1980s thanks to civil strife at the hands of ethnic Nepalese who were demanding an independent “Gurkaland” state.

    Denying that he's had anything to do with drugs since the early 1970s, Smith says that he instead has dedicated his life to constant prayer. “I practice my religion day and night, all the time,” he said. “I sleep very little, maybe three or four hours a day and other than that I sit and pray for the benefit of the world and the people who live in it and my own karma that follows me like a shadow in everything I do. What goes around comes around.”

    For his part, Deputy District Attorney Jim Hicks, whose father Cecil Hicks presided over the original Brotherhood conspiracy case, confirmed in an interview outside the courtroom that the Hippie Mafia case is now closed. “That's it,” he said. “We've concluded it.” Hicks added that he had been prepared to go to trial with testimony by former Brotherhood member Travis Ashbrook, who was recently released from prison for growing marijuana, that Smith was "one of the original 13 members of the Brotherhood." According to Hicks, Ashbrook had spoken voluntarily about Smith's involvement with hash smuggling, but had stated that this involvement was minimal.

    Reached by telephone at his house near San Diego, however, Ashbrook expressed amazement that Hicks had claimed he'd agreed to testify. "Absolutely not," he said. "I can't believe they said that. There is no way I would have taken the stand. They asked me about Brennie and all I said was that Brennie didn't do anything in the Brotherhood, he wasn't any kind of kingpin and how come you haven't let him out of jail yet?"

    "It's clear he wasn't the biggest player," Hicks said of Smith. "If anyone was, it was probably Ashbrook. What he said helped us determine a plea that would adequately describe his conduct and that's what we have."

    The Brotherhood was formed in Modjeska Canyon, California in 1966 by a group of mostly high school friends from Anaheim, including Ashbrook and Smith. Many of them were street thugs or heroin addicts but who after dropping acid, found a new sense of spiritual purpose, adopted Eastern religious teachings, became vegetarians, and swore themselves off violence. At the behest of the group's leader, John Griggs, they befriended Timothy Leary with the aim of transforming the world into a peaceful utopia by promoting consciousness-expanding drug experimentation through LSD, including their famous homemade acid, Orange Sunshine.

    To finance that goal – becoming America's biggest acid distribution network in the late 1960s and early 1970s – the Brotherhood also became the nation's largest hashish smuggling ring, with a direct pipeline between Kandahar, Afghanistan and Laguna Beach. By the time police finally cracked down on the Brotherhood in 1972, the group was in disarray, a downward spiral that began when Griggs perished of an overdose of synthetic psilocybin in August 1969, an event that Smith witnessed. He says that Griggs immediately realized he'd taken too much and retreated to his teepee with instructions that he not be taken to the hospital, no matter what happened. “He knew he was going to leave his body that night,” Smith says. “He went into convulsions and we put him in the car and by the time he got to the hospital they pronounced him dead.”

    Although law enforcement declared victory over the Brotherhood in August 1972 when the largest drug raid in California's history at the time took place, new evidence reveals the group continued to smuggle hashish from Afghanistan for several more years. One of the arrest warrants used to jail Smith when he was arrested at the airport in San Francisco pertained to a smuggling case from 1979, just weeks before the Soviet invasion. Grand jury transcripts from that case show that several Brotherhood members, including Smith, were charged with shipping hashish from the Kandahar-based Tokhi brothers – who had been supplying the Brotherhood since 1967 – after a load was captured by police in the Bay Area. The government's main witness in the case, however, testified that Smith had played virtually no role in that operation, however, other than flying to Kabul, Afghanistan to “build a tennis court” and “visit his goofy guru,” an apparent reference to Rinpoche.

    Smith refused to answer any questions about that case or the charges against him, or to talk in detail about the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. “It's all in the past,” he said. “It was not about drugs or LSD or anything like that. We wanted people to be happy and free and not like what society conditioned you to want to be. Basically we loved everyone and wanted everyone to find love and happiness. We wanted to change the world in five years but in five years it changed us. It was an illusion.”

    Thu, Dec 03, 2009 3:36 pm
    By Nick Schou
    Nick Schou is the author of the forthcoming book "Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love and Acid to the World."

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