Police bust LSD lab in White Clay
His hands are damp with sweat as he passes them over a spread of chemicals that only a seasoned chemist would be comfortable handling - sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid and Imodium hydroxide. Hydrazine, a chemical used in most commercial rocket fuels, sits on the table. In a damp environment, like a barn, it is liable to explode.
He is young, tall and thin like a long-distance runner. He is a fledgling scientist and he was commissioned to produce a highly illegal chemical. He was promised payment - a cheap car and several thousand dollars of college tuition money - and gathered all but a few ingredients. The few he could not purchase, he attempts to synthesize on his own.
The 23-year-old man is named Paul Little. He was once a chemistry student at Widener University and he had hoped to transfer to the University of Delaware. He was nearly broke, desperate and manufacturing LSD in hopes the payoff would let him return to college.
Had he finished his work, he would have produced more than fifty million hits of the hallucinogenic drug, a quantity valued at more than a quarter of a billion dollars. The Drug Enforcement Administration claims only a handful of chemists currently have the ability and the desire to supply America with LSD.
If his work had been completed, he would have gone down as the victim of one of the biggest LSD lab busts in DEA history. But that fact is now irrelevant.
Little pleaded guilty last month to federal drug offenses, and faces a $1 million fine and 20 years in prison. He will be sentenced in July.
Little was unavailable for comment through his lawyer, assistant federal public defender Christopher Koyste.
Widener University track coach Vince Houey found out about Little in the spring of 2001. A friend told him about a promising high school distance runner from Rochester, NY. By that fall, Little was running sub-nine-minute two-miles for the Widener University track team.
When Little was accepted to the university he was offered a hefty financial aid award. Without that award, it is unlikely Little ever would have left New York. His mother, divorced from his father, lived in Texas. And at the time of Little's admission to Widener, his father was living alone and working a low-wage job. Without financial aid, Little would have been unable to pay Widener's nearly $37,000-a-year price tag.
Halfway through Little's sophomore year, the financial aid had dried up. Little's father re-married a woman with a good job and a salary to match. The federal government and Widener University suddenly expected Little to be able to pay nearly 10 times the amount expected of him the previous semester. And for whatever reason, his new stepmother refused to pay for school. That semester would be Little's last at Widener.
But even before Little was rendered financially independent, he had set his sights on the University of Delaware. His high school girlfriend had been enrolled there since they both entered college two years earlier, and the university offered nationally recognized chemistry and chemical engineering departments. And the school had a good track team.
Senior Kevin DuPrey met Little, then a sophomore, at a track meet at Widener in the fall of his freshman year. Little told DuPrey he wanted to run for the university.
"He was a really phenomenal runner," DuPrey said, "and he was going to transfer to UD, but it never happened."
Little has never taken a class at the university. It is unknown whether or not he ever officially applied.
Little officially left Widener at the end of the Spring Semester in 2003. After that, it appears he gradually settled down in the Newark area. He continued his employment as a groundskeeper in the White Clay Creek State Park. By the fall of 2004 he had enrolled in courses at Delaware Technical and Community College. It was around that time that Little attached himself, at least socially, to the track and cross country teams at the university.
Every Sunday, several members of the track team meet for a distance run, an unofficial training session on which they tackle anywhere from 10 to 15 miles on the trails of the White Clay Creek State Park. When Little showed up one Sunday, he was welcomed. There was no reason to be rude and ask him to leave, especially once the guys realized he could hang with the best of them.
Junior Tim Brock said it was not long before Little became a regular at track parties. He talked a big game, Brock said, but always cited a new obstacle that was keeping him from enrolling at the university and joining the team.
DuPrey said Little once told him he could not enroll because he was about to be deported to Canada. Little is a Canadian citizen, but there is no indication the Immigration and Naturalization Service was on his back. Brock said Little once told him he had been sponsored by the shoe company Puma, and was on the brink of signing a deal that would send him to the West Coast.
Little vanished from campus as quickly as he appeared. By the end of the fall, Little had stopped taking classes at Delaware Technical and Community College, disappeared from the Sunday training runs and become as infrequent a guest at track parties as Coach Fisher, who has not seen Little in more than a year.
It should come as no surprise, though, that Little has not made any recent visits to Fisher's office. He was, of course, arrested by the DEA in September. And since then, he has been held in federal custody.
Two weeks before the end of August, Allie Holbrook was asked to take on a new roommate. She and her two other roommates worked on the trail crew at the White Clay Creek State Park, and lived in an old farmhouse at the top of a hill that overlooks the White Clay Creek. She was told the man had finished some seasonal groundskeeping work and needed a place to stay until the end of the month. After that, she was told, he would head back to Canada. His name was Paul.
"We didn't even really want him living here," she said. "He was kind of a dick. I mean, I think he was just a dork, not really very good at relating to people."
Sometimes, when in the house by himself, Little would wait for his roommates by the door like a puppy. But the house was large and Holbrook, who considers herself a tolerant person, put up with him. He would only be there for two weeks anyways.
"I remember thinking, 'He better have his plane ticket,' " she said.
By the end of August, it appeared Little had made his exit, having officially been evicted from the house. But unbeknownst to Holbrook, Little was lingering.
On Sept. 15, 2005, a maintenance worker, whose name was not released by the state park, was sent to an old barn to look for some paint cans. That barn overlooks the creek, and next to it is Holbrook's farmhouse. It was used as secondary storage, filled, sparsely, with old paint cans, mowers and empty space.
But that afternoon the maintenance worker found something more. Standing over a table was a spindly young man, a mad scientist named Paul Little. The worker saw beakers and bottles of chemicals and he called a park ranger.
Park ranger Arthur Angelo responded first. Little told the ranger he was creating alternative fuels, but Angelo knew better. Before long, the narrow one lane road that leads to the barn was clogged with traffic - state police, DEA, HAZMAT and fire department vehicles.
In a mini-fridge in a common area of the adjacent farmhouse, DEA investigators found three glass beakers containing 2.82 kgs of a liquid chemical compound that was well on its way to becoming liquid LSD.
Holbrook said Little once brought some beakers into the kitchen while he was living with her. Knowing he studied chemistry, she did not think twice about it. According to the DEA, at least two of the chemicals held in those beakers were extremely volatile.
In an interview with police shortly after his arrest, Little dropped the alternative fuels story and admitted to manufacturing LSD.
Holbrook and her two roommates were ejected from their home after Little was arrested that afternoon. After six weeks of living with friends, they moved back in. All that remains of the ordeal are scraps of pink quarantine notices that were posted on the windows of the house by the DEA - those and a handful of bad memories.
Paul Little has not been so lucky. Once a promising chemistry student and track star, he now sits in a federal prison.
Friends of Little's said they could not imagine him ever taking drugs. One friend said Little rarely drank, and when he did, he was a lightweight. All of them wonder why, when faced with financial troubles, he decided to manufacture LSD. And they wonder whether he realized the consequences he could face if caught.
If stamped with the maximum sentence when he faces the judge in July he could be fined up to $1 million. Worse yet, he could be sent to prison for the next 20 years of his life.