Judge says no bond for Brown brothers
Posted By Sparta Live | September 30, 2002 12:00 am
Kim Swindell Wood
A Sparta Internet-based drug distribution case, which had major connections to other states, resulted in the arrests approximately two weeks ago of Kevin Layne Brown and Ronald Keith Brown. During a detention hearing last Wednesday in Nashville, Judge Clifton E. Knowles said there was “clear and compelling evidence” for “no bond” for the alleged drug dealers.
The two White County brothers, who are currently being held in a federal facility, were charged with eight separate counts of distributing mixtures containing 1,4 Butanediol (BD), a schedule I controlled substance analogue. This substance is an analogue of GHB (Gamma hydroxybutyrate), which is commonly referred to as the “date rape drug.”
Lt. Detective Allen Selby, of Sparta Police Department, along with Chief Jeff Guth, conducted the local two-year investigation, known nationwide as “Operation Webslinger.” According to Selby, evidence was presented during the detention hearing that was not originally released to the media. “We had to present evidence to substantiate if we felt the Brown brothers would be a flight risk or an endangerment to the community,” said Selby.
Selby said the question had been presented to him about taking such a long time for the investigation. “We don’t want to arrest someone just to arrest them,” he said. “We want to be able to convict when we arrest.”
According to Selby, Sparta’s investigation was the first Internet drug case in the country. “When we started, we were conferring with different federal agencies,” he said, “and we received guidance from Washington on what we needed.”
Selby said GHB was a legal drug until early 2000. He said the Browns had originally been selling the drug while it was legal. They had numerous websites and links, which were specifically used to distribute the drug. When the bill passed to make GHB illegal, the Brown brothers allegedly became more “clever” with their connections to their customers.
According to Selby, the investigation had to be extremely thorough, and many sources were involved in the cases. “There were so many companies associated with the website,” he said. “A customer could click on the website, then payments were made through other sources. We had to subpoena all their records.”
The records allegedly indicated the Browns had a customer base of 1,000 individuals, which encompassed 46 states and Puerto Rico. “There were thousands of pages of financial records confiscated, which had to be reviewed,” said Selby.
According to Selby, the onset of the investigation began when federal agents in Mobile, Ala., called Nashville Drug Enforcement Agency (D.E.A.) and asked them to “look into” some information about an Internet-based drug trafficking operation in Sparta, which had connections to Mobile. “Nashville called here [Sparta Police Department] to verify the information,” he said. “They wanted to verify the names of the individuals they were given, and if, in fact, they did live in Sparta.”
Selby said he became actively involved in the investigation in March 2001. In April 2002, Sparta Police Department received a call from Tullahoma Police Department about a death, with the investigation leading to Sparta. Daniel K. Roberts, of Tullahoma, died as a result of using a mixture containing 1,4 Butanediol (BD), the analogue of GHB. “Tullahoma officials asked if we knew about a particular company that allegedly distributed the drug that was the cause of Roberts’ death,” said Selby. “The company was one that had been identified as belonging to the Browns. We told Tullahoma officials we were aware of the company.”
According to Selby, in the fall of 2001, the investigation was in full-swing. “We were close to being able to seek indictments,” he said. ” We presented our evidence to the U.S. attorneys, but they felt we needed more evidence.”
In the latter part of winter 2001, Selby said he and Guth were ready to present their evidence again. “We received information from Washington about other investigations nationwide,” said Selby. “Representatives from all the cities involved in Webslinger met in St. Louis to discuss the investigations.”
St. Louis was one of four primary investigations involving Internet drug trafficking. “Our [Sparta’s] investigation was the first one to take place,” said Selby. “These other cities were looking to us as a blueprint for what to do. St. Louis had just begun their investigation, and they were still in the early stages.”
Operation Webslinger included four primary investigations: St. Louis, Mo.; Detroit, Mich. and San Diego, Calif.; Mobile, Ala. and Sparta; and Buffalo, N.Y. and Quebec, Canada. According to Selby, the St. Louis investigation took several months.
In August 2002, federal indictments were finally sought in Mobile, Ala. for Kevin Layne Brown, 32, and Ronald Keith Brown, 45. “We waited for Washington to call us for when the nationwide takedown would take place,” said Selby. “We had the indictments about three weeks to one month before we made the arrests.”
On Sept. 18, 2002, the Brown brothers were arrested, with a well-orchestrated plan of action by participating governmental agencies. According to Selby, special agents with the F.B.I. set up a temporary workstation at Sparta Police Department. The agents “mirrored” computers from the Browns’ residences, which meant they made exact duplicates of the information stored in the database.
Selby said there were 20 to 25 boxes of documents. Agents entered each document into their computer system and cross-linked the information so they could gain knowledge of the Browns’ drug-trafficking operation. “There were only eight people who performed the task of entering all the information,” he said, “and they did it all in 48 hours.”
The Brown brothers, according to Selby, had accrued over $1 million in assets. Because of other information obtained in the investigation, Selby said officials thought the Browns might have intended to expand their operation into other drugs.
“We know they had at least attempted to establish off-shore accounts,” he said. “They had bought several publications and software on how to hide assets. In fact, one of the pieces of evidence we presented at the detention hearing was a book entitled ‘How to Hide your Assets and Disappear.’”
Court-appointed attorneys represented the Browns during their detention hearing.
The accused drug-traffickers will be arraigned later this year in Mobile, Ala.