OC Weekly's Year In Review 2013

Tacos and terrorists, chopped-off dicks in the desert, and drinking with Marines in Coachella cap off our year that was

5. Fake Boner Pills From China. After a Yorba Linda resident got busted for selling fake boner pills through Craigslist, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rep rang me up in March about doing an investigative story on this . . . um . . . growing phenomenon. She said counterfeit Viagra, Cialis and other member enhancers were being made in China, filled with lead and other toxins, and sold online. Before I took a larger look at the issue, she just needed to run it up the flag pole . . . which is where I assume it died because her bosses informed her we aren't the Register. Drats, I was really looking forward to reporting there could be lead in the medicine you bought online because there's no lead in your pencil.

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Viva punx
John Gilhooley
Viva punx
Eric Hood

1. Obama's War On Weed. The biggest story I covered in 2013 was the Obama administration's war on weed, which began in earnest in November 2011, but really picked up steam during the past 12 months. I wrote numerous articles about the feds threatening landlords and dispensary owners and of cities such as Anaheim, Santa Ana and Garden Grove cooperating to shut down every pot club. Internal emails from federal prosecutors I managed to obtain gave lie to repeated statements by top Obama administration officials that they were only targeting criminal enterprises and not dispensaries that were following state law. It seemed obvious to me these prosecutors were in fact operating beyond the bounds of official policy. And indeed, the second half of this year proved that thesis correct. Having been repeatedly shamed by my reporting, the feds backed off their high-profile harassment of landlords in Orange County. As if to place an exclamation point on that retreat, the feds also released a new statement promising not to interfere in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational or medical purposes.

2. SoCal's Pops of Pot. Another big story I followed, which never made it into print, was the sentencing of the biggest kingpin in the history of Southern California's medical-marijuana industry: John Melvin Walker. At his late-July sentencing hearing, I sat in a courtroom packed with crying friends and family members while the judge gave Walker—a bespectacled, white-haired man nicknamed "Pops"—22 years in federal prison. In the glory days of the med-pot craze, Walker secretly controlled nine insanely lucrative dispensaries in Los Angeles and Orange counties, but he made the major mistake of not paying his taxes. Stashing huge piles of cash alongside AK-47s didn't help, either.

3. Tacos and Terrorists. Hardly a week goes by that I don't stop by Taco Asylum, a so-called "nontraditional" taco joint at the Camp in Costa Mesa. It serves up the best ghost chile carnitas you've ever chased with a premium IPA. One day in early August, I saw some plainclothes detectives interviewing the staff. Further investigation on my part revealed the cops were following up on a July 28 vandalism incident staged by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), which had taken issue with the restaurant's locally sourced rabbit tacos. Compared to other ALF stunts, this one—involving only some red spray paint and a hackneyed attempt to glue a lock—was as tame as they get.

4. Dick-Chopping In the Desert. Someday, the full story will be revealed, but even the sketchy outlines of what happened are enough to turn your stomach. Although the crime allegedly occurred in October 2012, it wasn't until last month that prosecutors charged three men with abducting, torturing and sexually mutilating the owner of an unnamed Orange County marijuana dispensary in an unsuccessful effort to get him to turn over a large amount of money they believed he'd buried in the desert. Thanks to this misunderstanding, the victim, who understandably hasn't been identified, was severely beaten and burned all over his body with a blowtorch before having his penis severed and his body doused with bleach. More gruesome details are likely to emerge next year when the three sadists finally get their day in court.

5. Cocaine Airways Redux. I first interviewed Tosh Plumlee, a former CIA contract pilot who ran guns to Castro in the 1950s and anti-communist Nicaraguan contras three decades later, about 17 years ago. Back then, he refused to answer my questions about his top-secret testimony to the U.S. Congress about drugs being smuggled into American military bases including El Toro Marine Corps Air Station on return flights. I finally got the bulk of that story in 2005, when I published a profile on him titled "Cocaine Airways." Now, Plumlee's making the rounds again, telling the likes of FOX News about how the agency helped Mexican drug kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero, wanted for the murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena, escape to Costa Rica before being returned to Mexico to face prison time. (This is news again because Quintero was recently released early from prison and has disappeared again.) The biggest bombshell: It was Plumlee himself who flew the plane.

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1. Obama's War on Immigrants. As "comprehensive immigration reform" was debated all year, record deportations raged. Local OC activists formed the Keep Our Families Together campaign to challenge them, case by case. One of its most publicized actions involved not a Latino, but rather a persecuted Sikh immigrant from India, Gurmukh Singh. The Garden Grove resident had attempted to normalize his status through a denied asylum request. He tried once more in April through a spousal petition only to be detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) far from his home, wife and children. Singh stayed in detention for months until October, when petitions, calls and other efforts finally secured his release. Singh still faces deportation, but his attorneys are working with ICE on a resolution to keep him home.

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