Two “amateur” drug dealers with ambitious aspirations of controlling all the marijuana sales on the Mainline were quickly busted, along with young associates who were selling high-quality California-grown cannabis, cocaine, hash oil and Molly at wealthy high schools and colleges in the affluent region west of Philadelphia known as the Mainline. Neil Scott was the 25 year old senior partner in the venture, while 18 year old Timothy Brooks allegedly served as his right-hand man and protégée. The pair had both attended the elite $35,000 a year Haverford School before washing out of college. They dubbed their plan to dominate marijuana sales in the “The Mainline Takeover Project.”
I refer to Scott and Brooks as “amateurs,” because quite frankly, they did not have a clue as to how to successfully run a criminal enterprise, and that is why they were shut down so quickly and easily by members of law enforcement, who have a superior understanding of the drug world to that of Scott and Brooks. In that sense, they were not unlike Nancy Botwin from the cult Showtime series “Weeds,” but this is real life and not a well-written cable dramedy, so hilarity did not ensue. The defendants are facing harsh mandatory minimum sentences based on the weight of the marijuana, the fact that the crimes occurred in school zones and due to the presence of firearms along with illegal drugs seized during the execution of search warrants.
On its face, the plan to enlist clean-cut, preppy students to sell drugs to other well-heeled students made sense. They would not have to worry about retaliation from other dealers encroaching on their territory, because that is not how the upmarket illegal drug market works. If a new dealer has a superior product, he is going to get the customers. Preppy drug dealers, now common at fraternities, compete like Wendy’s and McDonald’s, not Tony Soprano and Phil Leotardo. Also, a preppy drug ring would not have to worry about being robbed by customers. And because the preppy sub-dealers came from good homes and were properly socialized by their parents, they could be trusted not to steal drugs given to them on consignment, and to timely hand over the money. So how did it all go wrong?
To succeed as a criminal, you have to actually be a criminal, and none of the people busted in this case are “real criminals.” It is fairly obvious that neither Scott nor Brooks nor any of the people who distributed drugs for them had ever been socialized into the mores and values of either criminal culture or the drug-using counter-culture, and they certainly were ignorant of basic survival strategies. For example, they were foolish enough to openly discuss their illegal activities via text messages, which ultimately fell into the hands of the police. Texting or emailing details of drug deals, which constitutes the felony of “criminal use of a communications facility,” is a classic mistake made by non-criminals engaging in criminal activity. A “real criminal” might have a lower IQ, but has “street smarts” dreadfully lacking in these defendants.
Using a crew of non-criminals to do a criminal job almost always backfires in the end. When a real criminal gets caught, he knows to keep his mouth shut. But the “no snitching” ethos of North and West Philly never crossed City Line Avenue. Given the lack of skills of the sub-dealers, it was inevitable that some would be caught. Affluent teens with everything to lose are going to cooperate with law enforcement as soon as they are caught, and that is apparently what happened in this case, as news reports mention that the police used confidential informants to do controlled drug buys. You can be assured that these confidential informants were not anti-drug vigilantes who just wanted to help the police to rid their schools of drugs. Like almost all confidential informants, they were trying to reduce or avoid the consequences for their own drug related charges.
This case has generated a lot of media attention, and invariably, you will hear sound bites from prosecutors and police labeling “The Mainline Takeover Project” as a sophisticated business enterprise. It was anything but. Police first became aware of the drug ring in January of this year, and three months later, everyone was busted. The only ones with any degree of sophistication in this case were the police and prosecutors, not the defendants.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense lawyer in State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University. He handles a large number of drug felony cases involving college students, few of whom can be considered “real criminals.” http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Drug-Felonies.shtml