City Paper is not for tourists
“Where are the guns?”
That’s what a District resident who says he was involved with a high-end local pot delivery service called Mindy’s Muffin Madness remembers a D.C. cop asking him on July 16, 2010. The cops had just kicked in the thick green door to the Columbia Heights apartment he was in, he recalls, and the two-bedroom still smelled of the quality smoke from his contraband.
“I don’t have guns,” the man recalls answering dryly, “I have lacrosse shit.” Shortly thereafter, several other people were arrested in the dwelling, located in the Park Square apartment building on 15th Street NW. The five-story brick structure overlooks Meridian Hill Park and has an evening doorman. Once carted outside, all were charged with possession with intent to distribute. The charge can carry a one-year jail sentence as well as a $1,000 fine. But over the last year, the group—Nicholas Bortz, Carlton Stewart, and Peter Callahan—fared well in D.C. Superior Court. Prosecutors declined to prosecute all but one, Callahan, the renter of the apartment, who received one year of probation after pleading guilty to a possession with intent to distribute charge in August.
Now that it’s all over, one of the arrested is speaking about what happened on the condition of not being named because, he says, his current employers—a PR firm—don’t want to see him talking about his exploits. Still, he doesn’t seem especially abashed about Mindy’s. Pot trafficking isn’t exactly known for its body count. But the ex-dealer says he was proud to be part of a drug operation that was non-violent. “There’s enough money here for everyone,” he says of the D.C. reefer market, “but it’s got to get violent? We saw that from day one, we can play big dick all we want, but where’s it going to get us? We’re going to have police on our backs and we’re going to make this into something it shouldn’t be. Not to mention it’s just outright wrong.”
By the time the cops finished scouring the place, they’d know the guy in the apartment was telling the truth about the guns. According to court documents, there were no weapons seized. Mindy’s was strict, he says. “If you can’t work for us without carrying any weapons, you can’t work for us,” recruits were told. Police sources, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t allowed to speak publicly about the case, confirm the delivery service existed and that it was called “Mindy’s Muffins.”
Mindy’s began in 2009, operating from May to September in posh or gentrifying neighborhoods like Georgetown, Columbia Heights, and Adams Morgan. Its phone number was spread by word of mouth, as well as little red and white business cards. Those cards featured a cloud with three stars in the middle and a Virginia cell phone number. “Mindy’s Muffin Madness,” they read, “7 days a week.” Mindy’s targeted wealthier residents and college students, the ex-dealer says, because “we knew they would respond really well to what we were doing because we’re putting it in a little box, and saying it’s super-exclusive.”
The name reflected that, he says. “Mindy’s Muffin Madness” was a cackle at D.C.’s cupcake craze. “It was like wine,” he says. “We always wanted to have at least four or five varieties on tap. A lot of the people who ordered from us, they knew specifically what they were getting. They knew that they liked Kush because they liked to sit on their couch and play video games. They liked Sour Diesel, because they like to go out and paint murals.”
An empty Mindy’s container obtained from a customer shows one of the varieties for sale. The amber jar with a white lid carries the words “O.G. Kush” in bright green letters. Befitting the farmers-market consumer expectations of Mindy’s customers, the label also features what amounts to a discursive summary of the weed:
“(ChemDog x [Lemon Thai x Old World Paki Kush]) Type: Indica Dominant Hybrid. High: Long-lasting and Knock-Your-F*cking-Socks-Off Intense.Taste: Smooth and Subtle with that Signature Kush Stank. Origin: Sunset Beach, CA. Say Hello to My Little Friend.”
Those containers, filled with 1.6 grams of marijuana, cost $50 and came straight to your door, says the ex-dealer. You only had to call Mindy’s, order “muffins,” and give a phone number and an address.
Mindy’s operated with a manager and dispatcher. According to the ex-dealer, the dispatcher made $20 an hour and was responsible for taking orders on one phone. They’d then contact a delivery person on another phone. Both devices, naturally, were store-bought “burners.”
“Managers would make $30 an hour to make sure everything was going right,” and also did “re-ups,” the ex-dealer says, restocking a delivery person’s supply of cheeba by meeting up with him or her, usually in a Starbucks. “We had basically a network of a dozen delivery people,” he says, “ranging from people from the neighborhood, from Shaw, who had had drug charges before and stuff like that and couldn’t find a real job, to bike messengers who couldn’t get enough work, to even like college kids who needed a summer job.” With about 60 calls a day, he says, workers stayed busy during Mindy’s hours, 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. And as with so many other D.C. urbanist gentri-phenomena, two-wheelers were king.
“We provided bikes,” he continues. “We had a moped for awhile, but for the most part we wanted to people to be on bikes. Occasionally, we had people on foot, and when they were on foot they usually only covered spots where they could get around on the Circulator buses because they run every 10 minutes and they’re easy, and you’re not underground where they can search your bag, and they’re fairly inexpensive. But for the most part it was just guys on bikes.”
Mindy’s even kept a local bike mechanic on call, the ex-dealer says.
Police sources have said Mindy’s grossed up to $15,000 a month, but the ex-dealer says that the business could pull in as much as $20,000. He says they only operated in the warm-weather months because winter was a bad time to bike, because many of their customers had moved back into more elaborately policed dorms—and because some of the Mindy’s crew were busy with school themselves.
Pot delivery, of course, is nothing new.
Neither is the fact that drug dealers’ inventories and marketing plans tend to change along with a neighborhood’s demographics. Back in 2000, a trio of academics even produced a paper on the subject titled “We Deliver: The Gentrification of the Lower East Side Drug Market.”
The conclusion: Gentrification, particularly the more aggressive policing it brings, ends up displacing the open-air drug markets that once resided in neighborhoods—yet a market for dope remains. Among an upwardly changing neighborhood’s newly arrived professionals, the authors’ interviews revealed, intermittent drug use was common. In New York, that meant the emergence of the Cartoon Network, a drug delivery service busted by the Drug Enforcement Agency in 2005. The DEA announced that the network fielded “600 customer telephone calls per day from over 50,000 different telephone numbers through a roving call center.”
In D.C., the same dynamic created a money-making opportunity for someone with the right kind of muffins. In any event, it didn’t last. “People got lazy,” the ex-dealer says. “It was hubris. It was definitely hubris.”
On July 6, 2010, according to a search warrant prepared by vice cop Jason Ross, “members of the Third District received a radio run for a drug complaint at 2407 15th Street Northwest” around 9:30 p.m. Arriving on the scene, cops chatted up Delroy Peterkin, a security guard. According to the warrant, Peterkin told them the building had a problem. Peterkin—who declined to be interviewed for this article—“advised the officers that there was a very strong odor of marijuana coming from apartment 104 which was leading down the hallway,” says the warrant. When the cops knocked, an “occupant” opened the door, allowing police to catch sight of several people inside and to smell “a very strong odor of burning marijuana.” Though the cops asked, the document says, the occupant refused to allow them to perform a search. That might have been the end of it: “At this point, officers left the scene.”
But the officers were members of a vice squad in a district whose aggressive policing earned it the department’s award for best police district in 2010. According to the warrant, the officers returned the very next day “to investigate apartment 104 further.”
Inspecting the dwelling, they found the door open and “the keys to the apartment [were] left in the deadbolt of the apartment door.” Peterkin, according to the warrant, summoned the occupant of the apartment to offer a warning about the dangling keys. “The occupant of the apartment quickly took keys and shut the door,” the warrant says. Again the cops and the security guard smelled “the faint odor of fresh marijuana.” Peterkin also began talking about 104, according to the document: He told cops that “he regularly observes approximately seven to ten individuals enter and exit apartment 104 every evening, and that Mr. Peterkin does not recognize these individuals as the listed occupant.”
Ross stated in the warrant that he had “learned from the performance of his duties that the odor of marijuana combined with foot traffic is often indicative of sales of marijuana from a location (in addition to probable consumption within).” A judge signed the search warrant on July 8.
Eight days later, several vice cops, including Ross, got to enter apartment 104. It may or may not be a testament to the potency of Mindy’s kush that the occupants and their paraphernalia were still there more than a week after two police visits. Up to that point, the police had assumed they were investigating a run-of-the-mill pot-dealing operation. But the apartment’s contents complicated things. Yes, they found almost two pounds of weed packed in sandwich bags, as well as marijuana stems and bong, according to court papers. But they they also found two cell phones, a scale and grinder, shipping bags, labels, a safe, $2,059 in cash and “court papers, ledgers and folder containing information on marijuana.”
“It was stupid,” says the ex-dealer. “We should have used a vaporizer” to hide the smell, keeping Peterkin—and the cops—away in the first place.
But here’s the thing about having a popular business: The phone keeps ringing.
Police, fairly quickly, realized that Mindy’s business wasn’t just about enticing buyers to a single Columbia Heights apartment. Calls from customers were still coming in to a phone that was now in their possession; according to a senior police official, the cops decided to organize a sting.
Between July 20 and July 23, D.C. Superior Court records show, 18 people were arrested for attempting to possess marijuana—an unusually high number in such a short period. Charging documents for the only case that was filed as a result, that of a George Washington University Law student, said the “Third District Vice unit was conducting undercover reverse drug buy operations in which the defendants called a known drug courier business and agreed to meet undercover officers posed as drug traffickers.” The case was later dismissed.
Police sources confirmed the courier in question was Mindy’s. U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson William Miller says via email that to the best of his knowledge, “we did not prosecute any of the cases resulting from this investigation.” Miller wouldn’t say why. “We typically do not comment on the reasons behind these decisions,” he wrote.
But court papers suggest Mindy’s final customers would not have been satisfied with their purchases. According to court papers, the defendants were sold “counterfeit marijuana,” before being arrested.