By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Richard Connelly
By Jeff Balke
By Casey Michel
By Craig Hlavaty
By Jeff Balke
According to a subsequent post on the forum, Carlos allegedly had done this sort of thing before. He was never banned from the forum. It appeared that most people on the forum stood up for Carlos. After all, he was just an honest dude running a drug referral service based in Costa Rica, and I was a biased, bloodthirsty, probably baby-killing journalist who never gave a rat's ass about them in the first place.
Carlos's last victim was never identified as a reporter. It just appears that if someone says something Carlos perceives is negative about his company, he posts their personal information on a public forum. This appears to be tolerated by the people at Drugbuyers.com. They hate journalists more than they hate the idea that if they express skepticism about a particular company, their private information can be exposed.
Knowing that Carlos and whoever Carlos spends quality time with were now reading my private e-mails, I freaked. Being called an asshole reporter is just part of the deal, but I had never been personally violated in the course of a story.
I tried to remember what was in that Yahoo account -- GPS coordinates for the Detroit Denny's where Hoffa's buried? Details of my underground chinchilla farm? My eBay bid for Mussolini's toothbrush? Whatever it was, I didn't want anyone to have it but me.
I panicked. I called our company's attorney and told him what had happened. Our company is usually a voice of reason; unfortunately, I was so freaked at that point that I was impervious to all manner of reasonable thinking. The rest of the world ceased to exist. It was just me and Carlos.
After speaking with the attorney, I sent Carlos a private message, asking him what the next move was. He replied in Spanish. (An earlier stupid move on my behalf: In school, I opted for German instead of Spanish. Scheisskopf!)
I ran his cryptic response through a translator, who gave me:
"I think that it's safe to say that all of your information is nearby and you should be very careful in how you go forward with the article."
Terrific. Now what is that? A threat? In a foreign language, no less. I couldn't pinpoint any skeletons in that account, but there was communication with some sources for other stories -- shit that was now hanging over my head. The sword of Carlos. I looked at my calendar: 6/6/06. Grrreat.
Naturally, I did what any rational, competent adult would do in this situation: I screamed variations of fuckfor quite some time. Fortunately, this was at night, and the place was mostly empty. This time, I called my editor at home. Same thing again: another voice of reason thwarted by a toxic mixture of anger, powerlessness and self-loathing. Reason can't remedy that recipe. Only one thing can: Lone Star. And plenty of it.
The date 6/7/06 was actually worse than the Day of the Number of the Beast. In fact, it officially qualifies as the worst day of my life, and that's because it was my fault.
Around 9 a.m., I got a telepathic message directly from the King of Bad Ideas, Lord of Planet Dumbass. I posted a desperate message on an online forum read by media folks from all across the country. I regurgitated the Saga of Carlos and stated that I felt like my company wasn't backing me up. I'd like to say I don't know what came over me, but I do. Hysteria, impatience, selfishness. It was a bonehead move that made my company out to be villains when, in truth, they had no idea what was going on.
Right after I penned this marvelous opus, things got reallybad.
That's when the DEA agent called. He had the public information officer with him, and they wanted to talk business. They wanted to know what drugs I had and where I had them. They wanted me to come in for a meeting. They wanted my notes. They wanted to know everything about the companies I had bought the drugs from.
The agent said he thought my heart was in the right place, but I had crossed the line. That's when I told him that that was one point of my story, just like it was the point of a brilliant weeklong series the Hartford Courantran in 2005. That series talked a lot about teens getting steroids online. I had spoken with one of those writers, just as I had spoken with a reporter in Kentucky who bought Lortab for a story -- Lortab he opened up in the presence of a sheriff's captain. Kentucky, by the way, is one of three states that have implemented strong enough pharmacy laws that most online services won't ship to them. The other two are Nevada and Tennessee. (That's right, folks, another shock of a lifetime: Texas isn't one of those states.)
I told the Houston agent that we wanted to have the drugs tested to see if they were the real thing. He said it's best that he send an agent to take them off my hands, lest they loose themselves in the community. He said he was sending an agent or two to the office to pick them up.
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