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The Electric Clearlight Acid Mess 

The bust of LSD bagman Waldron Vorhees, aka Captain Clearlight, opens a windowpane on the city -- and on the narco-cop nincompoops

Wednesday, Aug 21 1996
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He had finally realized they might be narcs.
"I felt woozy inside," remembers Minakov. "Like I was gonna throw up."
The next day Pickens called up Vorhees and hinted around about more LSD. Vorhees clearly begged off any involvement. Using the telephone to do deals can add up to four years to a sentence. Pickens asked how long Vorhees was going to be at home. Vorhees said he'd wait for him.

Pickens and Special Agent McKenzie arrived at Vorhees' home in Vallejo, and the three discussed the possibility of another acid purchase. McKenzie said he was cautious because he'd been ripped off for $50,000 in the past. Vorhees said, "I'm sure in no hurry, but the larger, the larger the chunk the sooner you'll get me in action." He showed them a few of the old wooden boxes used to hold Clearlight acid, then talked on about cars and airplanes, the two listening patiently, before agreeing to introduce them to his youngest son, Adam, who was an acid dealer in the rave scene.

"I wanted Adam to see what cops looked like, because I told him they were cops," says Vorhees.

Tape transcripts of a subsequent meeting among Vorhees, Adam, Pickens, and McKenzie read like a modern psychodrama. Prices and quantities were discussed, but a disturbing tone infused the conversation. At one point Vorhees said that if they indeed were cops, he knew plenty of people out there who are "really assholes." Pickens laughed; McKenzie said nothing. Vorhees said he knew where they lived.

Adam cut his father off, reiterating that trust needed to work both ways, and that he couldn't consider fucking around, that he was on the verge of going global. The agents said little, other than to agree. Adam then suggested they all "take a bunch of chemical" together, in order to know each other more, and Vorhees added that "after eight hours the communication is better." McKenzie said that they might never come back, and laughed. The conversation moved on. Vorhees eventually left the room, and Adam agreed to scare up a gram of crystal LSD for them, with the promise of more on the way.

On July 27, Adam met with Pickens and a female undercover agent at Lincoln and 25th Avenue, next to Golden Gate Park. He was given $2,850 in cash, left on his motorcycle, and returned within an hour with a white sock, containing a film canister with .89 grams of crystal acid. Pickens called Adam later, worried that the canister sounded as though it contained a chunk, rather than powder. Adam assured him it was probably OK.

Three months passed, then, at 8 a.m. on Dec. 8, a SWAT team burst into the San Anselmo home of Oleg Minakov, handcuffed him on the floor of his living room, pointed a gun at his head, and arrested him. Minakov remembers Special Agent Etter saying to him, "We got you dead in the water!" Minakov's son Barton was not at home, but was alerted to the bust and vanished. Simultaneously, Waldron Vorhees and Adam Vorhees were arrested at their homes.

When all three were in custody in San Francisco, Minakov remembers Vorhees telling them, "We were helping The Man. That's our story."

Vorhees was looking at 10 years in prison, but much to the anger of Minakov, abruptly deviated from the group's planned strategy and changed his plea to guilty, in return for a lighter sentence. Vorhees and his attorney agreed for Vorhees to be wired for sound and walk through the Upper Haight to attract street dealers. None took the bait, but his sentence was knocked down to 30 months, which is due to begin Aug. 26.

Minakov will appear in court for sentencing on Oct. 4. His son Barton remains at large. Adam Vorhees served 10 months in jail, and, after his release in the fall of 1994, got a job at a South of Market stone-cutting business. On New Year's Eve, he was killed when 37 pieces of stone fell and crushed him.

So -- after spending thousands of dollars on an undercover operation lasting more than a year, the DEA ended up with a couple of old hippies who worked on cars, with one son dead and one at large. No kingpins, and no LSD lab. Life goes on.

The real world always plays differently than network television. Finales aren't neatly wrapped in the murky, Darwinian world of drug politics, where today's dealer is tomorrow's informant. It's a thin line between lawless and lawful, when people whisper names and phone numbers to coax the right words out of a casual acquaintance. Friends become useful stepping stones to cross the river to freedom. And DEA agents proudly admit they listen to the Grateful Dead in their cars.

The case of Captain Clearlight casts a harsh light of pathos upon Northern California's LSD community. Oddly enough, this sophisticated era of high-tech surveillance and info overload still depends on human betrayal -- and gullibility. The DEA believed its informant. The informant believed that Vorhees was the LSD King. Vorhees believed he was Captain Clearlight. And Captain Clearlight still knew enough people who believed in him to bring folks down with him.

When asked why he is so forthcoming about his case, despite repeated warnings from his friends, Vorhees simply shrugs. He is now elderly, a product of 30 years of acid culture, a man suffering from both Lyme disease and prostate cancer, a man with no money in the bank and forever indebted to friends, a man who will soon be sitting in prison for a drug he still reveres. He doesn't have much time left on life's clock. But unlike the past five years of wiretaps, today, in the Mill Valley home of his former girlfriend Marcie, he's clearly happy there's a tape recorder in the room. He leans forward in his chair.

About The Author

Jack Boulware

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