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Democratic donor Ed Buck pleads not guilty to federal drug charges

Democratic Party donor Ed Buck
Prominent Democratic Party donor Ed Buck appears in court on charges of running a drug den in his West Hollywood apartment. Buck faces other charges connected to two overdose deaths in the same residence.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Political activist Ed Buck pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal drug charges in connection with two overdose deaths at his West Hollywood home and three additional counts of distributing methamphetamine.

Buck, a wealthy Democratic donor, was first charged in federal court in September with providing methamphetamine that led to the 2017 overdose death of Gemmel Moore. He was then indicted this month in connection with Moore’s death and the January 2019 death of Timothy Dean. He also faces three additional counts of distributing methamphetamine.

When asked by Federal Magistrate Frederick Mumm how he would plead, Buck, dressed in a beige jail shirt, paused for a moment and replied, “I am working on one hearing aid, not guilty.”

Buck also acknowledged having read the indictment against him during the short appearance at the downtown Los Angeles federal court building. His next hearing was set for Nov. 26. He will remain in custody.

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He is set to be arraigned Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court on state charges, including operating a drug house.

Family members of Dean and Moore met for the first time before seeing Buck in court Thursday.

“My heart aches but we are at that point where we will get justice for my brother,” Dean’s sister Joyce Jackson said. “I just want closure ... and we are moving in the direction to get closure .... I cannot forgive him.”

Moore’s mother, LaTisha Nixon, called Buck a “monster.”

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“Seeing Ed Buck in court today enraged me. He pretends to be feeble,” she said.

Nixon said the deaths could have been avoided if law enforcement has acted sooner.

“We have been in this fight for a long time. It has been a long time coming,” she said. “I am grateful the feds came in and took this case .... I feel the Dean family’s pain.”

Family and activists have long called on local prosecutors to take action against Buck, 65, and heavily criticized Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey when she declined to bring homicide charges against Buck in connection with Moore’s death last year. Many have argued that Buck’s status and privilege, coupled with the fact that his purported victims were largely sex workers or homeless, had insulated him from prosecution.

Federal prosecutors accuse Buck of “targeting vulnerable individuals who were destitute, homeless and/or struggled with drug addiction, in order to exploit the relative wealth and power imbalance between them.”

According to the indictment, Buck met many of his victims on the dating website Adam4Adam, but he also sometimes used a “recruiter” who “scouted men” on his behalf. The recruiter was not identified or described further in the court documents.

If convicted in either Moore’s or Dean’s death, Buck faces a minimum of 20 years in federal prison. Buck’s attorney, Seymour Amster, has repeatedly declined requests for comment.

“We are extremely happy about these charges. We are all sorry that Timothy Dean had to lose his life,” said Jasmyne Cannick, one of the most prominent activists in the push for Buck’s arrest. “The federal prosecutors finally delivered what the [Los Angeles County] district attorney could not…. It is extremely gratifying after all these years to see this.”

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Buck has been under scrutiny since July 2017, when sheriff’s deputies responded to his apartment and found Moore’s body. The 26-year-old’s death was ruled accidental, but activists and Moore’s family immediately began to pressure the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to take a closer look at the incident.

Nixon accused Buck of forcing her son, an escort who had been homeless, to do drugs against his will. In a journal, Moore also accused Buck of getting him hooked on crystal meth in the first place.

Lacey’s office declined to charge Buck with manslaughter or drug charges in connection with Moore’s death, citing insufficient evidence and an “inadmissible search and seizure,” records show. Law enforcement leaders have never explained what, if anything, illegal was done by responding sheriff’s deputies on the night of Moore’s death.

Buck became a target of law enforcement again earlier this year when Dean, a 55-year-old fashion consultant and avid basketball player, died of a drug overdose at his home. The case prompted a second homicide investigation from the Sheriff’s Department. Lacey has said Buck remains a “suspect” in both Moore’s and Dean’s deaths but charged him only with operating a drug den and battery after his arrest last month.

Court documents made public in September showed Buck had engaged in dangerous sexual fetishes for years. Prosecutors accused him of manipulating homeless men and sex workers to do drugs for his pleasure, often at risk to their own safety. Several claimed Buck injected them while they were sleeping, and two described incidents that amounted to allegations of sexual misconduct, according to court records.

At least four men came forward and told Sheriff’s Department investigators about Buck’s habits between March and May of this year, according to the federal criminal complaint charging Buck in Moore’s death. Two of them accused Buck of injecting them with drugs against their will. Given the fact that two men had already died at Buck’s home and law enforcement was aware of his alleged dangerous behavior, legal experts have questioned why Lacey’s office did not seek to charge him with a lesser drug offense before September.


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