By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
In 2008, New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan began leading a team of undercover investigators targeting the drug dealers who used Craigslist to advertise their wares.
She sounded confident.
"It's like shooting fish in a barrel," she told the Daily News. That year, a Citigroup vice president, Mark Rayner, was caught moving ecstasy and cocaine from his Midtown offices using Craigslist. "We see lots of professionals, people with good jobs, doing it," Brennan said.
Three years later, drug dealing on the classified-ads website is still blatant and ubiquitous.
Sellers thinly camouflage their activity by posting ads for "420 T-shirts" or "tickets to the 420 show," using the numerical calling card for marijuana, or referring to "Tina," "T," and "parTy" for crystal meth. "Snow" or "skiing" is a cocaine reference. "Relief" calls up a healthy section of pills: Xanax, Ambien, Ativan, Klonopin, morphine.
Ironically, no search term is more productive at bringing up drug ads than "law enforcement," standard words for a buyer or seller who insists he's not with the NYPD.
Only a man named "Kai," however, appears to sell heroin openly on New York's Craigslist pages. And he's not very subtle at all.
"Want to 'nod out'? Ride the 'H' train," reads one subject line. The body of that advertisement offered "H, d@pe, diesel" for purchase "anywhere in Manhattan public or private." Sometimes he throws in the term "Papaver Somniferum L.," the Latin name of the plant that opium and poppy come from. For good measure, Kai insists in his ads that he's not law enforcement "and you shouldn't be either."
"We continue to conduct investigations into narcotics-related activity on Craigslist," Brennan tells the Voice. "Clearly, Craigslist and social-networking sites provide new opportunities for drug traffickers. It's something we're aware of and continue to investigate." Craigslist itself, however, did not respond to Voice requests for comment.
On a recent evening, Kai—who asked the Voice to use that name as an alias—finishes up a rack of ribs and a slice of cheesecake at a barbecue restaurant in Harlem. It's only 7, but it's been three hours since he last shot up. "I want to use right now," he says, looking nervous. "I'm thinking of how, I'm thinking of how." He takes out a cell phone and double-checks the Craigslist ad he had put up the day before, hoping someone will answer it soon. He sells drugs, he says, to support his own addiction, a fact that gets more obvious every minute since his last fix.
Despite the city's crackdown, Kai says he has gone untouched by law enforcement for the seven years he's been dealing on Craigslist. In his ads, he lays out strict e-mailing rules for his clients: include only a name and cell phone number. If a potential buyer follows the rules to the letter, he sets up a meeting in a public place—but he arrives without drugs. He says he can tell in a few seconds if a potential customer is legit, but makes each buyer lift up their shirt to show him that they're not wearing a wire, and lift up each pant leg to show him that they're not carrying a gun. Small talk builds to questions about drug use and then to specifics like quantity and price. Kai says he doesn't negotiate.
When Kai and his customer have agreed on a price, he makes the customer wait on a corner while he goes to pick up the drugs from a "stash house." The hand-off with the customer occurs back on the street. He says he tries to accommodate unpracticed buyers by hiding the heroin, "like in an empty cigarette pack." Then he circles back to the stash house to buy his own fix.
Kai estimates that he introduces 10 percent of his customers to the drug for the first time, almost all of whom he says are graduating from addictions to other opiates.
He looks dumbfounded when he's asked if anyone he introduces to the drug doesn't like it: "It's heroin!"
Selling drugs on Craigslist is less fraught for "Andrew," an Adderall dealer. First of all, he's not a heroin addict. The 30-year-old Queens resident and former "Tina" user trolls Craigslist with ads that offer "study aids" and "concentration tools," and finds a bigger market than Kai for a drug that people perceive as less illicit.
[Using the same keyword searches that turned up numerous drug ads on Craigslist's New York City pages, we found only a single ad, in several variations, offering illicit drugs on local pages at Backpage.com. The Backpage ad was repeatedly flagged and taken down, and reappeared over several weeks. Backpage.com is owned by the same company that owns The Village Voice.]
While Kai says he's "lucky to make $100 in a day," Andrew claims to sell about $8,000 worth of Adderall every month, but only clears about $2,000 in profit. He says that his clientele is "60 percent female," made up of "mostly students and professionals between the ages of 23 and 45." He suspects that many of his customers use the amphetamine as an appetite suppressant.
"I guess the idea came to me when I was on the site constantly looking for a job," Andrew says with a hint of frustration in his voice. He moved to New York eight months ago and has been unable to secure steady employment despite his college degree.