Ed Buck, a disgraced Democratic donor who swam in elite social circles for decades, was convicted on Tuesday of luring men to his home to satisfy a twisted “party and play” fetish that led to the deaths of two people.
Buck, 66, was convicted of all nine charges against him, including supplying the methamphetamine that killed two Black men in his West Hollywood apartment: Gemmel Moore, a 26-year-old who died in July 2017, and 55-year-old Timothy Dean, who died in January 2019. Buck was also found guilty of distributing methamphetamine, maintaining a drug den, and enticing Moore and another man to travel to Los Angeles for prostitution.
The verdict, which was reached in less than five hours, means Buck now faces life imprisonment in what some activists feel is a belated measure of justice for a man they say was protected by sympathizers in the government. And it brought an end to a trial so lurid and so disturbing that the judge talked openly about the potential trauma for jurors—as opposed to just witnesses and victims.
According to local reports from the courtroom, applause erupted in the public viewing area after the federal judge read the guilty verdict on Tuesday—which also marked the fourth anniversary of Moore’s death.
Throughout the two-week trial, prosecutors argued that Moore and Dean’s deaths were the result of Buck’s twisted fetish for injecting men with high doses of meth, sometimes to the point of their passing out. His obsession with “party and play” encounters led Buck to exploit the vulnerable—mostly Black men—to come over to his house for money, prosecutors said.
“He would find desolate, vulnerable victims and push meth on them over and over… until they went unconscious,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsay Bailey said during her closing arguments on Friday. “That’s what he liked about it—the power gave him sexual gratification. Every time he stuck a needle in someone’s arm, he was playing God.
“And he never stopped—not even after two men died.”
Buck’s legal team claimed that Moore and Dean had underlying medical conditions, and slammed prosecutors for trying to make their client “look like a racist” master manipulator.
“Ed Buck is not the monster that the government is portraying him as,” Ludlow Creary said during his closing arguments, before alleging the men who spoke out against his client during the trial were lying to make money. (In response, prosecutors called out Creary for “despicable victim shaming.”)
Creary argued that Buck, a longtime progressive activist who has given more than half a million dollars to Democratic politicians and initiatives since 2000, was himself “a victim of methamphetamine addiction.”
The former model and actor made a fortune running—and eventually selling—the data service company Gopher Courier, and first became involved in politics in 1989. During his decades-long run, including an unsuccessful 2007 campaign for West Hollywood city council, Buck contributed to several high-profile candidates, including former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Critics of local law enforcement have argued someone without Buck’s wealth, status, and identity as a white man would have been prosecuted much sooner, pointing to his extensive ties to local Democratic politicians and power players. In particular, they have singled out former DA Jackie Lacey, who, as KCRW reported, declined to charge Buck after Moore’s death four years ago. Lacey suggested at the time she believed the case was not strong enough to secure a conviction.
Buck was only arrested—initially on state charges—in September 2019, after a third man, Dane Brown, said he overdosed twice at Buck’s home and got himself admitted to hospital, as the AP reported.
Buck declined to testify in his own defense.
Prosecutors argued that Buck explicitly zeroed in on the most vulnerable men to participate in his illicit activities, even going so far as picking them up off the street. To prove their point, the prosecution called over 20 witnesses, including four men who told jurors they participated in the fetish and were pressured into allowing the wealthy donor to shoot them up with meth.
“He liked to see me where I was barely able to stand, barely conscious,” Carlos, one of the men who fell prey to Buck, testified, according to the Los Angeles Times. “He wanted me to be falling around all over the place [so] he would be able to do whatever he liked as far as touching and everything of that sort.”
Carlos testified last week that he was living under the 105 Freeway in May 2018 when he learned about a wealthy man who would pay him $200 to smoke meth and “prance around in underwear.” He said that after struggling to survive in the encampment, having a place to sleep and some food was hard to refuse.
He said he spent more than seven hours at Buck’s apartment during his first visit, and that he willingly took the GHB Buck offered him—while rejecting crystal meth. But Carlos said that over a six-month period, he went to Buck’s at least 20 times, where he was eventually pressured into doing a litany of drugs for a few hundred dollars.
In September 2018, Carlos testified, he woke up at Buck’s house to “him injecting me with crystal meth” before he passed out cold. He said the incident made him feel “violated.”
Several of the men, including Carlos, also testified that Buck used racial slurs during the encounters, and would often get agitated if they would try to reject the drugs.
“I don’t need another dead [n-word] on my couch,” Buck told Carlos in an apparent reference to Moore, according to the witness’ testimony in court. In addition to denying the criminal charges, Buck’s lawyers vociferously disputed the racism prosecutors said was baked into the longtime liberal donor’s illicit activities.
As part of their case, prosecutors noted that Buck meticulously documented the encounters: Los Angeles County Sgt. Paul Cardella told jurors that investigators found 1,500 photographs and videos of related incidents on Buck’s phone and computer.
“Stare directly into the camera, flare your nostrils, and blow it out slowly,” Buck says in one video played in court to his alleged victim, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Now, if you add wide-open eyes to that, it would be a perfect shot.”
In another video played in court, Moore is seen telling Buck, “I don’t know if I can handle another slam,” referring to another injection of meth. In the clip, however, Buck appears to pressure Moore to take another hit.
The digital evidence was so harrowing that during the trial, District Judge Christina A. Snyder expressed concern for the mental health of the jurors deciding Buck’s fate. “It may well be that we offer counseling to them at the end of the case,” Snyder said last week.
The defense tried to focus their argument on the health conditions of Moore and Dean prior to their meeting Buck.
Dr. Marvin Pietruszka, who runs a private autopsy company and acted as the defense’s only witness, told jurors that based on medical reports and photos, he concluded that both men had underlying medical conditions that caused their deaths.
Pietruszka said that Moore died of complications from pulmonary edema and complications from AIDS. And he claimed that Dean, who died 18 months later, died of alcohol poisoning and heart disease.
Prosecutors, however, provided their own witness testimony, including from the county medical examiner. The overwhelming conclusion: both men died from meth overdoses.