William Leonard Pickard

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William Leonard Pickard
Image of William Leonard Pickard
Born (1945-10-21) October 21, 1945 (age 68)
Mill Valley, California
Occupation lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) manufacturing (Chemist)
Criminal status
Serving two life sentences

William Leonard Pickard (born October 21, 1945), known as '"Leonard"', and by certain aliases: John Connor, William Harlow and James Maxwell is one of two people convicted in the largest lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) manufacturing case in history. In 2000, while moving their LSD laboratory, Pickard and Clyde Apperson were pulled over while driving a Ryder rental truck and a follow car. The laboratory had been at a renovated Atlas-E missile silo near Wamego, Kansas but the two men had never actually produced LSD there. One of the men intricately involved in the case but not charged due to his cooperation, Gordon Todd Skinner, owned the property where the laboratory was located; he approached the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) about working for them. According to court testimony, they would produce a kilogram of LSD approximately every five weeks. The U.S. government contends that following their arrest there was a 90% drop in the availability of LSD worldwide.[1][2][3]


Leonard Pickard grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. His father, William, practiced civil law. His mother, Lucille, a Columbia University Ph.D., researched fungal diseases at the Centers for Disease Control.

Somewhat of a science prodigy, Pickard spent the summer of 1962 interning at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. In high school, he was an honors student, played basketball and was named "most intellectual." In 1963, at the age of seventeen, he won a Westinghouse Talent Search, one of forty teenagers recognized as the top science students in the United States. Twenty-two scholarship offers rolled in, unsolicited. Pickard chose to attend Princeton. The temptations of Greenwich Village jazz clubs, a brief train ride away, distracted him at school, and after less than a year at Princeton he dropped out.

Supported by his trust fund, Pickard hit the road. As he wandered the country in the mid-1960s, trouble found him everywhere. Eighteen years old and freshly removed from Princeton, Pickard was arrested twice in Alabama in 1964 for forging checks. In January, 1965 he was arrested for stealing a car, "joy riding," as he recalls.

In 1974, Pickard formally returned to school, enrolling at Foothill College, in Los Altos Hills, California, to study biology and chemistry. Public records show he attended San Jose State and Stanford from 1976 through 1978, to study organic chemistry and neurophysiology.

In 1976, San Mateo County Sheriff's deputies arrested Pickard for possessing the hallucinogenic cactus Peyote.

Pickard's neighbors in Redwood City complained about chemical odors wafting from his apartment in 1977. The San Mateo County Sheriff's deputies who knocked on the door on October 10th, 1977, discovered a MDA lab in the basement.

In 1978, while taking chemistry classes at Stanford, he pled nolo contendere to attempting to manufacture a controlled substance, a felony, and served eighteen months of his three-year sentence. In a letter from prison, Pickard gave an elaborate excuse, denying that he had been synthesizing illegal drugs. He says he was busted after he was trying to sell some lab equipment that once belonged to a Brotherhood of Eternal Love chemist, equipment that contained traces of MDA.[4]

In February 1980 not long after his release, police in Gainesville, Georgia, arrested Pickard for making amphetamines. In June 1980, authorities in DeLand, Florida, arrested him for distributing MDA, an MDMA analogue. By 1987, Pickard had turned up at San Francisco State University where he took a course on social drugs taught by legendary drug researcher Alexander Shulgin. Pickard pleaded guilty in December 1987 to providing false identification while trying to obtain a passport.

Pickard studied chemistry at Purdue University under Dr. David Nichols, a biochemist with a DEA Schedule I license to manufacture LSD. While at Purdue, Pickard obtained patents for the manufacture of LSD from three countries: Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Germany. He had these patents translated. The Czech patent involved the use of ergocristine as the precursor in the manufacturing process.[5][6]

On December 28, 1988, a neighbor reported a strange chemical odor coming from an architectural shop at a Mountain View, California industrial park. Special Agents of the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement or BNE moved in and found William Leonard Pickard inside a laboratory. The laboratory was contained inside a trailer that had been moved into a warehouse. It contained state-of-the-art equipment, including a roto-evaporator, heating mantles and a pill press, an item that DEA restrictions make almost impossible to obtain. On the floor were stacked boxes of blotter paper in a raft of colorful, eye-catching designs: Escher heads, album covers, samurai shields and black-and-white tropical scenes. "It was a huge lab," said Ron Brooks, special agent in charge of the BNE's San Jose office, who was on the scene that day in Mountain View. "He was making Windowpane, Microdot and Blotter. And it was a very diversified operation. Pickard was making not only LSD but synthetic mescaline. It was a beautiful, pure white, needle-like crystal, said Brooks.

Agents found a beguiling note tucked inside a brown vial in the Mountain View trailer, which seemed to be addressed to one of the Pickard's distributors and described the scale of his operation. It said, "As I prepare my third kilogram of LSD I think with amusement of our last conversation three weeks ago, when you called me a liar, and I had to walk you down the hall to get you the very first gram that was supposed to be offered to you preferentially. Since July of 1984, our friend has taken 30 grams in that year, 30 grams in the second year and 75 grams in the last six to eight weeks. The recent change indicates that someone close to you has accessed an existing system as well as its potential problems. I hope you can monitor these proceedings in some way, since you come from the finest psychedelic heritage, prior to being seduced by some sleezy cocaine and qualude nightmare."

A kilogram of pure LSD is enough for 10 million doses at 100 micrograms each. One of the criminalists who donned protective gear to process the trailer crime scene, Lisa Brewer, counted 89,802 tabs LSD and 123,278 LSD microdots, a form of LSD rarely seen since the early 70's. Only Pickard knew how much product had been already mailed to middlemen. "This was the big one," Brewer said of Pickards laboratory. "Nobody sees these."

Not surprisingly, a BNE search for Pickard's accomplices proved fruitless. They followed up leads in Daly City, in San Francisco and in the southern East Bay but never had anything solid. Pickard was very good about covering his tracks, and he and his circle of friends were all the masters of using multiple identities, blind mail drops and phones forwarded to other phones.

In 1989, Pickard pleaded no contest to the manufacture of LSD, possession for sale of LSD and possession for sale of mescaline and was sentenced to eight years in California's Terminal Island Prison. Released early, in November 1992, he went to live at the Zen Center, on Page Street in San Francisco. Pickard lived there for two years as monk.

During his two years on Page Street, he attended University of California at Berkeley to study neurobiology with David Presti, an authority on addiction and the way that drugs affect the brain. From Berkeley, with Presti's backing, found work as a neurobiology research associate at Harvard Medical School's Division on Addictions. Pickard applied to the John F. Kennedy School of Governments' masters program.

Pickard was admitted in September 1994 to a master's degree program at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government but in 1996 was accused of cheating on a paper. Pickard hadn't done the work required but asked someone to place his name on the paper, which upset others involved in the project. Harvard reprimanded Pickard for cheating and sent a letter to him telling him he had violated the university's code of ethics. After graduating from Harvard in June 1997, Pickard was hired as an associate in neurobiology, but was trying to do some undercover work and was terminated because he was working outside university policy.[7]

Pickard received his masters in public policy in 1997. In 1999 when a good friend from Harvard, Mark Kleiman, moved to California a short time later to head an influential drug-policy group at UCLA, Pickard followed. Pickards work was not funded by the university though so he took trips to Russia to seek funding. Kleiman was impressed enough with Pickard to name him as his deputy director. Pickard gave Kleiman his word that he wasn't cooking any drugs in the United States. Pickard testified in the past that he has worked as an informant to the DEA in San Francisco. .[5][6]

LSD Manufacturing[edit]

Example of blotter art used as a medium for LSD

From then up until the Wamego, Kansas bust in 2000, the Pickard's laboratory had a number of different locations. Pickard never liked to stay at one location more than two years, so as not to draw attention to himself. In 1996 the lab was located in Aspen, Colorado. From September 1997 to September 1999 the laboratory was located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He liked the Santa Fe location for a number of reasons; his overhead costs were lower and the precursor source was closer. Also he liked the fact there was virtually no humidity, which can affect the production of LSD. All of the laboratories are alleged to have produced a kilogram of LSD approximately every five weeks. Skinner became involved with Pickard and Apperson in February 1998.[2]

His only customer was a man named Alec Reid A.K.A. "Petaluma Al" from Petaluma, California. Pickard would always arrange for the produced LSD to be transported to the Denver, Colorado or Boulder, Colorado area to be mailed or picked up so that Petaluma Al would never know where the laboratory was located. Most of Petaluma Al's customers were overseas customers in Europe, which meant that in addition to millions of dollars in United States currency, Pickard also handled millions in Dutch guilders and Canadian bank notes. He preferred to deal in ƒ1000 notes or Canadian $1000 notes (discontinued since 2000 in Canada) because it meant less bulk cash to have on hand. He required his distributors to convert all lower currencies into $50 or $100 notes at the least so as not to cause problems.[2]

Although Clyde Apperson was convicted of the same charges as Pickard, he did not actually manufacture LSD. He was Pickard's partner and was a skilled chemist, but his role was mainly in the setup and take-down of the laboratory. If he was setting up the lab in a brand new location he was paid $100,000. For take-downs he was paid $50,000. Take-downs were needed sometimes when a landlord wished to come look at the property or other such reasons. Apperson did however manufacture synthetic mescaline, a very uncommon and practically unprofitable drug to produce. When authorities searched his Sunnyvale, California home they found five drums of precursor chemicals needed to manufacture synthetic mescaline.[2]

DEA Testimony[edit]

DEA Special Agent Karl Nichols went through receipts of chemicals and laboratory glassware purchased by "Native Scents" an incense business in Taos, New Mexico. Nichols said Alfred Savinelli, owner of the business, received $300,000 from Pickard and then purchased the chemicals and glassware for him. Nichols said that Pickard's income tax records showed he had $109 in adjusted gross income in 1994, didn't pay income tax in 1995 because he made less than $8,000 and, after 1995, didn't file income tax forms. The DEA agent testified that Pickard would use a credit card to secure hotel rooms and rent vehicles, then pay for them with cash, later receiving money back from the credit card company. "It was essentially a method to conceal proceeds," Nichols said.

Pickard also laundered money through Stefan Wathne, an Icelandic man who delivered money to Russian nationals who in turn sent the money to the University of California at Los Angeles to fund a position for Pickard in a drug policy group there. Nichols said Pickard was going to launder a total of $5 million through Russia but he irritated some people involved in the operation when his initial delivery, which was to be $1 million, was only $750,000.

In other testimony, Nichols testified that Apperson used $20,119 worth of money orders in 1999 to pay for his home mortgage in California, his phone service and to a business account. On another occasion, Apperson used money orders to pay almost $6,500 in credit card debt. In drug operations, money orders are an easy way to conceal cash proceeds. In April 2000, two checks totalling $20,800 from casinos were deposited in the University of California at Berkeley account of Natalya Kruglova, who was Pickard's girlfriend at the time and now his wife.

Wamego Bust[edit]

Former missile silo, Kansas
Glassware seized

Although they were arrested moving the laboratory from the Atlas-E silo location, they never actually produced LSD at this site. The laboratory had been situated there without Pickard or Apperson's knowledge by Confidential Informant Gordon Todd Skinner. He had begun cooperating with the DEA when various law enforcement agencies threatened to expand investigations into Skinner's past kidnapping, conspiracy and drug charges. Skinner had previously escaped full prosecution of those charges after earlier episodes of cooperation with state and local authorities. So after moving the lab to the silo site, Skinner then allowed DEA agents in to investigate.The DEA were later granted an actual search warrant based on their secret visit.

When Pickard arrived in the area and learned Skinner had moved the lab to the silo property, he immediately began preparations to re-move it. Eventually Apperson drove a Ryder rental truck with the laboratory in it while Pickard followed in a Buick LeSabre; they used walkie-talkies to maintain communication. In order not to raise suspicions, the DEA arranged for a Kansas Highway Patrol vehicle to pull the caravan over. Recognizing something was wrong, marathon-runner Pickard took off into the woods on foot, He was not captured until the next day. A farmer who saw him resting during the daytime turned him in.

Authorities found less than six ounces of LSD during the arrest. Yet according to Pickard's defense, this estimation of weight was actually the weight of a detectable "mixture" of the chemical. "Mixture" here is a term of legal convenience, and according to critics, it is also a widely misleading term. According to the defense, in this case the DEA's "six ounces of ergot" includes the weight of a 5-ounce-plus glassware container. The convenience factor in their weight estimates helped support the DEA's unproven claim that Pickard produced a kilogram of LSD every five weeks. Such an amount represented an unprecedented charge in the USA, a stunning charge repeated in numerous headlines. The DEA went further to estimate this figure would yield enough LSD for about 10 million doses of 100 µg each, and they used that figure to calculate their retail dollar value of $40 million in sales 'on the street'.

Pickard was not ever known by the DEA or anyone to sell at street level. Confidential informant Skinner testified that this LSD sold "at the wholesale level to the largest customers in the world, (at) approximately 29.75 cents per [100 µg] dosage"; while each dose might sell on the street for "as high as $10 per dose". Per the DEA's informant, Skinner and Pickard sold LSD to Petaluma Al at a 70% lower wholesale rate- $2,975,000 per kilogram.[8] Throughout the course of the trial all cans of ergotamine tartrate which were actually ergocristine were recovered and the total amount was 39.5 kilograms of precursor material. This equates to about 13 kilograms of usable lysergic acid for the manufacture of LSD. During the 2000s, a kilogram of ergotamine tartrate had a street value of $100,000 and ergocristine had a wholesale value of $2,500 per kilo. So by switching precursors, William Leonard Pickard was able to reduce the cost on 39.5 kilograms of precursor from approximately $4 million to $100,000 dollars. That's a sheer profit of $29.7 million for 10 kilograms of LSD at a wholesale price of $2.97 million per kilo.[9]

Both Apperson and Pickard were eventually found guilty of conspiring to manufacture, distribute and dispense ten grams or more of a "mixture" or a substance containing a detectable amount of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD); Pickard received two life sentences, while Apperson received 30 years imprisonment.

Pickard, currently 68 years old, is serving out his sentence at the U.S. Penitentiary at Tucson, Arizona.

Facts of the Case[edit]

Gordon Todd Skinner had first met Pickard in 1997 at an ethnobotany conference in San Francisco, California. Skinner eventually joined the conspiracy with Pickard and Apperson in the production of LSD.[10]

Pickard and Apperson established an LSD laboratory in an Aspen, Colorado residence in late 1996. Apperson's primary tasks in the conspiracy were to set up and dismantle the laboratory equipment. Although Apperson is a chemist, Pickard was the chemist in this conspiracy. Pickard obtained many of the chemicals and most of the glassware for the laboratory from Alfred Savinelli, the owner of a business in Taos, New Mexico called Native Scents. Native Scents produced and sold scented candles as well as other items. Pickard paid Savinelli over $300,000 from 1995 to 1999 for his help in obtaining the chemicals and glassware.

In September 1997, Pickard secured a residence in Santa Fe, New Mexico with the assistance of David Haley, a contractor in the Taos area. Apperson assembled the laboratory at that location. Pickard manufactured LSD there until September 1999. The rent for that house during that period was approximately $34,500. Pickard paid Haley over $260,000 for acquiring the rental, placing it in Haley's name, and making the rental payments for those two years.

In September 1999, the laboratory was removed from the Santa Fe residence and loaded into a trailer. The laboratory was stored in Santa Fe for a couple of months. In December 1999, Pickard and Apperson moved the laboratory to Ellsworth County to a decommissioned Atlas-F missile base in Carneiro, Kansas. Pickard manufactured LSD at the Ellsworth missile base for several weeks.

In May 2000, Pickard met his precursor supplier at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Chicago, Illinois. The purpose of the meeting was to obtain a large delivery of a precursor. During the meeting, arrangements were made to provide a large quantity of ergocristine to Pickard. Apperson obtained the ergocristine in Chicago in June 2000 and subsequently delivered it to the Ellsworth missile silo.

In mid-July 2000, Skinner learned that the owner of the Ellsworth silo wanted access to it. Skinner believed that it was necessary to immediately move the laboratory out of the silo. Skinner failed to mention that he needed to move the lab while Pickard was in London, England, and Apperson was suffering from some health problems. Skinner had several associates assist him with the move of the laboratory to Skinner's missile base near Wamego.

In September 2000, Pickard and Apperson met with Rostom Dagazian in Santa Fe to view Dagazian's rental property. Pickard, using the alias name James Maxwell, provided Dagazian with a $5000 cash deposit as security for the house. This evidence, as well as the other evidence concerning the destination of the rental truck, appeared to show that the LSD laboratory was being moved to this location for future operation.

Skinner had various duties within the LSD operation, but his primary duties appeared to be security and money laundering. He did much of his money laundering through gambling and currency exchange at casinos in Las Vegas. Skinner eventually decided to contact law enforcement officials when Pickard and Apperson talked about the killing of an informant in Oregon. He attempted to contact local officials but had no success. He eventually retained Tom Haney, a former assistant United States Attorney, who contacted the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C

So on October 17, 2000, Gordon Todd Skinner, along with his attorney, Tom Haney, went to the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. to inform Justice officials about the location of a large LSD laboratory. Skinner told Justice officials that he had been a part of the organization that had manufactured LSD and was now in possession of the laboratory equipment. Skinner told them that William Leonard Pickard and Clyde Apperson were also partners in the LSD manufacturing operation. Skinner said that the equipment was at a decommissioned missile base near Wamego, Kansas that he owned.

On October 23, 2000, at the request of law enforcement officials, Skinner met Pickard in a hotel room in Marin County, California. The meeting was videotaped. During the meeting, Pickard and Skinner discussed the LSD laboratory and its movement from its present location. Pickard advised Skinner that he wanted Apperson to take possession of the laboratory.

On October 27, 2000, DEA agents and others conducted a walk-through of the missile base with Skinner. They observed the contents of a non-operational LSD laboratory packed in approximately 45 large, green shipping containers. The containers were located in a building identified as the "Lester Building" on the base. On October 31, 2000, agents executed a search warrant at the base. Agents took various samples of materials found in the containers and seized 6½ kilograms of a substance they believed was ergotamine tartrate, a precursor chemical for the manufacture of LSD. The substance, however, tested positive for ergocristine, a material that can be used interchangeably with ergotamine tartrate in the manufacture of LSD.

Subsequent phone conversations occurred between Skinner and Pickard. All of these conversations were recorded. Eventually, Pickard told Skinner that he was coming to see the laboratory and, in particular, to make sure that the ergocristine was secure. Skinner reported that the ergocristine was in Tulsa, where he had previously lived, and where his mother owned a spring manufacturing company. On November 2, 2000, Pickard and Apperson arrived in Tulsa. Skinner drove from Wamego on November 3 and met them. He finally revealed to Pickard and Apperson that the ergocristine was in Wamego with the rest of the laboratory equipment.

Pickard and Apperson then traveled to Wamego, Kansas on November 4, 2000. They made the trip in a Buick automobile they had rented in Tulsa. They met Skinner near the missile base. These conversations were also recorded. Several arguments occurred among the trio. Pickard and Apperson expressed their concern about storage of the laboratory equipment at Wamego. They also indicated that they were concerned for their safety if the entire laboratory, including the ergocristine, was not returned to them.

Pickard and Apperson began making plans for the transfer of the laboratory equipment from Wamego. They rented a truck in Topeka, Kansas. The return destination for the truck was Albuquerque, New Mexico. Pickard and Apperson subsequently drove the truck to the base and l began loading the truck on the evening of November 4, 2000. The loading lasted until the morning hours of November 5, 2000. They were, however, not prepared to leave until they obtained the ergocristine. They had additional conversations with Skinner concerning the ergocristine. Skinner agreed to return the ergocristine. On November 6, 2000, the ergocristine was returned to the base by the DEA. Skinner told Pickard where the ergocristine was located and Pickard went to that location on the base and retrieved it. Pickard and Apperson then left the base. Pickard was driving the Buick that he and Apperson had used to travel from Tulsa. Apperson was driving the rented truck. As they left the area, Kansas Highway Patrol officers activated their emergency lights and sirens to stop them. The vehicles driven by Pickard and Apperson, however, increased their speed. The troopers pursued the vehicles and eventually forced them to stop by pulling in front of the truck. Apperson was removed from the truck and taken into custody. Pickard fled from the scene on foot after letting the Buick roll to a stop and end up in a ditch. A subsequent search failed to detect him.

Pickard was arrested the following day after being found by a farmer. He was found in a truck at the farmer's property about four miles west of Wamego. The farmer saw Pickard in the truck, and Pickard got out. Pickard advised the farmer that he had gotten stuck early in the morning and needed a ride to Manhattan, Kansas. The farmer had heard about the manhunt and suspected that Pickard might be the subject of the search. He called local law enforcement. After their arrival, Pickard again attempted to flee. He ran through a field, but was eventually caught and arrested. The ergocristine was found in the Buick that Pickard had been driving.

Subsequently, law enforcement officers obtained search warrants. These warrants were executed at the missile base from November 17, 2000 to November 22, 2000. The execution of the warrants took several days because of the volume of materials and the danger posed by the chemical substances. Law enforcement officers found an abundant amount of items and equipment associated with an LSD laboratory. They also found several chemical substances including LSD, lysergic acid, and iso-lysergic acid. Among the items found in the Buick was a recipe for the manufacture of LSD. The paper on which the recipe was written also appeared to contain past production quantities.

During the execution of the search warrants, law enforcement agents found a large patch of dead grass outside base. Soil samples of the area were taken, and they tested positive for LSD, iso-LSD, and lysergic acid. During trial, Pickard admitted that, while Apperson loaded the equipment into the truck, he dumped hazardous solutions onto the ground of the missile base.[11]

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