Source: Philadelphia Magazine
On the afternoon of April 21st, 18-year-old Timothy Brooks arrived at a courthouse in Ardmore, a mile east of his alma mater, the Haverford School. His appearance — khaki pants, blue blazer, square jaw — suggested good breeding. Walking alone, in handcuffs, he lifted his head and smiled at the assorted cameras before him. “Why are you smiling?” a reporter asked. Brooks said nothing and marched forward into the courthouse.
Twenty-five-year-old Neil Scott, Brooks’s alleged co-conspirator and fellow Haverford graduate, showed up looking less composed. Escorted by police, he covered his face with his blood-orange prison jumpsuit — his bail was set higher than Brooks’s, and his parents had declined to pay it — and told the assembled media to “get the fuck out of my face.” Then he popped out two middle fingers and concluded his remarks with a drawn-out “Fuuu-uck you.”
The perp walk was a fittingly theatrical start to the day’s proceedings. Scott and Brooks, along with nine suspected sub-dealers, were being charged with running a drug ring that aimed to supply marijuana, cocaine and Ecstasy to some of the finest high schools, colleges and weekend house parties in Greater Philadelphia. (The prosecutors’ allegations were outlined in painstaking detail in a 77-page affidavit.) Brooks called the operation the Main Line Takeover Project, and soon, so would everyone else. “Every Nug on the mainline is about to come from you and me,” he’d texted Scott last fall. “We will crush it,” Scott echoed in a separate text-message conversation. “Once you go tax free it’s hard to go back.”
Announcing the charges at a press conference, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said, “You’re dealing with kids from one of the finest institutions probably in the country. To take those skills and turn it into this kind of illegal enterprise is very distressing.” In front of her was a table covered in drug-bust evidence: $11,035 in cash, eight pounds of marijuana, 23 grams of cocaine, 11 grams of Ecstasy, eight cell phones, one computer, one .223 AR-15 rifle, one .22 AR-15 rifle, one 9mm handgun — and, to emphasize her point, a lacrosse stick.
Ferman’s still life, with its discordant juxtaposition of semi-automatic weaponry and sports equipment, had the desired effect. The New York Times assigned two reporters to the story. The Washington Post ran an oddly gleeful breakdown of the case, grabbing Facebook screenshots and comparing the defendants to the characters in The Social Network. Gawker ran its inevitable “Philly Lax Bros Charged With Running Complex Prep School Drug Ring” headline. The Daily Beast published two articles, and Britain’s Daily Mail eventually joined the parade. CBS This Morning just sounded concerned.
The appeal of the story was obvious. On one hand, that such illicit behavior was being practiced on such rarefied real estate suggested a fascinating contraction, as if the Katharine Hepburn character in The Philadelphia Story had been caught taking a massive bong rip. On the other hand, the allegations corresponded neatly with our preconceptions about the corrupting influence of wealth and privilege. (Katharine Hepburn, upon consideration, was drunk for much of The Philadelphia Story.) Whatever the precise reason for its gossipy appeal, the case promised a dose of karmic justice: Rich white lax bros, the types who have long smoked weed and snorted coke to zero consequence, were facing near-certain jail time.
But there’s at least one sense in which the perception surrounding the case doesn’t match reality. Brooks and Scott’s blue-chip all-boys prep school was more of a safety net than a launching pad, a trusty home base from which to recover a measure of lost high-school glory. The story, accordingly, was never really about the drug ring. It was about the culture that spawned the scheme, and the way everyone around it — media, law enforcement, elite prep schools, guarded alums and tight-lipped Main Line parents — reacted after the whole thing fell apart.
THE GRANDDADDY of unlikely main line drug lords was a dentist named Larry Lavin. He started out as a pot smoker at Phillips Exeter, then moved on to pot-dealing at the University of Pennsylvania before ultimately running what would become the largest cocaine trafficking operation in Philadelphia history. Lavin employed, among others, lawyers, stockbrokers, music executives, accountants, fellow dentists and at least one airline pilot. His ring was dubbed the “The Yuppie Conspiracy.” Prior to his trial, Lavin fled his house in Devon, in 1984. By the time he was captured a year and a half later, it was estimated that he had been moving up to 110 pounds of cocaine a month to customers in 14 states, Canada and the District of Columbia.
Neil Scott’s operation was somewhat less glamorous. Home base, according to prosecutors, was literally his home, a cramped apartment on the second floor of a flimsy-looking rental house off Lancaster Avenue, less than 900 feet from the Haverford School. He owned a black 2007 Toyota 4Runner and lived alone with a small brown puppy. He wore sneakers and jeans: He looked like any other underemployed kid in his mid-20s. His neighbors suspected nothing. Hala Imms, who lived across the street, remembers only that she yelled at him when he once parked his car in her spot after a snowstorm. “I’d give him shitty looks because he’d never pick up his dog poop from the front yard,” says another neighbor, who asked not to be identified. “There were like 500 dog turds.”
Un-Lavin-like though he was, Scott seems to have drawn inspiration from the dentist kingpin. When detectives raided his Haverford apartment in February, one of the items they reportedly found was Doctor Dealer, Mark Bowden’s 1987 book about Lavin and his side job. Alongside it was more evidence of his ambition: Cornbread Mafia, about a Kentucky drug ring that thrived in the ’80s, and American Desperado, about a macho smuggler of the infamous Colombian Medellin cartel.
Indicators of Scott’s bravado weren’t confined to the bookshelf. One afternoon in late December 2013, two men in their mid-20s pulled up to Scott’s rental and climbed the wooden staircase to its upstairs apartment. They were there to buy an ounce of weed from Scott for the quite reasonable price of $215. One of the men — we’ll call him Jack — remembered Scott from the prep-school lacrosse circuit. Jack, his buddy and Scott sat down on a couch and shot the breeze for a few minutes. On the table in front of them was the ounce of weed and the scale Scott had used to measure it. Next to it, more notably, was a 9mm handgun. “He had his guns out in plain view,” Jack recalls. “White kids see a gun, myself included, they’re not going to cause a problem.”
Quickly, Jack says, Scott became a go-to dealer for Haverford students and graduates and assorted suburbanites. “A lot of the kids on the Main Line were buying from him,” Jack says. “Whether they knew it or not.” To be sure, there was already plenty of weed in circulation. As “Tom,” a current Main Line high-schooler, puts it, “Weed is very, very big on the Main Line because everyone can afford it. So many kids have come and gone and been dealers for a couple of months, made a ton of money and never got caught.” What distinguished Scott and Brooks was their attempt to control the supply chain in a market that was mostly decentralized, with dealers sticking mainly to their own schools and selling largely to their friends. Scott and Brooks, says one former Lower Merion High School dealer, seemed to be “unique in the fact that they actively went to high-school kids and said, ‘You wanna be a drug dealer? It’s cool, it’s going to be fun.’”
Brooks and Scott’s business plan was less reliant on the “skills” they picked up at Haverford, as Ferman suggested, than on the connections they had made there. The pair had both played lacrosse at Haverford, as had Christian “Stocky” Euler, a 23-year-old Lafayette student and alleged sub-dealer, and 23-year-old Chester “Chet” Simmons, another alleged sub-dealer, who was named in the prosecution’s affidavit but not charged. “That was such a tight-knit group,” says a 2012 Haverford grad of his school’s national-powerhouse lacrosse team. “They thought of themselves as elite. They had their own little culture.” And that culture, says a member of the school’s class of 2013, was bound up in recreational drug use: “If you took one sport and said, ‘Which one parties the most?,’ it’s the lacrosse guys.”
To a certain extent, by using alumni of the program to push drugs, Brooks and Scott were capitalizing on those connections, in the same way their coaches helped them find part-time coaching gigs after high school. But the way they turned their alumni status into a black-market LinkedIn has more to do with desperation than ingenuity. Scott had flamed out of the Connecticut College lacrosse program before dropping out of school altogether, heading to California, running out of money, and ultimately returning home. Brooks — a team captain at Haverford — sustained a serious injury as a University of Richmond freshman, withdrew from school, and moved back into his childhood bedroom.
Unlike Larry Lavin, the two men didn’t have other careers. Their connections to the Main Line, to the Haverford School, were all they had left. That, and a certain sense of destiny instilled by their alma mater. “Haverford builds you up,” says “Rob,” a recent graduate. “The expectation is, you’ll go on and do big things.”
HERE’S ONE INDICATOR that the Main Line Takeover Project wasn’t exactly the rich-kid caper it was made out to be: Wealthy lax bro number one wasn’t really wealthy at all. Neil Scott grew up in a one-story house in Paoli in a residential pocket adjacent to a retirement community. His father, a carpenter, sent him to Conestoga High School until his junior year, when he transferred to the Haverford School to play goalie on a lacrosse scholarship. A photo from his freshman yearbook at Conestoga reveals his jet black hair coiffed into the wind-swept surfer swoosh that was in vogue in the mid-2000s. “He was always a very cynical, sarcastic kid,” says one Haverford School schoolmate, not disapprovingly. Nobody I spoke with recalled him dealing drugs.
If there was a prevailing sentiment among the high-school classmates and college lacrosse teammates who had anything at all to say about Scott, it was that he was a mediocre athlete. Clay Hillyer, a fellow member of the Connecticut College class of 2012, calls him “terrible”; another teammate concurs, adding that he was a lazy kid with an occasional aggressive streak. “I remember him getting heated,” he recalls. “Like, if you fucked with him or whatever, he would kind of snap.” Also: “His room always smelled like weed.”
These observations turn out to be salient. After one season, Scott stopped playing lacrosse. In his sophomore year, he was sanctioned by the college for smoking pot and making fake IDs, prompting him to drop out and move back home. Within a few months, he had decamped to a white bungalow in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, a beach community 30 minutes north of San Diego, where he coached at various area public schools. Zack Burke, who had hired him in February 2013 to work for his lacrosse training business, told the Daily News that Scott explained he’d come to San Diego to flee the “drugs and trouble” back home. Despite that, he began working at a medical marijuana dispensary at some point. And about two months after he hired Scott, Burke said, he found him cursing at a 10-year-old and fired him: “He started losing grip with reality a bit.” Around that time, he added, Scott began dating an older woman who plied him with Xanax and other prescription pills: “I feel like she made him crazy. I heard he packed up his car and went back to Philly in September.” (Burke declined repeated Philadelphia magazine requests for comment.)
According to text messages released by the prosecution, Scott soon got in touch with his former teammate Stocky Euler, then a senior at Lafayette. Stocky, says a close friend, had himself lost his way post-Haverford, after leaving the Lafayette lacrosse team. “Yo stocky, it’s Neil from Hford,” Scott wrote. “Just got back from Cali, got a bunch of greens. Know anybody around Philly who might be interests?” [sic] “Hahah yoo brotha how are you?” Stocky wrote back the next day, asking, “Like weight?” “Doing pretty well man, yeah got a lot of weight. Constant supply. Great numbers.” Neil Scott was in business.
Meanwhile, Timothy Brooks — younger, richer, a more talented lacrosse player — appears to have backed into the drug trade in a remarkably similar fashion. Brooks grew up in Villanova on one of those wide, leafy streets where the houses are far enough apart that you rarely run the risk of having to greet your neighbors. His father, Clint, a lacrosse player himself at the University of Vermont, is an executive for a local HR firm. Brooks also transferred into Haverford, from Harriton High School, and played on the lacrosse, squash and golf teams, graduating five years after Brooks did. “He kind of exuded an air of being a cool kid,” says one former squash teammate. “He wasn’t super-intelligent, from what I could tell.” Adds one member of the class of 2013, “He was a strong, confident guy, really gifted athletically. For a while, for 90 percent of his life, he had success in almost everything he did.” His high-school Twitter account displays that jock swagger. “S/o to my boys at the wingbowl. Send me some titty pics,” read one entry from February 2013. A couple months earlier, he wrote: “If someone ever decides to write like Shakespeare again, they should be beat up. #hamlet #essays.”
By September 2013, less than a month into his freshman year at Richmond, Brooks sustained a shoulder injury. He underwent surgery, withdrew from school, then began living at home again. “That physical disappointment manifested itself a little bit socially,” says “Joel,” a former Haverford classmate. “I think he couldn’t quite handle it, between not being able to play lacrosse to the ability [he wanted] and maybe not fitting in right away.”
Nobody I spoke with could recall Brooks ever dealing drugs or showing interest in it. In fact, Joel says, once Brooks wound up back home, his initial plan to relieve boredom and earn pocket money was to create an Internet start-up — “something to do with clothes.” Before Brooks was charged, according to prosecutors, he was employed by a “local investment firm.” What Timmy Brooks, Neil Scott and Stocky Euler all had in common were lacrosse careers that ended prematurely, along with a certain entrepreneurial spirit that, under different circumstances, their Haverford teachers might have applauded: They identified a growth market and moved quickly, if not shrewdly, to fill a need.
IT REMAINS UNCLEAR exactly who conceived of the Main Line Takeover Project — that is, a drug operation designed to traffic in more than just a little Saturday-night Molly before an EDM concert. Scott’s and Brooks’s lawyers are jockeying to pin the blame on each other’s clients. “He’s a nice young man and comes from a very nice family and he’s sorry for what he did and he’s ready to accept responsibility,” Brooks’s lawyer, Greg Pagano, has said; on a separate occasion, he told reporters that his client’s “level of culpability is much less than that of his co-defendant.” Scott’s lawyer, Tom Egan, has stated that “Brooks comes from a lot of money,” while his client “comes from a pure middle-class background.” More to the point, Egan told me, “The Main Line Takeover Project — that is not a term ever used by my guy or what he tried to do. That is a term used by Brooks.”
Text messages and testimony provided by investigators show that Scott and Brooks started working together around mid-November 2013, for not-dissimilar reasons. By late fall, Scott told investigators, he had burned through the cash he’d saved in California and taken up pot dealing, since, according to the criminal affidavit, “everyone between 15 and 55 loves good weed.” And he could get it, en masse, from a guy in California. Brooks, meanwhile, told detectives he linked up with Scott because he was having trouble at home and wanted to earn enough cash to move out.
In October, Scott began driving to Lafayette College and Gettysburg College to deliver weed to two former Haverford schoolmates, Euler and Chet Simmons. Meanwhile, Brooks appears to have been working at least one of his own contacts, then-Haverford senior Dan McGrath. On November 13th, Brooks updated Scott regarding his progress with McGrath, in one of the earliest dated text messages released by the prosecution. “Just convinced my Haverford guy to build his empire and stop grams,” Brooks wrote, meaning he was encouraging him to graduate to a more substantial level of dealing — it was a plan for sustainable growth, essentially. The affidavit says Brooks referred to McGrath, who grew up middle-class in Glenolden, as a “highly motivated poor kid.” Scott, whose own socioeconomic status isn’t so different from McGrath’s, responded, “Sounds good to me. Like those kinds of kids.”
A week later, Brooks made an effort to solidify his partnership with Scott. “Idk what you make a week but I want to make [$2,000] if I do this,” he texted. “And there are still a lot of holes to fill cause I have to grow my business. I’ll be straight with you on how I flip it. And we can work the numbers out.” Scott replied: “I’ll help you with whatever I can, [$2,000] is definitely feasible.” After agreeing to buy a pound of weed from Scott, Brooks texted, “Like I said I’m trying to start a business and I’m learning how to run this 1 well.”
As the conversation proceeded, the two allowed themselves to think a little bigger:
Brooks: “When you were a senior at Haverford did u ever think that you could pull that”
Scott: “Only dreamed it There is a much bigger market than just a lb at each of these school. [Conestoga] alone is a couple a week!”
Scott: “Just have to find the right people. And don’t rush it. Everything has a way of falling into line.”
Brooks: “Yeah the question is, can I find the right guy that can run that operation”
Brooks: “Defiantly in time” [sic]
Brooks, according to the affidavit, soon began establishing contacts at Lower Merion High School, Radnor High School, Harriton High and, later, Haverford College. Scott, meanwhile, started branching out into Philadelphia. “My main line take over project is coming together fast,” Brooks texted Scott at one point. “And I’m telling all my guys I never want there [sic] schools to be dry. Cause I always got pissed as shit when I couldn’t find bud. But now it will never happen for the rest of my life. Cause I got u.” He added: “This last week has made me realize how much I love money.”
If you talk to enough Main Line kids in the age-16-to-24 demographic, it appears there was some vague awareness that Neil Scott and Timmy Brooks were, if not running a sophisticated narcotics operation, trying to pull something off. Jack describes what seemed to be their business model: “It was better for them all price-wise to work as a co-op, rather than small-time it on their own.”
Scott, however, appeared to fancy himself more hard-core than your friendly neighborhood herb supplier. “You have a thousand dollar bounty on your head, I will find you,” Scott texted to an unnamed minion. “Piece of shit, heard you ripped off more people on your campus.” While Scott issued threats, Brooks was the good cop, trying to play up the bling aspect of their trade. “One of them had approached a good friend of mine,” says the former Lower Merion dealer, referring to Brooks. “He showed him a large amount of pot, wearing a suit.”
Brooks offered the friend the drugs on credit, asking that his new sub-dealer pay him back a certain amount once he sold off a solid chunk of it himself. (This m.o. is consistent with how the prosecution alleges the ring was run.) But it seems Brooks and Scott got greedy, misjudged their market, or both. “They were encouraging their dealers to sell all these drugs,” the former LMHS dealer says. “There was too much supply and not enough demand. Somebody’s going to get fucked over, and they’re not going to hesitate to rat you out.”
Whatever the chain of events that led to Brooks and Scott’s arrests, they neglected to take the sorts of precautions that allowed Lavin and Co. to operate unobstructed for six years — or even to demonstrate a basic pop-culture understanding of narco-trade strategy. The alleged ringleaders used their own personal cell phones, and had packages of weed shipped to their own homes. Scott may have bought three books about massively successful drug rings, but it doesn’t appear he read them. “Think of North Philadelphia,” says Jonathan Duecker, special agent in charge of the state attorney general’s Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control. “The organizations there are very good at counter-surveillance, being communication-sensitive. They don’t talk on the phone, they dump their phones. … On the Main Line, they’re not as good. They didn’t grow up being drug dealers.”
In January, less than two months after its genesis, the Main Line Takeover Project began to fall apart. First, detectives from Montgomery County’s Narcotics Enforcement Team (NET) pinpointed four confidential informants to conduct a series of controlled drug buys. The first informant led them to “M.G.M.,” a 17-year-old Lower Merion High School dealer who collected Air Jordans and flaunted his credentials under the Instagram handle “Hustle Tree Daily.” (“Honestly, that might be the dumbest kid I’ve met,” says a childhood friend.) Once they found three more informants, NET was able to build up sufficient evidence to confront Brooks and Scott over the course of a couple of days in late February and early March, and induced quick confessions out of them. Over the next two months, they rounded up the other eight defendants: Euler and McGrath; Domenic Curcio, a 29-year-old machinist from Manayunk; Willow Orr, 22, an illustrator from Point Breeze; 18-year-old Haverford College freshmen Reid Cohen and Garrett Johnson; 21-year-old Lafayette College junior John Cole Rosemann; and a 17-year-old Radnor High student. They charged the suspects not only with dealing drugs — and dealing them to minors — but with participating in a “corrupt organization,” the Pennsylvania statute equivalent of the RICO charges federal prosecutors have slapped on the Hells Angels and the Gambino crime family.
One rainy evening in mid-June, I drove to Paoli to seek an interview with Neil Scott’s parents. The previous weekend, I had already been rebuffed by Clint Brooks, Timmy’s father, who closed his front door on me the minute I identified myself as a reporter. It was dinnertime when I arrived to find Robert and Denise Scott eating in front of the TV. The couple quickly declined comment and shut the door on me. Several moments later, however, seized by some fierce maternal instinct, Denise Scott peered at me through a window and yelled: “It’s a pack of lies!”
WHEN I ASKED ROB, who knew several of the suspects, if he thought the Main Line Takeover Project had Breaking Bad-style ambition, he demurred. The better comparison, he said, was the Seth Rogen stoner-caper comedy Pineapple Express. Neil Scott not only admitted his involvement when confronted, but also told detectives he would have “loved” to employ a dealer at Villanova and was working on expanding to West Chester University. The rest of the alleged sub-dealers handled their arrests with all the savvy of someone who has never seen an episode of Law & Order. When confronted in their homes and dorm rooms by Montgomery County detectives, none of them thought to stay silent and wait for their lawyers. Instead, police say, nearly all of them copped to dealing drugs and admitted sending incriminatory text messages. Only “M.G.M.” tried to save his own skin. But his attempt to toss a jar of weed from his bedroom window fell short, alas, when the drugs landed in the arms of a detective standing on his front lawn.
Sensing an opportunity, several defense lawyers may try to spin their clients’ incompetence into lighter sentences. Attorney Steven Fairlie says of his client John Cole Rosemann’s swift cooperation with police: “That’s what a good law-abiding kid does when he gets caught.” (Fairlie admits Rosemann did not abide by the law.) Greg Pagano, Brooks’s lawyer, is doing his best to belittle his client’s Walter White delusions: “He was involved in the conspiracy for a relatively short period of time,” Pagano said in a written statement. “He possessed no weapons.”
The Haverford School, painted by the press as a $35,000-per-year mecca of preppy entitlement, has attempted to strike a similar balance between condemning and downplaying the actions of its graduates. “We will make sure that something like this never, ever happens again,” John Nagl, the eccentric first-year headmaster of the school, told the New York Times. (A decorated military veteran who helped to develop the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq, Nagl has been known to adopt an alter ego, “Slim,” who has made school-wide announcements in a digitally altered evil-villain voice. He also said “the United States will regret” marijuana legalization.) In the Times interview, however, Nagl pointed out that McGrath, the Haverford student who was charged, was only accused of making $40 to $50 a week off his trade. “We didn’t believe we had a significant problem,” he said. “And we honestly still don’t believe we have a significant problem.”
A recent graduate we’ll call “Alex” shared a similar take. “The school is just an absolutely incredible school to the point where it’s perfect,” he said. The real culprit in this story, as Alex sees it, isn’t a couple of wayward alums, but rather a ravenous public high on schadenfreude. And the real victim is the Haverford School: “When someone’s successful and prosperous, people want to see you fail.” I asked if he thought the school had a drug problem. “No,” he said. “Everybody smokes pot. It’s not a big deal.”
That Alex can assert that pot-smoking is rampant but simultaneously not “a problem” reflects, to some extent, the growing cultural and political acceptability of marijuana consumption. (Philadelphia’s City Council passed a bill in June decriminalizing up to an ounce of weed.) But it also suggests that Alex never expected anyone from his school to actually face consequences for dealing pot. As one Haverford parent — who, like most everyone else interviewed for this story, requested anonymity — told me, “I just think that everyone probably assumed [this drug bust] was going to happen at someone else’s school.”
In an attempt to avoid any more unwanted jolts to their community, the school and its alumni have assumed a defensive crouch. Nagl postponed a scheduled interview with me twice, eventually agreeing to answer written questions submitted by email. When I reached out to Nagl’s predecessor, Joe Cox, he replied amiably that he would love to talk but had been told by “school leadership” not to communicate with the media. Nagl also advised students not to speak to reporters. He told me he didn’t want them to “cause hurt to people whom we care about very deeply.”
The vast majority of Haverford alumni I contacted, likewise, were more than a little skittish about speaking with me, ignoring messages or hastily declining to talk. “I went to Haverford for 13 years and will send my kids there over any other school in the area still,” said 2012 graduate Henry Blynn. “I would appreciate if you stopped harassing my friends and classmates.” Recent grad Rob explained their reluctance further: “When these kids got caught, it was like someone in our family totally fucked up and now we all look bad.”
That sentiment surfaced at the Haverford School’s 130th commencement ceremony, which took place on June 6th at the campus field house. The choir sang. The boys received their diplomas. A speaker in a robe tossed off some quotes from Bob Dylan and William Butler Yeats. William Gray Warden III, ’50, was joined onstage by William Gray Warden IV, ’75, who was in turn joined onstage by William Gray Warden V, ’14.
The only way to distinguish this year’s ceremony from any other’s was a set of remarks made at the very end by the chairman of the school’s board of trustees, a lawyer named John Stoviak. “I’ll briefly just touch on the subject that’s been the subject of more media than I could ever imagine,” he said. “And I’ll declare from this stage, and from any pulpit that I can get, that the Haverford School will not — will not — be defined by the bad decisions of a few people. We as a community — all the faculty, all the parents, all the students — will not let that happen. We will fight to continue to earn our well-deserved, outstanding reputation as an extraordinary school with remarkable boys.”
BY QUICKLY PROMISING to study the matter and possibly undergo reforms, the Haverford School is signaling it can do a better job of living up to its lofty mission statement: “Preparing Boys for Life.” But the embarrassment and the soul-searching and the PR scramble also suggest the Haverford community is well aware that this story had less to do with the nature of the alleged crimes than with those accused of committing them. It was about where they were from and where they went to high school. It was less about breaking laws than it was about betraying the honor code. It reflected a community and a school that promise you so much that when your grand plans don’t work out, you instinctively return to them and try to milk them one last time. Because despite appearances, Brooks and Scott weren’t invincible. They were utterly mortal, facing a reality nobody prepared them for: out of school and out of money, with their lacrosse careers derailed. Not everyone goes on to do big things.
It had to be about all that, because it couldn’t have been about the drugs. Here is a list of much larger local busts that didn’t make headlines on Gawker: In May 2013, Ferman’s own Operation Weed Whacker cracked open a $14.6 million ring based in Blue Bell. The year 2011 saw the demise of a tri-county barbershop cocaine ring, from which four pounds of coke were seized. Just last May, 44 alleged members of an organization that had close ties to Mexico’s notorious La Familia cartel were arrested, a bust prosecutors said was the biggest in Chester County’s history. By contrast, less than one ounce of cocaine was seized in Operation Main Line Takeover. And yet Neil Scott’s bail was set at a million dollars, the same as that of the defendants in the Mexican cartel case and nearly three times Larry Lavin’s (adjusted for inflation).
Law enforcement officers not working under Ferman seem somewhat underwhelmed by the bust. “The size of the marijuana distribution operation is standard, so that did not surprise me,” says Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan. “The fact that it was happening at a school like Haverford also did not surprise me.” Duecker, meanwhile, is baffled that so much ink was spilled on the case. “In the context of the growing heroin and opioid-painkiller pill issue that we have throughout the state, what we had in that particular case was not extraordinary,” he says. “What was interesting to me was not the trafficking, not the fact that they were doing it. I was amazed at what a prominent story it was.”
For that, we partly have the prosecution to thank, not only for arranging its press conference for maximum public consumption but also for issuing an affidavit of probable cause so intricately detailed that one defense lawyer in the case called it the longest he had ever seen. When I suggested to Lower Merion police superintendent Mike McGrath that the lengthy affidavit proved not unhelpful to reporters, he smiled and said, “I think that’s why they did it.” Ferman, a cynic might point out, is up for reelection next year.
Outside the media gaze, the case trundles on, slowly and uneventfully. Lawyers are trying to avoid the mandatory minimum sentencing requirements likely to fell some of their clients. Timmy Brooks, sources say, went to rehab. Neil Scott is in jail; his lawyer says he’d rather begin serving his sentence now than get out on bail. The trial, if the case goes that far, may not occur for months. And the rest of the Main Line? “Kids will always want to smoke pot,” a high-school student in the area told me. “And if they get caught, someone will always come along and replace them.”
Originally published as “High Hopes” in the August 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.