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But suppose something went wrong, as in the summer of 1999, when an LSD bust in Des Moines, Iowa, led DEA agents to Armstrong and Skelly at 7234 Pennsylvania Avenue in Kansas City's Waldo neighborhood. Caught with thousands of hits of LSD and looking at spending the next few decades in prison, the men pleaded guilty to felonies, cooperated with the government and named Kathleen Brown as their source.
But the government wanted more: Where did Brown get her LSD?
As the threat of years in prison started to fester, a rough story emerged. There was a name. Maybe there was a name. Susie. Yeah, the guy goes by the street name "Susie Wong." A guy in San Francisco. Then ... oh yeah, Brown mentioned a guy named Mark in San Francisco.
Over the course of several interviews, Armstrong and Skelly -- and fellow arrestees Clemente Raya and Raphael Rodriguez -- started to tell a similar story. Brown told them her source was a guy named Mark in San Francisco who collected and exhibited blotter paper as art. The feds tracked down McCloud, whose two charges included an add-on accusation of distributing drugs too close to a school because the Kansas City pushers operated near Cook Science and Math Magnet Elementary.
In court, McCloud's lawyer attacked the credibility of the four dealers. First, why did they all begin to reveal the same information (Susie ... Mark ... San Francisco ... artist) during plea-bargain interviews and never before? Second, how much sense did it make that Brown would blab about her supplier to each and every one of them?
When investigators learned from Armstrong that Skelly was playing both sides, giving information to dealers in Louisiana while cooperating with the government, they decided to monitor his conversations. In September 1999, four months after Skelly recalled the names "Susie" and "Mark" as Brown's source, the detectives eavesdropped as Skelly instructed his girlfriend to find out what she could about Mark McCloud on the Internet.
Weinberg questioned federal drug agent Randy Sinele as to why Skelly would seek such information. He also addressed the zeal with which Armstrong in particular decided to help the government.
"He was cooperating against a lot of people in a lot of cases?" Weinberg asked.
"Yes, sir," Sinele answered.
In court, each witness admitted that he or she had never met McCloud, let alone purchased LSD from him. The witnesses got their LSD from Brown, each said, and they believed Brown got it from McCloud.
Still, the government's most significant problem was that none of the 33,000 sheets of blotter paper stacked in the courtroom contained so much as a drop of LSD. As to the riddle of why a person would need that much blotter paper if he didn't intend to dose it with LSD, well ... McCloud's answer sat within seventeen boxes adjacent to the prosecution's impressive stacks of paper.
Therein lay the most complete "blotter art" collection in the world -- framed blotter sheets dating as far back as the early 1970s and bearing the various psychedelic and pop culture images that have represented LSD for more than thirty years, from Alice in the Looking Glass to Beavis and Butthead. Although somewhat hush-hush, McCloud and his collection have been featured in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Wired and Loaded.
"McCloud has exhibited his collection in museums and galleries that have recognized that this is essentially a unique form of folk art," wrote Ted Owen and Denise Dickson in their 1999 art book, High Art: A History of the Psychedelic Poster.