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A book deal was even under way between McCloud and British art publisher Booth-Clibborn Editions to put a portion of the collection on coffee tables around the world. That deal stalled after the government seized the entire gallery and charged McCloud, for the second time in ten years, with conspiracy to distribute LSD. In 1992, while exhibiting some of the collection in Houston, McCloud was arrested, tried and acquitted of the same charges he found himself denying in Kansas City.
Throughout the trial, Oliver maintained that this gallery -- the Institute of Illegal Images, as it was unofficially called -- was nothing more than an elaborate cover for a major drug operation. "It is the perfect front," he argued before the jury. "It is the perfect cover to distribute LSD."
Of course, there's an inescapable flip side to that argument: A museum celebrating blotter art is so blatant as to be perhaps the worst cover imaginable to distribute LSD.
Despite the defense's predictable shots at the testimony of Armstrong, Skelly, Raya and Rodriguez (insinuating that they were coerced by the threat of imprisonment into naming McCloud), the prosecution's most convincing evidence was still that all four gave the same story in court, hearsay or not. As to his reliance on drug dealers for witnesses, Oliver refused to apologize in his closing statement. "Conspiracies hatched in hell don't have angels for witnesses," he said pointedly.
But after this testimony, the prosecution's case became more disjointed, requiring jurors to leap from one evidential dot to the next with no lines drawn between. They were told that LSD blotter seized in various spots around the country bore the same images and perforation patterns as paper in McCloud's home -- but no evidence was presented that showed the defendant did anything but sell the paper itself.
Jurors also heard about a package McCloud received in December 1999 that contained $24,000 cash -- suspicious for sure, but Oliver never tied the money to any activity in the investigation. Instead, he left the jury to assume its criminal relationship.
A theatrical Weinberg, whose seasoned savvy routinely outwitted Oliver's youthful bulldog approach, almost seemed to relish picking the prosecution's case apart, particularly when DEA expert Edward Franzosa testified about the microscopic similarities between LSD papers seized around the country and paper in McCloud's home. Franzosa could not say LSD was on the defendant's paper, and the garish defense attorney proceeded to attack the entire presentation. Why no magnified images of perforations? Doesn't your lab have a camera?
No, Franzosa responded, it does not.
Though unsubstantiated, at least the expert's testimony was intelligible. When Oliver played a taped encounter between Scotland Yard detective Layton Williams and McCloud, the jury heard what sounded like a hurricane. Williams provided a written transcript of the tape to the jurors, but the judge later instructed them to consider only what they'd heard from the tape itself.
During an undercover operation in 1994, Williams flew from England to San Francisco to give McCloud new sheets of blotter paper for his collection, including a rare print of the '94 World Cup soccer logo. He hoped this donation would grease the wheels for an incriminating LSD sale.
But on four occasions that Williams spoke with McCloud during that trip, his attempts to buy LSD failed. He returned to England with nothing to show for his efforts. McCloud, meanwhile, had a new piece for his collection, hand delivered by the hapless James Bond.