Archive for February, 2019

What It’s Like When Armed FDA Agents Raid Your Place While You’re Getting the Kids Ready for School

Monday, February 11th, 2019


I think there were 8 or 10 of them. Most of them wore beige, bulletproof vests. Some vests said FDA. They had guns, but left them in the holsters. I hadn’t actually noticed until my roommate said her son later told her they had guns.

My roommate had answered the door. I was downstairs with my daughter, helping her select a different dress when I heard a man’s voice. I got up and walked through the kids’ room to see a beige and black clad man with a crewcut coming down the stairs. He asked for me by name. He asked if anyone else was down there besides us, emphatically and repeatedly. I said no. I followed him upstairs.

In the kitchen he informed me that they had a Search and Seizure Warrant related to the distribution of pharmaceuticals without a prescription over the internet. I don’t remember if I nodded or perhaps I said “ok.” In the movies, people scream at the monsters, but in real life, we get quiet in the face of terror.

My daughter was still in her underwear. One of the men asked if we could put some clothes on her. The the beige and black agent – let’s call him Agent P, was the apparent mouthpiece for the group of men milling about my apartment. He explained that they would conduct a search the entire premises. Wait — they weren’t all men. In the stream of puffy crewcut, midwestern faces, there was a black woman, S. She had an interesting name and demeanor that I liked.

I don’t remember the next 40 minutes clearly. In my head it plays out like a jumble of disconnected vignettes. Agent P asking my roommate, if she could get the two kids to school so I could stay. Another agent asking if that was what I was wearing to work, adding that if I needed to change, then Agent S (the token female) would accompany me to my room — and if I needed to use the bathroom she would accompany me there too. They wanted to ask me some things, someplace private. I remember explaining to them that I had work meetings I had to get to in the morning but otherwise could take the rest of the day off. Agent P told my roommate that she had signed for some of the packages. She nodded with a confused frown. I felt terrible. I interrupted to tell him she didn’t know about any of this stuff. They found both my phones, personal and work, and asked if there were any more in the apartment. I said no. A notification came up on my personal phone. The agent holding it showed it to Agent P without a word and they exchanged looks. Later on, Agent P would explain the evidence-gathering and forensics that they would perform on my computer and hard drives for evidence like the message that came up on the phone. Another agent asked me about my storage space. He wanted to know where it was, and if I could take them there. I showed them on google maps. They moved back and forth through the building hallway, holding the apartment and building doors open to create a passage between the innards of my apartment and their cars parked at the curb. I lamented outloud about what my neighbors would think. They said that they had told them they were there to investigate a rat infestation. Right. Armed FDA agents investigating a rat infestation. The next day a friend in Boston called me to tell me that a friend of his from the neighborhood called him to exclaim I’d been arrested by the Feds.

Once my roommate, E, left to take the kids to school, they got to work. Each room in my apartment got a 8 1/2″ x 11″ printout bearing a large serif letter, hung up with scotch tape. One agent pulled out a ziplock baggie and handed out black rubber gloves to the rest. I sat on the sofa. Agent P mentioned my ex, and how behind on child support he was. I asked if they were going to raid his place. He chuckled but didn’t answer. We exchanged polite banter. He asked where I work and I told him. He asked about the university where I teach. We chatted about martial arts. It was cordial.

I knew I had to get to E and explain everything. They had my phones. So I had to get to a computer and log into my contacts account so I could call her. I told Agent P I had meetings in the morning but could come back to let them search my storage space. I biked to work, got my computer, explained to my colleagues that something had come up and I had to take the rest of the day off. Once I got her number out of my contacts, I called her from a payphone and left a voicemail. I waited around for a callback, but got impatient and decided to just go straight to her office. I had to stop in a phone store to map where it was on one of the sample telephones. Remember that part of your brain, so active before smartphones, that got you from here to there and person to person without the necessity of consulting a battery-powered device? And has since gotten fat and lazy and can barely remember an address and cross-section for a measly few blocks? Yeah. Well, I was also distracted by the thought of a team of rubber-gloved strangers methodically fingering their way through my belongings. When I got there she came down and I explained everything, in tears. She asked if what I was selling was legit. I nodded. She said “So you’re doing a good thing.”

I had to go back downtown but I didn’t want my work computer on me in case they decided to confiscate that too. Then I’d REALLY have some explaining to do. So I went back to the office, but a different building where a colleague that I trusted worked. She asked with a grin if she should hide it. I said no, that I would be back for it later, and not to call or text.

When I got back to my apartment, they were almost finished. They had found everything they were looking for, quickly and easily. The boxes of medication under my desk, and the priority mail envelopes ready to go out, sitting in a tote bag hanging off an open drawer. Why had I not taken them to the mailbox last night when I sent out the tracking emails? I’ve been kicking myself for it every day since. One of the agents kept the tote slung over his arm for the remainder of the search, while wearing a triumphant look on his face, as if smug in the thought that half a dozen unwanted babies would be born because of the commandeered cargo hanging off his shoulder. It was my favorite tote too. I consoled myself by telling myself he was wrong — these women would find some other desperate measure to abort. 9 orders came in while they were ransacking my place. Days later I would find out that about 30 orders that had gone out in the days before were failing to update tracking. They had been seized. I refunded everyone and notified them of the incident. They would have to seek pills elsewhere.

They wanted to question me, but preferably in a private place, not my little Manhattan apartment crowded with busy latexed agents. The backyard was within earshot of all my neighbors. So we went to one of their cars. Three of them got in with me. Agent P did most of the talking in the car. He said the interview was optional. I said I wanted to talk to my lawyer. He said it would benefit me to work with them. He said he thought I had a story to tell, that I wasn’t the kingpin in all of this, and that he wanted my sources. I wondered with amusement, whom they were expecting. I repeated that I would prefer to speak with my attorney. Another agent (let’s call him Agent T) asked me who my lawyer was. I gave him my custody lawyer’s name, with the quid pro quo that I wasn’t sure she would be representing me in this. He said it was to inform the prosecutor so he would take her call when it comes in. Bullshit. It’s because they wanted to see if I really had a lawyer. Of course, they probably wouldn’t have even asked if I was black or latino or living in a poor neighborhood, and suspected of the same thing. If that was the case I’d just be face down on the pavement in cuffs. One day I will tell my daughter to always say that you have an attorney, and even if you don’t, make up a name.

So they let me out of the car. The next order of business was my storage unit, where my paintings and art supplies were. They didn’t know that of course, but I’d insisted that I be there if they wanted to search it. I asked Agent T if they had a warrant for the storage space. He said no. I responded that I would not allow them to search it then. I was told that the more I cooperated, the better it would be for me. I shook my head and we went back into the apartment. I was not under arrest, and I was not needed while they were searching, so I told them I would go back to work. They told me to let them know if I got a new phone, so they could get in touch with me. Or more likely so they could tap the number. Maybe they’re already tapping it. I’ve been informed by numerous lawyers to assume everything I’m doing is under surveillance, and that I should not underestimate the Feds resources and capabilities. My paranoia is impeded by my skepticism. I work in IT, and I’ve been through the wringer of the legal system. I know enough about both to know that you learn how to wait. You wait behind the 5 other people that showed up to support desk with their laptops and a terribly important issue that turns the world on it’s axis and has to be done yesterday [blah blah blah]. On top of that, people are lazy and incompetent. Trying to figure out anything on my computer is going to be a tedious endeavor. As I started away from my apartment, one of two of them wished me well. S, the female agent, wished me good luck.

I went to my daughter’s school. I found her classroom and stood at the door, waved at the teacher, and motioned to her to come out to the hall. She came out, I crouched down and I told her I wanted to talk to her about what had happened that morning. She asked if I was going to jail. I said no, no one is going to jail, don’t worry. I told her there was someone that lives in my (late) father’s house that’s in trouble and they wanted to ask me some questions. Maybe one day when she’s older she’ll tell me honestly whether or not she bought it.

After releasing her back to her classroom with a heavy hug and kiss, the next order of business was a phone. I went to the phone store near my job and bought two, one to replace my main phone, and another with a new number. I went back to my apartment, now abandoned by the agents. The neighboring shopkeepers were huddled in whispers and gave me alarmed looks as I entered my building. I smiled at them as I always do. Nothing was wrong.

My apartment was a bit up-ended, but hardly ransacked. I started to put it back together, pushing in drawers and returning boxes and bins to their ordered positions. I wondered about Agent S. Traitor. What must be going through her head. Showing up to work every day, going on these missions with these white guys, solely as their protection from liability. As long as she is there, no woman can cry foul. Either Agent S is a brainwashed, over-privileged vegetable, or she goes home to face bodily turmoil over the righteous hypocrisy in which she participates each day. They violated my apartment. They took my computer, which was my voice and my factory. Ever since I’ve been watching the pleading comments on the blog pile up, looking for pills. I am helpless to assist. I have been informed that they have cameras on my Post office and my PO Box, that they’ve seen me go in, and that I’d better not try to retrieve any packages or I’ll be arrested on the spot. Arrest. [uh-rest]. verb: To check the course of; stop; slow down. I have not yet been physically detained, but I’ve been awaiting the knock at my door, or the scene at my job.

Who are these assholes I wondered, when they weren’t busting into the apartments of single moms, and scaring kids with their superfluous firearms. Most of them had wedding rings, of course. Pasty, broad-faced bros, who’ve settled down out in the boonies with women that know their place. My roommate and I later chuckled about what they must have thought about everything from her tantric shrine, to my little blog and pharma business, to the sexology books in the stairwell bookcase. Probably the whiff of reality those poor repressed schmucks desperately need.

This is who is running our government, holding their summits where they blow hot air and drink overpriced bottled water bought with our taxes. A bunch of aging, sexually repressed white men, deciding who should do what and how, and who will serve them dinner and suck their dicks at the end of the day. I paid taxes on everything I sold to the desperate, late-night visitors of my website. I pay taxes on what I earn from my day job. And it’s no small sum. These mutherfuckers work for me. And I think they’re doing a lousy fucking job.

I’m working with my attorneys. My opponent has millions at their disposal, and I am a single mom in debt. I’ve been advised that my best way to minimize my sentence is a proffer– for they seem to think I have some sort of precious, insider information about restricted medications entering the country. Agent P told me he didn’t think I was the “kingpin.” What the hell is that supposed to mean? Because a girl couldn’t possibly pull such an thing off? Must the mastermind be a big, strong male? Or some evil foreign entrepreneur onto whom they can foist the blame for our social problems? And this imaginary, virile, ringleader — if I throw this mythical person between myself and the oncoming train, perhaps they will mitigate my captivity. Why thank you kind sirs. I am told different things each call. Sometimes it’s passive access to all of my logins. Or it’s assuming my identity to get in touch with my sources. Or advice to regulatory agencies that would legislate policy to quell the flow of controlled substances into the country. Or they want to get in touch with my customers, posing as me. They make me sick.

So much fuss, over a few pills. Yes, I have broken the law. And yet women have written me that I am an angel. That I have saved them. They’ve told me I’m doing God’s work — and please don’t stop.

It’s nearly 2am as I write this, and I’m getting 5-10 emails per day from pregnant women begging me for help. Is this the First World? A Moroccan friend of mine told me that over there, you don’t even need a prescription or to go to the doctor to terminate an unwanted pregnancy – you just go to a pharmacy and get a shot. Our elected officials go hoarse howling about how progressive and free our society is, and yet despite the easy, private affordability of pregnancy termination that I’ve proved is possible, they willfully and deliberately block us from the basic decision of when we’re ready to sacrifice our bodies, time, sleep, and money, to become parents and bring a child into this difficult world. Free and entitled to sexually assault us, silence us, and force us to bear their brats. Excuse me, last time I checked this wasn’t a fucking jihadist warzone.

What happens when the demands of the few eclipse the needs of the many, in a system that damns more than it saves? Such a system requires lots of enforcement. Surveillance requires enormous manpower, and a police state in which the majority are not in agreement with the rule of law that a few privileged beneficiaries hold dear, consumes too many resources to be sustainable. Can you believe they flew these assholes out from Wisconsin to raid little old me? And put them up in the finest Manhattan hotels, I’m sure.

These are the types that love to talk about Freedom. In their heads, they know it’s really Freedom for old, unfuckable white men, and to hell with everyone else. Freedom to distribute power and money to their corrupt, unqualified buddies. Freedom to ship our jobs overseas, and then tax us on the imported results. Freedom to oppress and imprison anyone that pisses them off, under the guise of Criminal Justice.

It’s a paradox and a conundrum, and I can see why the Feds have got their underwear up in a knot about my little bodega. How can they restrict certain people from importing labor and goods from elsewhere, but then let their corporate cronies through? It’s difficult to impose policies selectively in a market of 350 million people. They do their best, but it’s as full of holes as swiss cheese. It would require too much personnel to determine which medications are passing through customs without a valid prescription and which aren’t. Regulate my packages, and you must regulate Pfizer’s. [Queue the corporate cries of protest.]

Which is why there is really nothing stopping any woman from ordering pregnancy termination medicines from offshore pharmacies. Or ordering more than she needs. Or selling what’s leftover to some other women in need. So what if they close all the clinics in the country with their silly legal games and dusty, irrelevant court filings. The antiquated system of written laws increasingly fails to keep pace in the information age, where the language of commerce sees no borders or hegemonic privilege. Go ahead and appoint your idiotic buddies to flimsy positions of power. It took them 2 years to catch up with my ass. I have been strongly advised to keep quiet while the investigation proceeds. This is how their broken system of ink and paper maintains it’s power — by keeping information behind courtroom doors, while selling it to the public as a forum of our peers. “Peers” sounds so warm and preppy, doesn’t it? Not at all like a pile of strangers sneeringly selected by attorneys that some but not all can afford. The emperor is naked, and I’m not buying their bullshit.

So fuck’em. I’m weary of protest. I believe in action, and civil disobedience. Whether you consider abortion a constitutional right or not, they simply do not have the infrastructure to vet our ability to acquire these medications.

If you are an ISC agent or work for a private shipping company, you can choose to let certain items through customs.

If you are a scientist and you have access to chromatography kits, you can test the legitimacy of products from various pharmacies and post your results online.

If you are a web developer, you can set up review sites where consumer experiences and chemical analyses can be published. You can also set up e-marketplaces for women to exchange pills.

If you are a nurse or doctor, you can advise women attempting self-induced abortion on dosage and administration via phone, sms, or email. There are already a lot of great websites posting detailed information, but there is no one way to go about using these medications and I’ve found that people need individual responses to address everything from dosage to timing to administration to managing symptoms to emotional support.

And if you aren’t any of the above — if you have a credit card and a mailing address, you can place an order for Misoprostol and Mifeprex. If you have the means, you can order extras to either gift or sell to other women in need.

Ever since World War I, when the erroneous story of the factory that turned corpses to glue was circulated to galvanize the Chinese against Germany, wars have been fought with information. Our last election was swayed not with military force, but by hackers, fake news, leaked emails, and carefully timed announcements. Despite this, I still love the web, because the same tools they used, birthed #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, and are accessible to me. I no longer have to wait on some uppity white guy in an office to give me access. The internet is an unruly beast of data where any nasty woman with a smartphone can do business and share her gospel across the globe at the speed of light. Unstoppable.