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Alleged Drug Czar Returned to O.C.

July 03, 1990|DAN WEIKEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He and his lawyers contend that the charges are greatly exaggerated and that a search of Rancho del Rio in 1985 might have been improper, which could force the suppression of key evidence against him.

Fowlie has spent much of the last three years at Centro de Readaptacion Social and, with the help of an errand boy and friends in Cabo San Lucas, managed to make a living selling art and doing consulting work for a construction business.

The Times reported in March that during his imprisonment, Fowlie's captors freed him repeatedly to go marlin fishing, visit his beachfront house and work on a shopping center in Cabo San Lucas, a popular haven for American sportsmen.

Sources said Fowlie was often given four-day passes from prison to pursue recreation and personal business in Cabo San Lucas, where he is known to dozens of hoteliers, restaurateurs, lawyers and skippers of sportfishing boats.

His oil paintings of fish and marine fowl also have been shown at art shows in the town, and the bar association of Baja California, Sur, commissioned him to do a painting of a horned owl for President Salinas. Fowlie has photos of the presentation to the president.

Fowlie's return ends almost 20 years of investigations that have led federal, state and local authorities from Orange County to Central America and Europe in pursuit of him.

Authorities first suspected Fowlie of being involved in drugs in the late 1960s and early 1970s when police said they linked him to the infamous Brotherhood of Eternal Love in Laguna Beach.

The loose-knit organization of about 200 people was founded by Timothy Leary, a Harvard University psychology instructor who espoused the "mind-expanding" properties of hashish, marijuana and the hallucinogen, LSD.

Fowlie, a former abalone diver and surfer who formed a pioneering contingent of big wave riders in Hawaii during the early 1950s, owned the Leather Gypsy in Laguna Beach at the time. The successful leather goods manufacturer had plants in Mexico and major accounts with such retail mainstays as Sears and J.C. Penney.

Laguna Beach Police Chief Neil Purcell, who investigated the Brotherhood as a detective, said Fowlie was suspected of being part of the organization's drug distribution network, which was broken up with the arrests of 46 members in 1972.

Fowlie, who lived in South Laguna, was never arrested. He said he sold the Leather Gypsy in the early 1970s for about $3 million during a recession in the fashion industry and left the United States.

Eventually he said he went to Costa Rica, where he bought farmland, beachfront property that includes a popular surfing spot and a mansion from fugitive financier Robert L. Vesco.

Vesco remains accused of stealing $392 million from mutual fund investors and secretly giving $200,000 to former President Richard M. Nixon's 1972 reelection campaign in an attempt to obstruct a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation. He is believed to live in Cuba.

Fowlie's name resurfaced in connection with drug smuggling in 1979 when an informant told state narcotics agents that large shipments were arriving at the ranch. State law enforcement officials indicate that Fowlie was capable of handling 400 pounds of cocaine a month.

J.D. Miles, agent-in-charge of the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement office in Orange County, said that as late as 1984, state agents were developing information on Rancho del Rio and Fowlie's holdings in Costa Rica and Panama. No charges resulted, however.

"People kept coming forward to give us tips. But none of them wanted to come forward as a witness, and a lot of their information was old," Miles said. "We were pretty much stymied because our target was in Holland, Costa Rica and Mexico, completely out of our realm."

The FBI, IRS and Customs Service took over the investigation and raided Rancho del Rio in February, 1985, after Orange County sheriff's deputies arrested a ranch employee at a house in South Laguna.

Two years later, Fowlie was arrested by Mexican authorities in Puerto Escondido, south of Acapulco, and mounted a lengthy extradition fight from prison. Meanwhile, six people associated with him, including his two sons, have been convicted on drug smuggling charges.

Of Fowlie's return to the United States, Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates said: "I think this shows that no matter where dope dealers go and try to hide we're going to find them. . . . I think the FBI, the DEA and the INS deserve a lot of credit."

RANCHO DEL RIO CHRONOLOGY

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