Arlin Troutt, the Apache Junction-based front man for the Willie Nelson Hemp Collection--a line of apparel made of marijuana-derived fabric and backed by the popular country singer--is on the run from the law. A warrant was issued for Troutt's arrest about a month ago in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, based on a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation that links Troutt with an alleged pot deal in that state.
According to B. Todd Jones, an assistant U.S. attorney in Minneapolis, Troutt allegedly acted as a "middleman" in the deal, actually a government-led "reverse sting" operation. The sting originated in March when a man identified in a DEA affidavit as a "supplier-courier" for Troutt was arrested while holding about 250 pounds of pot.
The "courier" then agreed to cooperate with DEA and set up a fake sale of the pot to a Minnesota resident named John Collette. DEA says Troutt directed the courier's actions via phone from his Texas condo. Collette was arrested May 7 outside the Red Carpet Inn in Elk River, Minnesota, holding approximately $12,000. DEA has conducted raids in the last few weeks on Troutt's rented condo near Austin and his hilltop home in Apache Junction, resulting in lots of confiscated office equipment, but no Troutt.
"I'm absolutely on the lam," says the fugitive by phone. "It's been one cheap hotel after another."
Troutt, a sometime musician and longtime friend of Nelson (Hemp: It Wears on You," December 23), denies any involvement in the DEA-directed drug deal. Troutt says DEA's investigation "was total news" to him. As for Collette, Troutt says, "I've never heard of him."
Instead, Troutt claims he is the victim of a government plot designed to intimidate entertainers--his friend Willie, especially--who have endorsed the movement to legalize hemp. Troutt's Texas condo is located outside Austin on the Pedernales Country Club, Nelson's home base. Nelson, Troutt says, was away from home on the day of the raid, which came on the heels of the national television broadcast of Nelson's 60th birthday celebration. Troutt says Nelson is gun-shy about any kind of legal trouble, a paranoia stemming from his celebrated tax troubles of recent years. If intimidation was DEA's intention, the Pedernales raid appears to have been a success. "People are scared to death out at that golf course," says Troutt.
DEA's pot investigation also was designed to combat positive publicity the hemp movement has received recently, Troutt says. For example, he says, many of the entertainers at the recent Farm Aid concert in Iowa were spotted wearing official Hemp Collection ball caps. Troutt also claims that the investigation is the government's way of silencing his own pro-pot activism.
"All these charges are just pure bullshit," says Troutt. "They're trying to lean on the people who make the music. It's the same pied-piper thing they used in the 30s," when antidrug authorities persecuted popular jazz and swing musicians in hopes of heading off potential drug experimentation among their fans. The pro-pot movement favors many such theories. According to hemp advocates, the government's prohibition on the plant is supposedly backed by business interests who want to quash its many legitimate--some would say miraculous--commercial uses, which are best summarized by the movement's slogan, "Food, fuel and fiber." Troutt says Willie Nelson lent his name to the Hemp Collection, which now uses hemp fabric imported from China, because he believes legalized hemp would be a boon to American family farmers, and, ultimately, help clear up the country's overall economic problems.
Troutt, who also openly celebrates hemp's psychoactive uses, says his first joint--at age 16--helped clear up stress-related stomach problems, and led him to a lifetime of pro-pot activism. It has not been an easy lifetime. Troutt admits that he's served multiple drug-related jail stretches. Had it not been for his daughter's academic progress, Troutt likely would be behind bars again. Troutt left Austin the day before the raid to return to the Valley to attend her junior high school graduation. While in Apache Junction, Troutt got a call from a friend in Austin. "He says, 'Hey, there are people out here at your house and they kicked the doors in, and they've got machine guns,'" Troutt says.
Troutt left Apache Junction the day after the graduation, just ahead of a DEA raid on his home there. "I've got a second sense about this stuff," he says. "We were kind of expecting a visit." He has been in hiding since.
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Troutt says his attorneys have contacted authorities in the hope of setting up a time and place for him to surrender, but he fears that he can't afford much of a legal defense should he do so. "I can't afford justice," he says. "But I don't want these guys to kick any more doors down and hurt anybody. I've got to make some kind of arrangement to get them settled down."
DEA officials in Phoenix, Austin and Minnesota refused comment to New Times. Asked if the amount of pot involved in the Minnesota bust was significant, assistant U.S. attorney B. Todd Jones quipped, "I guess you could make a couple of shirts out of it." Chuck Grigson, Troutt's attorney in Austin, says the crime his client has been accused of carries a mandatory five-year sentence, and that he has advised Troutt to turn himself in.
"I've never seen anybody avoid these things forever," says Grigson.
Troutt says he has considered his attorney's advice and probably will surrender. Whatever the outcome of his current legal woes, he'll continue to fight the drug war--from the inside out. "Ain't nobody who knows more about it than me, buddy," he says. "I've been in this war for 25 years on the front lines. I am no more and no less a victim and a casualty of this drug war. "The first time I smoked pot, it was like the greatest medicine in the world. I could relax and be like everybody else. My grades started going up, my attitude got better, my music got better. "They've created a gigantic police state over something that is nothing. Something that was given to us by God.
"I'm not recommending it for everybody. It's not for everybody. But for me, from that day forward, I said, 'Hey, man, I'm a pot smoker.' That's not gonna change."
Besides, Troutt says, his fugitive status "is not gonna be bad publicity" for the Hemp Collection. "We've got a Hula Hoop and a half.