No one disputes that in 2012, a high-performance engine part was taken from a DEA-seized vehicle and installed on a West Palm Beach cop’s personal pickup.
But was it stolen? That’s a mystery that has consumed the efforts of three law enforcement agencies, which have weighed the word of a former cop-turned-auto-shop owner against a flamboyant former manufacturer of a synthetic marijuana known as “Mr. Nice Guy.”
At stake is the career of a West Palm Beach police officer and the reputations of the mechanic and the Drug Enforcement Agency. The DEA already has removed the officer, Sean Meyers, from a DEA task force and he has been on paid leave since January.
At a time when police are criticized for not rigorously investigating their own, the DEA, the State Attorney’s Office and West Palm Beach police have invested hundreds of man hours trying to find out if a lone officer took advantage of his position to steal a $430 auto part.
The DEA and local investigators wrote in reports that they had enough evidence to show Meyers stole the part, but they chose not to charge him. West Palm Beach police are still investigating.
But interviews and records could point to an entirely different conclusion: that the entire incident was an innocent mistake.
Gets his truck back
To Dylan Harrison, what happened to him and his truck over several weeks in 2012 was simply theft.
“They have my part,” he said. “They stole it. I didn’t get paid for it. I wasn’t told about it. It’s all theft.”
Harrison struck it rich selling the synthetic marijuana “Mr. Nice Guy” until his Georgia Avenue manufacturing building exploded spectacularly in May 2012. He was arrested two months later and pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy to defraud the United States by distributing a controlled substance. He was sentenced to a year in prison.
His pickup truck, seized by the DEA during his arrest, was returned to him as part of his plea deal.
Harrison believes if the roles were reversed, police would have charged him with a crime.
But to Bill Griffin, who owns the auto shop that installed the part on Meyers’ truck, the entire controversy has been overblown.
Griffin, a former West Palm Beach officer and personal friend of Meyers, called the multiple investigations into a $430 auto part “the most asinine thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” his recorded interview with state attorney’s investigators shows.
Griffin told The Palm Beach Post that he thought he was trying to do the right thing by moving the part because it saved the DEA money.
“I don’t feel — I never did, I never will — that I did anything wrong,” he said.
Break-in at DEA
Everything started about three weeks after Harrison was arrested in July 2012, when investigators at the DEA told the jailed Harrison that his diesel Chevy Silverado had been broken into while on the DEA’s lot. His windows were broken and his stereo, subwoofers and a DVR that was storing video footage from four cameras inside the vehicle were gone.
The agents believed the DVR could have captured drug deals and that Harrison had arranged to have the truck ransacked, an accusation Harrison denies.
The truck was so damaged that Meyers, who was on the DEA task force at the time, had it towed to Griffin’s shop.
When Harrison was out on bond awaiting sentencing, he learned his truck had not been restored to its previous condition.
After he got out of prison last year, his mechanic noticed that the high-performance air intake was missing. The part was designed to blow cold air into the engine to generate more power. In its place was an original GM part.
But the vehicle identification number on the mystery part didn’t match the VIN for Harrison’s truck.
Harrison traced the VIN to a Chevy Silverado owned by Meyers. He didn’t know Meyers, but found that the officer was assigned to the DEA task force and had made headlines in 2005 when he was one of 13 officers suspended for using steroids.
Outraged, he asked his lawyer to send his findings to the DEA, which opened an investigation and got a search warrant for Meyers’ truck. They found Harrison’s air intake under the hood.
Meyers, according to the records, confirmed that it had been installed by Griffin. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Truck wouldn’t start
Federal prosecutors decided not to charge Meyers, so the DEA took the case to local prosecutors.
Griffin, according to a recording of his conversation with investigators, was exasperated. And he — and his mechanic — had an explanation for why the drug dealer’s car part ended up in the cop’s pickup truck.
The wiring had been ripped out of the dashboard, Griffin’s mechanic, Scott Bowe, told investigators. Bowe said he spent four days painstakingly rewiring the truck and rebooting its computers. That didn’t work, though — the computers were showing a problem with the truck’s air flow, and it wouldn’t start.
To see if the problem was with the computer or with Harrison’s high-performance intake, he wanted to swap the intake with a factory one. He looked around the repair lot for a similar truck and saw Meyers’ pickup, which was in for some custom work.
Bowe was only going to swap the parts temporarily, to identify the problem. But the factory intake from Meyers’ truck solved the problem — Harrison’s truck started up just fine.
He also realized that Meyers’ truck could handle the high-performance intake.
Swapping the parts was a creative, low-cost solution that resulted in a final bill of about $800. Griffin said he was under pressure to keep repair costs low because DEA agents have to get approval for expensive repairs.
Griffin said he lost money on the deal. He’s also spent thousands on a lawyer, and the scrutiny has cost him his reputation and a deal to service DEA vehicles that was worth $30,000 per year, he said.
Prosecutors seemed skeptical of the entire story, records show.
Neither Griffin nor Meyers asked the DEA if they could switch the intake systems, Chief Assistant State Attorney Alan Johnson wrote earlier this month. And the shop’s invoice to the DEA didn’t mention the repair.
“There is probable cause to believe a crime was committed and a good faith basis exists to file criminal charges,” Johnson wrote.
But prosecutors would have two hurdles to overcome, Johnson wrote: Proving that the part is still worth at least $300 — the minimum for a felony — and proving that Meyers acted with criminal intent.
They declined to prosecute, leaving the matter to West Palm Beach internal affairs.
That investigation is still open, the department said, and Meyers has been on leave since January. A DEA spokeswoman said Meyers was removed from the task force in November.
Depending on the outcome, Meyers could lose his job and, potentially, his state policing license.
Griffin said the idea that he was trying to steal the part was ridiculous. He’s a former member of the department’s auto theft unit. If he was going to steal a part, “I would never, ever, be stupid enough to put traceable parts on somebody else’s car,” he said.
Harrison still sells “Mr. Nice Guy,” but as a canned soda that’s meant to make people drowsy.
He said Meyers offered to swap the parts back or pay him for it, but he declined. He plans on filing a federal civil suit. He said he wants to see justice.
“I’m not looking for a payday,” he said. “What I want is for him never to be a cop again and do this to someone else.”
A convict’s truck part winds up on a police officer’s personal vehicle. Investigators suspect theft but no charges filed. The cop remains on paid leave.