[FINAL UPDATE] Fugitive Buddhist Monk Arrested in Hippie-Era Hash Smuggling Case!

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First the bad news: Despite hopes that the Orange County District Attorney's Office would have come to its senses and drop the charges by now, the bizarre case of the People vs.  Brenice Lee Smith, continued to crawl forward today. In a hearing this morning before Judge Thomas M. Goethals, Smith pleaded not guilty to the 40 year old indictment that brought down the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, and which is now responsible for Smith being in jail. Meanwhile, the DA's office asked for a week to review a defense motion to reduce bail from $1.1 million to $50,000, which might allow Smith to get out of jail sometime soon. The next hearing in the case will be on October 23, by which time Smith will have spent nearly a month behind bars. DA Hicks told the judge he expected the trial, which will be scheduled on the 23rd, to last "at least" a month.

Now the good news:  In a brief interview outside the courtroom following the hearing today, Hicks made a point of saying that his investigation into the charges against Smith is still continuing, and an important part of that investigation will be determining what Smith has been doing with his life for the past 40 years--see below for some answers on that--and "what his prospects are" after getting out of jail. Supposing that Smith really was living at a monastery as a Buddhist monk in Nepal and isn't really the Kingpin of Kathmandu, the DA seems to be saying that would work in Smith's favor. Although Hicks said that dropping the charges against Smith wasn't something he's considering, he did allow that, rather than being determined to see this case go to trial, he's just looking for a "fair resolution."

Check out next Thursday's OC Weekly for a print story about Smith and check Navel Gazing  next Friday for the latest courtroom drama.


Previously: Aat a hearing late this morning at the Orange County Superior Court, Judge Thomas M. Goethals set bail for Brenice Lee Smith at $1.1 million. "This case is an old case that in its day was a notorious case," Goethals said, adding that although he was an OC prosecutor during the original Brotherhood of Eternal Love conspiracy case back in the early 1970s, he had nothing to do with the prosecution and wasn't going to recuse himself. The Deputy DA handling the case, Jim Hicks, had asked for a much higher bail, noting that some of the original defendants had faced possible sentences of life in prison.

But defense attorney Gerrardo Gutierrez, acting as an advisor to the public defender, argued that marijuana was treated much more harshly 40 years ago than it is today. Ultimately, Goethals went with what he felt was a middle of the road bail amount taking other factors into account. "Mr. Smith has been out of the country for over 30 years," Goethals said. However, he continued, "at least part of that time he was in a monastery in Tibet or someplace and he came back voluntarily...I don't know what the sentence could be for this case. I can't imagine it's a life sentence, but it has to take into account the time he was gone and the fact he came back voluntarily. I don't know why he did that; maybe it was because he thought everyone would have forgotten him by now."

Perhaps unfortunately for Smith, DA Hicks happens to be the son of Cecil Hicks, who at the time of the original Brotherhood case was Orange County's District Attorney, therefore the top official involved in the group's prosecution. In a brief interview after the hearing, Hicks said he recalled hearing "all about" the Brotherhood case from his father when he came home from college in Japan for the Christmas holidays in 1972. Hicks said he was still gathering evidence. "The allegations are very serious," he said. "We have a lot of witnesses who are still around in one place or another."

During the hearing, Smith, who was dressed in an orange OC jail jumper and with long grey hair looked a bit like George Carlin, stood behind a bulletproof glass, observing the proceedings with sober alertness. His next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 16, at which time it is expected his attorney will argue for a lower bail amount. 

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Nick Schou
Brenice--rhymes with Dennis--Smith in court Monday morning.


More previously: DA spokeswoman Susan Schroeder says statute of limitations is not a factor in this case, because Brenice Lee Smith was actually indicted by a grand jury in the 1972 Brotherhood of Eternal Love conspiracy case before he allegedly fled the country. In other words, once you've been charged with a crime, there is no statute of limitations on when you can be tried for it. Smith arrived at the OC Men's Jail last night and awaits arraignment Monday morning.

After nearly 40 years on the run, the last member of the so-called "Hippie Mafia" to evade the long arm of the law, has finally been captured, the Weekly has learned. Brenice Lee Smith, who grew up in Anaheim, was one of the founding members of the Laguna Beach-based Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a group of hippie hash smugglers who befriended Timothy Leary and sought to turn on the entire world through their trademark acid, Orange Sunshine. He was arrested by U.S. customs agents at San Francisco's International Airport at about 9 p.m. on Sept. 26, just minutes after arriving from Hong Kong in the second leg of a trip that started a day earlier in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Smith (pictured above, second to left, bottom row, in the famous 1972 Brotherhood of Eternal Love wanted poster) is now being held at a jail near the airport in Redwood City thanks to two nearly 40-year-old warrants relating to his involvement in the Brotherhood. A jail spokesperson said Smith was expected to be extradited for arraignment in Orange County sometime this week. However, Susan Schroeder, a spokeswoman for the Orange County District Attorney, said she had no information about any extradition or warrants involving Smith, although she stated that could be because the warrants are so old.
Along with many other members of the Brotherhood, Smith, better known as "Brennie" among family and friends, allegedly traveled to Kandahar, Afghanistan in the late 1960s and smuggled hashish back to California inside VW buses, mobile homes, and other vehicles. The Brotherhood also distributed more LSD throughout the world than anyone else, and famously raised cash with acid sales to bust Leary out of prison and help him escape to Afghanistan, where he was finally arrested in 1973. Smith was indicted for his role in the group but was among about a dozen members who managed to evade arrest in August 1972 when a task force made up of  federal, state and local cops raided Brotherhood houses from Laguna Beach to Oregon to Maui--where many members of the group had fled after OC became too hot--and arrested some 50 people.

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