Forty-Year-Old Fugitive Monk/'Hippie Mafia" Case Gets Goofier

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Brenice Lee Smith and Friends circa 1972
Orange County Sheriff's Department inmate number 2537327, better known as Brenice "Brennie" Lee Smith--or Dorje to his family and fellow Buddhist devotees--has been behind bars for almost two months now thanks to a pair of nearly 40-year-old hash smuggling charges. At the moment, the founding member of Orange County's Brotherhood of Eternal Love, the group of hippies who sought to transform the world one acid trip at the time and even produced its own trademark acid Orange Sunshine, is awaiting trial at the notorious Theo Lacy Men's Jail across the street from The Block in Orange.

If it wasn't for the fact Smith was stuck in jail, just about everything about this case would be the stuff of pure comedy, or better yet, farce. 

First a bit of background: Along with a few dozen of his former pals, most of them Anaheim highschool buddies since the days of the Righteous Brothers and Dick Dale and the DelTones, Smith founded the Brotherhood in Modjeska Canyon in 1966 as a legally-registered nonprofit church dedicated to the teachings of Jesus, Buddha, Parmahamsa Yogananda and a host of Hindu deities. They had a penchant for transcendental meditation and were evangelical in their admiration for LSD, which they believed when rigorously used in communal settings could bring peace to the world. 

It certainly brought peace to theirs: most of the Brotherhood were heroin addicts, thieves and barroom brawlers before they dropped acid in the early 1960s and in their words, "saw god." Folks like Smith made it their mission to lure as many of their thuggish friends out to Orange County's rustic canyons or to desert destinations like Mount Palomar or Tahquitz Falls, to drop acid, which was still legal. But fortuitously, California banned the group's sacrament in October 1966, just a few weeks before they founded their church, turning the Brotherhood into an underground movement which ultimately became the biggest group of hash smugglers and acid dealers in the country.

Now back to the so-called "case" against Smith, who is actually being jailed for his alleged involvement in two "conspiracies." The first is the 1972 conspiracy case which effectively ended the Brotherhood, sending some members to jail for brief periods of time and sending others, including Smith, scattering across the globe. As I previously reported, Smith was charged in that indictment with traveling to Kandahar, Afghanistan and smuggling hash. The only witness who incriminated him, founding Brotherhood member Glenn Lynd, died of cancer in 2002. Smith spent most of the past 30 years living in a monastery in Nepal. He recently returned to the US to visit family members and put his past behind him.

The second conspiracy hanging over Smith's head dates from the late 1970s and concerns his alleged role in a hash smuggling scheme that law enforcement officials in the Bay Area managed to prevent from bearing fruit when they arrested a trio of people picking up the load, which had just arrived from Afghanistan. I recently reviewed transcripts from this case and am amazed to report that it provides the first official documentation that despite the cops' claim that they brought down the so-called "Hippie Mafia" in 1972, members of the group were still smuggling hash from their source in Kandahar, Hayatullah Tokhi, until just a few months before the 1979 Soviet invasion finally ruined everything--not just for the Brotherhood, of course, but for the Afghan people and everyone else whose lives were affected by the rise of Islamic extremism that the invasion helped trigger. 

The transcripts from this conspiracy case show that several founding Brotherhood members who were indicted in 1972, including Jack "Dark Cloud" Harrington, who is deceased, were still flying back and forth between Southern California and Kabul, arranging hash loads years later. There is a lot of testimony from the government's main witness Walter McAllister, that Smith was directly involved in the scheme, but there's a tiny problem. The Smith McAlllister was talking about was a different guy, a certain Vernon "Smitty" Smith, who was a carpenter who helped construct Mystic Arts World, the Brotherhood's head shop, art gallery, beadshop and bookstore on Pacific Coast Highway.

At one point in the transcript, prosecutors ask McAllister about Brenice Smith and his involvement. Pressed for details, the best McAllister could say was that he thought Brenice Smith might have been at the house in San Clemente where certain discussions about the smuggling operation took place, but that he wasn't sure. And while McAllister did testify that Smith flew to Kabul with Harrington at one point during the venture, he didn't fly there to help with the smuggling operation, but rather to visit "his goofy guru." McAllister added that all Smith and Harrington did on this trip was "build a tennis court" in Kabul, "which slowed everything down."

So there you go, folks: Brenice Lee Smith, guilty of building a tennis court and looking for his goofy guru, whoever that was. 

It's unclear if Deputy District Attorney Jim Hicks, the son of Cecil Hicks, who presided over the DA's office during the original Brotherhood conspiracy case, has even bothered to read through the transcripts from this second conspiracy case. However, Gerardo Gutierrez, Smith's Chicago-based attorney, has already filed a motion to have all the charges against his client dismissed. Smith's next hearing is scheduled for December 7, a day that will live in infamy if Hicks doesn't come to his senses and end this expensive charade once and for all, thus having the honor of closing the books on the long, strange trip that is the story of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, perhaps the most surreal saga ever to take place in Orange County.


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