LOS ANGELES — Wealthy California political donor Ed Buck was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury for two overdose deaths in his West Hollywood apartment and charged with providing methamphetamine to three other men, one of whom survived two overdoses.
The indictment returned in U.S. District Court charged Buck with distributing meth resulting in the deaths of Timothy Dean in January and Gemmel Moore in 2017. Buck had previously been charged in Moore's death after his arrest last month.
Buck, 65, who is white and has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic causes, preyed on vulnerable men, most of them black, some of them homeless and addicted to drugs, and pressured them to take drugs or let him inject them with narcotics as part of sexual activity known as "party and play," prosecutors said.
A defense lawyer has previously said Buck denies a role in both deaths. Lawyers for Buck, who is being held without bail, did not immediately return emails seeking comment on the indictment.
The five-count indictment includes a charge in Dean's death and adds charges that Buck provided meth to three other men.
Details of those encounters were included in an affidavit filed with a criminal complaint last month in federal court.
In one encounter, an escort who said he was paid $300 for his services in December, told detectives that Buck gave him a drink and he lost control of his body and passed out, according to court documents. When he regained consciousness, Buck was approaching him with two syringes loaded with meth and he made an excuse to leave the apartment.
In a second incident that month, the same escort said Buck gave him what he said was meth, but the man thought it was actually a tranquilizer because he was immobilized on the floor for more than six hours. Buck told the man to leave, but he couldn't move.
Buck then became frustrated and threatened him with a buzzing power saw, the man said, according to the affidavit. A surge of adrenalin helped him get to his feet, retreat to the kitchen and he eventually left.
Another man said he met Buck in June on Adam4Adam, a gay dating and escort site, while he was living in a hotel on Skid Row in Los Angeles.
The man ended up living with Buck for part of the summer and said Buck injected him with meth on nearly a daily basis for five weeks, according to the affidavit.
He said he overdosed Sept. 4 and 11 when Buck injected him each time with two syringes of meth. On the final time, he said Buck also gave him GHB, the powerful sedative often referred to as a date-rape drug. He again felt he was overdosing and asked Buck to call an ambulance.
When Buck refused, the man left the apartment and went to a nearby gas station, where someone called an ambulance that took him to the hospital.
That final encounter led to Buck's arrest — more than two years after activists began staging rallies outside his rent-controlled apartment and pressuring the local district attorney to bring charges in the July 27, 2017, death of Moore, 26.
Jasmyne Cannick, a communications strategist who led the effort to seek justice for Moore, said the indictment was a long time in coming and that learning it had been handed down was an "incredible feeling."
"To finally see this come to a reality, it's more than I imagined," Cannick said. "When you're in the fight you're not thinking about the victory part because we had so many downs, very little ups until quite recently. Nobody believed us, no one took us seriously."
Moore's mother and her supporters have questioned why it took so long to bring charges and have suggested Buck got favorable treatment because of his status and reputation and that the victims were ignored because they were gay black men, drug users and often sex workers. The activists had repeatedly warned that if Buck wasn't stopped, others would die.
Five months after Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey declined to bring charges in Moore's death, Dean, 55, was found dead Jan. 7 on the floor of Buck's living room — the same place Moore died.
Dean's sister thanked supporters, activists, federal prosecutors and a detective who worked the case.
"My family is overjoyed with the news today," Joann Campbell said in a statement. "Ed Buck, you will never hurt and cause harm to another family."
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department reopened the case after Dean's death. In July, the U.S. attorney's office took the case after sheriff's detectives approached a federal task force investigating opioid overdoses.
Lacey, who is black, has said politics played no role in her decision not to prosecute Buck in the deaths of the two men. She defended her decision and said there was insufficient evidence to proceed with murder charges.
The federal charges bring a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years if Buck is convicted in the deaths. That penalty would be greater than the state drug charges he was arrested on, Lacey said.
Buck ran unsuccessfully in 2007 for City Council in West Hollywood, which is known for its large LGBTQ community. He has donated at least $340,000 to Democratic campaigns and causes over many years.
Buck, who was an AIDS activist, gained fame by leading a 1987 campaign to recall Republican Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham, who was ultimately convicted in an impeachment trial and kicked out of office.
Buck had been a Republican, but said he switched party affiliation to Democrat because he felt the GOP was intolerant toward the gay community.
He has told reporters that he worked as a male model in Europe in his youth and returned to Phoenix, where he worked for a friend's company, eventually buying it out of bankruptcy for $250,000 and turning it around for over $1 million profit.
He said he retired to West Hollywood in 1991 at the age of 37 and became active in animal rescue efforts.
Less than a week after his Sept. 17 arrest, Buck's landlord put an eviction notice on the door of his rent-controlled apartment. It cited his arrest on drug charges and the two overdose deaths.