The two bodybuilding ex-soldiers at the heart of a major Miami Molly drug importation ring took the witness stand Tuesday to tell their stories of fast cash, luxury cars and beautiful women.
And they told jurors that Mario Raul Melton, 30, the son of a well-connected Miami-Dade lobbyist, helped them by arranging for larger shipments of the euphoric club drug to be mailed from China to his family's Medley shipping business.
"He was very verbose about how to send and receive packages," Jorge Hernandez, 35, a former U.S. Army soldier and war veteran, told federal jurors during Melton's trial in Miami federal court. "It was a great cover. The most money I ever made was when Mario was involved."
Ex-U.S. Marine Matthew Anich, Hernandez's best friend, told jurors that he didn't know Melton personally but was leery about the arrangement to ship drugs to the freight company in 2014. Previously, the pair had imported one kilo at a time to their own homes, U.S. mail drops or other addresses.
"Three, four, five kilos. That's going to raise some alarms and suddenly you have a federal task force showing up," Anich, 30, testified. Indeed, federal agents tracked a package of Molly to the shipping business that May, leading to the organization's demise.
This week's trial offered the first courtroom testimony detailing the rise-and-fall of Miami's largest synthetic drug ring. The two college graduates illustrate a new breed of South Florida drug dealers, tech-savvy young men who use the Internet to buy Chinese-made drugs that are shipped to the United States through the mail.
The trade was highlighted in the Miami Herald's Pipeline China series. Hernandez and Anich, both Miami fitness instructors whose military careers were cut short by injuries, were also profiled last year in the newspaper.
The two are among over a dozen in the case who have been charged and convicted for smuggling hundreds of kilos of Molly from China. Only Melton, an aspiring lawyer and the son of lobbyist Eston "Dusty" Melton, is fighting the charges of conspiring to import ethylone, an offshoot of the popular club-drug ecstasy, as well as steroids.
"It was the classic sex, drugs and rock 'n 'roll -- all played out in Miami," federal prosecutor Vanessa Snyder told jurors during opening statements on Monday.
For Hernandez and Anich, the Molly trade fueled their appetites for nightclubs and bombshell women, some of whom wired money to China and accepted packages for the operation. One of them, a heavily tattooed web-cam porn entertainer named Carleane Berman, 21, testified on Tuesday that she accompanied Hernandez, her boyfriend, in his white Audi to pick up deliveries of Molly from Melton at his grandfather's shipping company, Transfreight International.
She said that Hernandez once received a text message from Melton, whose code name was "PB&J," saying that he had just "caught a 15-pound snapper." She said he gave her his smart phone and car to go on her own to the shipping business to make the pick-up.
She testified that she sent Melton a text message when she arrived, saying "I'm here." She said "he came out with the package and put it in the trunk."
Investigators caught a break in the sprawling Molly probe in 2012 when Anich's angry girlfriend -- another porn actress known as Selena Rose -- tipped off Miami police to the operation after a domestic squabble in which she stripped nude and jumped atop his white Porsche.
"I'll never forget that day," Anich recalled on the witness stand. "She said, 'If you want to treat me like animal, I'll act like one.' "
Anich told jurors that he was raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. "I spent it on a lot of dumb stuff -- women, fast cars and partying, " said Anich, who graduated from Tulane University with a degree in molecular biology.
Prosecutors are trying to prove that Melton helped expand the ex-soldiers' Molly racket by allowing larger synthetic drug shipments to be sent to Transfreight International, the freight company owned by his grandfather.
Hernandez, a University of Miami grad, testified that he met Melton through a mutual friend, Peter Pereira, a South Beach nightclub dancer and gay male escort. Melton, who was developing an energy drink known as Dolce Shot and a mobile-phone app, came up with the idea to ship the packages to his family's company, he testified.
Melton was paid $500 for each of the roughly 40 kilos shipped to the freight company, Hernandez said.
"He'd open the box and tell me much how I owed him," Hernandez said. "Mario made it very clear he did not want his family to know what he was doing."
Prosecutors have also introduced text messages and recordings of jail calls between Pereira, who was in custody for an unrelated state criminal case, and Hernandez and Melton. They were purportedly arranging more Molly deals to help pay for Pereira's legal defense.
The alleged arrangement with Melton fizzled in May 2014 when U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents, tipped off to an incoming package of Molly, seized a parcel at the warehouse. Employees, including Melton, insisted that they had no idea the origins of the package -- although Anich testified that everyone in their organization knew that drugs were in the parcels.
Melton immediately called Hernandez to warn him that the package had been intercepted, both ex-soldiers told jurors.
Anich admitted that he had never learned Melton's name until that day, when Hernandez said: "Mario called me."
But Melton's defense team has sought to distance him from the Molly operation, casting him as a "computer nerd" who hailed from a different lifestyle than the convicted drug dealers. Lawyer Michael Rosen, during opening statements, insisted prosecutors have no direct proof other than word of drug dealers looking to reduce their prison sentences.
"I don't want you to be afraid of looking at him with his life on the line," Rosen said. "He would never do anything to put his family's or his grandfather's life in jeopardy."
Rosen tried to portray Hernandez and Anich, the prosecution's main witnesses, as liars seeking to obtain shorter prison sentences from the U.S. attorney's office in exchange for their cooperation.
Hernandez pleaded guilty last month and is out on bond while awaiting his sentencing in April. He is facing up to 15 years behind bars. Anich, who testified in a beige prison jumpsuit, is already serving a nearly five-year sentence.