Ed Buck Was Protected. He Still Is.
It was Friday, August 4th, 2017, when Marco Colantonio received an email from Darin Weeks, the publisher of WeHo Daily, a local news outlet in West Hollywood.
Marco had recently launched WeHo Times, a small outlet focusing on local stories, and was immediately suspicious. “I thought that it was a setup,” Marco recounts. “I thought one of my competitors was angry that I was doing news stories in West Hollywood.”
The email was a forwarded plea from LaTisha Nixon, a Texas woman claiming that her son Gemmel Moore had died of a meth overdose a week earlier in the home of Ed Buck, a prominent political figure in West Hollywood. Other news outlets, far larger and more prestigious than Marco’s fledgling project, had already passed on the story. Even if true, the story was a landmine.
To cross Ed Buck was to burn valuable political contacts in Los Angeles, especially West Hollywood. Buck was the prime donor of the Stonewall Democratic Club, the kingmaker of West Hollywood politics, and sat on their Steering Committee deciding resource allocation. He was a major Democratic donor with high profile friends, including some on the West Hollywood City Council.
Marco was dubious of the story but recalled a chance meeting with Ed Buck years prior. After exchanging introductions and walking with Buck to a thrift store, Marco was pulled aside by the store manager Steven Davis, West Hollywood’s Human Services Commissioner. “You’re new in town and seem like a nice guy. That’s Ed Buck and he’s influential in politics. You’re not really his type but be careful, he’s notorious for getting young guys hooked on meth.” After a moment of hesitation, Marco picked up the phone and called LaTisha Nixon.
On one end, an uncertain reporter. On the other, a grieving mother. After a few words of introduction, LaTisha Nixon put her mother on the phone, who acknowledged that her grandson had multiple problems, perhaps with drugs, perhaps with prostitution, but that Gemmel did not deserve to die. With no money, Gemmel Moore had left his family home in Houston to board a flight to Los Angeles and overdosed that night in Ed Buck’s home. The coroner had quietly declared the death an accident. There was no further investigation, no community announcement, and Buck’s name was redacted from all copies of the paperwork aside from Nixon's.
No one would know what happened unless a journalist wrote the story. Nixon contacted a friend of Gemmel’s who also worked as a sex worker in Los Angeles, who had a panic attack upon hearing Buck’s name. The friend explained that Buck would pay Gemmel and other young gay black men, poor and desperate, to shoot meth with him. Buck was dangerous, paying men for each hit they could withstand, pleasuring himself at the sight of their bodies’ reaction. Sometimes Buck would lie about the drug content, injecting victims with unknown substances and refusing to call for help when their bodies reacted poorly. LaTisha recounted receiving a harrowing call from Gemmel during such an incident a year prior.
Marco reached out to multiple writers with his findings, seasoned and prestigious journalists whose words would carry weight, including a member of the San Diego Press Club. He knew them and had worked with them before, but the story was radioactive, even more so with evidence behind it. Marco eventually turned to Ryan Gierach, a retired writer with a poor reputation, but one Marco knew was personally familiar with Buck. Marco fact-checked as Ryan wrote it up, publishing on August 7th, 2017: Sex, Politics, Meth and Death in West Hollywood.
The story was picked up by the Daily Mail and the Drudge Report, both hyperlinking to Marco’s WeHo Times. 50,000 clicks a minute crashed the servers but propelled the story to become the biggest out of any West Hollywood outlet.
The story may have been a journalistic success, but it invited the ire of West Hollywood’s politico and journalist cliques. WEHOville put out an article attacking Marco and Ryan, citing Ryan’s former homelessness and addiction issues. Los Angeles Blade attacked the story in an article written by Karen Ocamb, a close confidante of City Councilor John Duran, a longtime friend of Ed Buck and frequent recipient of Buck’s political donations.
Mirroring the media’s battle over narrative was an internal conflict at the Stonewall Democratic Club. I obtained emails showing dissension in Stonewall’s Steering Committee over the club’s official response to Gemmel Moore’s death at the home of their fellow Stonewaller and top donor. “I would ask that Stonewall approve $499 to be donated to the funeral fund for his burial expenses.” Sean Kolodji wrote to the group. “I don’t feel comfortable supporting this. This needs a larger discussion.” replied John Erickson. Stonewall would eventually decide against charity.
Stonewall asked Buck to step down from the Steering Committee and issued the following statement on August 8th:
The statement, now stripped from Stonewall’s website, fails to mention that Gemmel Moore died at Ed Buck’s home, stresses the coroner’s claim that the death was due to an accidental overdose, and refuses to comment on the allegations against Buck. Stonewall’s senior members chose to circle the wagons around Buck instead of piling on political pressure where it would have made a difference. Stonewall has tremendous overlap between membership and the West Hollywood government, from Mayor to City Council to commissions and advisory boards, and the statement set the tone moving forward.
Not everyone agreed with Stonewall’s decision. Ashlee Marie Preston, a trans-activist on the Steering Committee, broke ranks to write a withering article condemning Ed Buck. Preston’s article contains a story about her experience with Buck during Stonewall’s annual mountain retreat. He caught Preston alone outside and flaunted a video of his latest prey smoking methamphetamine in a dark room. “He is just, so sexy...” Buck moaned. Meth is ubiquitous in many gay communities, perhaps none more so than West Hollywood.
Preston, a former user herself, had brushed the encounter off, but the memory stuck with her. The fact that Buck felt comfortable making his drug and racial fetishes known to Preston at a Stonewall event raises uncomfortable questions as to who else in Stonewall knew about Buck. Her article recounts Buck engaging in overtly racist behavior online and off, sometimes with other Stonewallers. Preston included a screenshot of Buck’s Adam4Adam profile, which makes Buck’s fetishes explicit in writing. Buck was a drug addict who enjoyed preying on vulnerable young gay black men and ruining their healthy bodies with meth.
“Stonewall as an organization had no knowledge of Ed Buck preying on gay youth prior to Gemmel’s death,” says Alex Mohajer, Stonewall’s Public Relations Chair.
“Everyone knew it,” says Steve Martin, former West Hollywood Mayor and former president of the Stonewall Democratic Club. “It’s bullshit if they say they didn’t. It was like a family, you know? Everyone in the family knew it...If there was anybody in West Hollywood whose bed you expected a dead body to turn up in, it was Ed Buck.”
“Did Ed Buck finally kill someone?” asked K. Richard Fiero, linking to Marco Colantonio’s story on Facebook. Buck had moved from Phoenix in 1991. Fiero was asking from Phoenix.
It would end up taking two years and two additional overdoses in Ed Buck's apartment to force an arrest by the District Attorney and a full-fledged condemnation from the Stonewall Democratic Club. Despite the universal condemnations of Buck, politico and journalist cliques continue to reward Buck’s old defenders and attack those who sought justice. A New York Times article by Jesse Barron snubbed Marco Colantonio’s role in breaking the story. The Stonewall Democratic Club also snubbed Marco, now a dark horse candidate for West Hollywood City Council. Stonewall hosted a debate for candidates who filled out a participation form but reached out to only a select few to fill it out, namely incumbent John Heilman and Stonewall’s own John Erickson, who had opposed showing LaTisha Nixon charity after the death of her son. Stonewall would ultimately push out everyone on their Steering Committee who had aligned themselves against Buck from the start.
“The problem with Stonewall and others is they are not collectivist in thinking or action. They pander to elite donors,” says Craig Scott, expelled from Stonewall in 2018.
"Every single person who defended Ed Buck... can f[*]ck off—including the city of West Hollywood", says Marie Ashlee Preston.
“I was on the Board at the time of Gemmel Moore's murder...I asked the Stonewall Board in the wake of the scandal--why is this an organization where people like Ed Buck feel comfortable but not young Black LGBT people like Gemmel Moore?” says Sean Kolodji, who left Stonewall disillusioned. “They still--to this day--have not grappled with that question.”
Two days after Stonewall’s August 2017 statement refusing comment on Ed Buck, he gave their sister organization $1,000.
If you have additional information on the story, please contact grantbaker576 at protonmail.com
Part II and Part III to follow...
Image credit: Logo, via Wikimedia Commons // public domain