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Witnesses: Cadet got drugs from online black market and sold them in dorms

August 18, 2015 Updated: August 18, 2015 at 4:10 am
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photo - A look at the chapel at the Air Force Academy. Photo by STUART WONG, THE GAZETTE FILE
A look at the chapel at the Air Force Academy. Photo by STUART WONG, THE GAZETTE FILE 

Black market drugs bought on the Internet were shipped to the Air Force Academy, where cadets consumed them to concentrate on tests and hallucinate in their dorm rooms, witnesses testified at a Monday hearing at the school.

The testimony focused on junior cadet Nathaniel Penalosa, who is charged with 10 drug crimes including manufacturing, using and distributing a methamphetamine derivative called "molly." Three cadets were granted immunity from criminal charges to testify against Penalosa, whom they accused of dealing drugs that they used.

Junior cadet Luca Simmons, a former catcher on the academy baseball team, described how Penalosa gave him the powerful hallucinogen LSD.

"If I stared at something, it looked like it was melting," Simmons testified at a hearing that will determine if there's sufficient evidence to court-martial his former roommate, Penalosa.

Another witness, junior cadet David Chong, testified that Penalosa sold him the anti-narcolepsy prescription drug Modafinil as a way to conquer late-night study sessions.

"He told me he had a way for me to get ahead in academics," the Dean's List honor student said.

The three cadet witnesses who were granted immunity in the case can still face administrative punishments including expulsion from the academy.

Penalosa could face up to 15 years if convicted by a court-martial on drug distribution.

A former airman who earned the Air Force Achievement Medal, Penalosa had a sterling reputation at the school before a routine random dorm room inspection last fall turned up drug residue, an electronic scale and small bags often used for selling narcotics. Called Health Morale and Welfare Inspections, the room checks are carried out by academy sergeants on a rolling basis and frequently turn up banned materials like sexually explicit magazines or alcohol.

The November check of Penalosa's room, though, triggered a sweeping investigation.

"Based on my experience, it was inductive of drug manufacturing and distribution," testified Special Agent John Grunik of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, who searched Penalosa's room.

The drug residue tested positive for methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, a psychoactive drug the cadets referred to as "molly," Grunik said.

Witnesses said Penalosa got the drugs to the academy through mail order. Using an Internet-masking technique called a virtual private network, the cadet covertly accessed an online black market from his dorm room to order prescription and illicit drugs that were delivered in discreet packaging, witnesses said.

Witnesses said Penalosa picked up the drugs in the academy's cadet mailroom. The drug manufacturing case against Penalosa alleges that he converted powdered methylenedioxy-methamphetamine into pill form by filling empty drug capsules.

To hide the purchases, Penalosa used the anonymous online currency Bitcoin, witnesses said.

Chong said Penalosa first sold him the sleep-fighting prescription pills while they were freshmen.

His roommate Simmons said Penalosa's Internet scheme had few bounds.

"He could have gotten anything," Simmons said.

The cadets Penalosa shared drugs with knew few bounds either, witnesses said.

Chong and Simmons testified that they went on a road trip to party in Fort Collins after the three ingested LSD at the academy.

Despite using the drug, Penalosa drove the 120 miles, Chong said.

Penalosa's sales pitch for LSD and Modafinil had a military twist, witnesses said.

"He said they don't test for this and it's not that big of a deal," Chong said.

But, Grunik testified, Penalosa was apparently very concerned about molly turning up on random drug tests at the academy.

The investigator said he found a used home drug testing kit in Penalosa's trash can.

The test, he said, showed a positive result for methylenedioxy-methamphetamine.

The evidence gathered Wednesday will be condensed into a report for the academy's commandant of cadets, Brig. Gen. Stephen Williams, who will decide if Penalosa will be tried by court-martial.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

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