Military prosecutors sent two San Diego-based petty officers to the brig in January for using and dealing a boatload of drugs.
But while the extent of their illicit moonlighting remained unclear at the time, an internal probe obtained by Navy Times reveals “a considerable number” of active-duty sailors and Marines relied on the drug-dealing duo for cocaine, hallucinogenic mushrooms, LSD and MDMA, a mood-altering substance better known by street names Ecstasy, Extasy or Molly.
At least 45 sailors stationed in San Diego County were suspected of having bought drugs from Hull Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Casey T. Balausky and Interior Communications Specialist 2nd Class Tyler D. Farley before an undercover sting last year sparked guilty pleas.
A military judge sentenced Balausky to 34 months in the brig and a bad conduct discharge, while Farley received two years behind bars, a $250 fine and a bad conduct discharge.
Assigned to the amphibious assault ship Essex, Balausky and Farley sold drugs to at least 27 shipmates in 2017 and 2018, according to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service report.
Obtained by Navy Times through a Freedom of Information Act request, the heavily redacted file shows NCIS agents identified military customers based on text messages downloaded from the suspects’ cell phones.
One of the dealers even compiled a list of sailors — and three Marines from nearby Camp Pendleton — who bought the drugs.
One lance corporal sent him a picture of a line of cocaine and wrote, “right way to get ready for work,” the report states.
The pay grades of the Essex sailors implicated for using or possessing drugs range from seamen to petty officers first class — although one sailor’s grade was redacted in the released report.
Four sailors assigned to the landing ship dock Harpers Ferry allegedly bought drugs. So did one sailor each from the amphibious transport docks Arlington and John P. Murtha, the destroyers Decatur and Paul Hamilton and the cruiser Cowpens, according to the NCIS report.
A petty officer second class from the destroyer Milius was labeled as “Cid guy” in one of the dealers’ phones.
A second class stationed with the Fleet Training Center in San Diego bought cocaine and acid from one of the dealers on base, while another from Logistics Group Western Pacific purchased “LSD and shrooms several times,” agents wrote.
Three sailors from the Navy’s Inactive Ready Reserve also are listed as having actively done business with Balausky or Farley.
One April 2018 text thread obtained by NCIS agents shows one of the dealers asking another sailor about taking “some trippy boys tonight.”
“Only if I don’t have to work tomorrow,” the unidentified sailor replied.
“Trippy boys is believed to be slang for LSD,” the NCIS agent noted.
They also texted about a future hike of nearby Poway’s Potato Chip Rock trail, and one of the dealers later told agents he tripped on shrooms during the outing.
Several sailors denied buying drugs until they were presented with their texts.
One sailor interrogated last year was “visibly nervous” and began farting during his interview with NCIS agents.
“(The sailor) yawned repeatedly, interrupted (the agent) to excuse himself for having flatulence, and was physically shaking,” the agent wrote.
The Cowpens sailor initially denied discussing the purchase of a pound of shrooms from one of the dealers.
“After being shown text messages between his phone and (one of the dealers),” the sailor “insisted someone else must have taken his phone and sent those messages.”
That sailor eventually copped to the text messages and said he’d used mushrooms, cocaine, LSD and MDMA several times during the previous 18 months, according to the investigation.
Another sailor interviewed in August 2018 told agents he assumed he was being interviewed “regarding an ongoing sexual assault case in which he is the suspect,” according to the investigation.
He allegedly confessed to buying LSD-laced Sour Patch Kids candy from the dealers.
Other California-based sailors have been charged this year with LSD sales involving the gummy candies.
Most Essex sailors agents tried to interview declined to provide a statement after being read their rights, according to the report.
“Information pertaining to the use of various sailors and active duty USMC will be provided independently to those commands for action,” an agent wrote.
But whether any sailors — other than the convicted drug dealers — were disciplined remains unclear.
It appears as if NCIS agents alerted the Essex’s commanding officer about the probe “and a way forward for this case,” according to the report.
On Feb. 12, NCIS agents also briefed his executive officer about the cases.
The XO indicated the command wouldn’t pursue criminal charges against sailors who bought the narcotics and “no longer requested NCIS obtain statements from the remaining sailors regarding the suspected violations.”
In an update to the report the next day, agents wrote that the ship’s CO and a Navy attorney “reported the command would decline to prefer criminal charges against the sailors identified in the investigation.”
Noting that the alleged drug sales seemed to span the San Diego waterfront and weren’t confined to the Essex, Navy Times asked Naval Surface Forces officials whether this case suggested larger problems involving narcotics abuse in California.
While spokesman Cmdr. Patrick Evans insisted the Navy retains a “zero tolerance drug policy and takes allegations of drug offenses seriously," he declined to discuss deeper issues possibly raised by the probe.
He also didn’t state whether sailors who allegedly bought drugs received administrative punishment from the Navy.
Those determinations fall “within the discretion of each Commanding Officer," leaders who “must carefully review the nature and seriousness of the allegation, the information/evidence gathered, the strength of the evidence gathered, as well as other factors ... before deciding the appropriate manner to dispose of allegations of wrongdoing,” Evans wrote.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at email@example.com.