Miami-Dade County

‘Purple drank CEO’ defense: Instagram drug dealer persona just hip hop showboating

Harrison Garcia, who is accused of selling an illegal drink made up prescription-strength cough syrup, began trial in Miami federal court on Monday.
Harrison Garcia, who is accused of selling an illegal drink made up prescription-strength cough syrup, began trial in Miami federal court on Monday. Instagram

Miami’s self-proclaimed CEO of the Purple Drank” liked to pose with guns, many of them.

Time and again, for more than 28,000 followers on Instagram, suspected drug dealer Harrison Garcia posted shots of himself with luxury cars and international hip-hop stars such as Chris Brown and Lil’ Wayne, along with bundles of cash and a small arsenal that could put him in prison for life.

“Gotta keep the heater on seat,” Harrison Garcia — aka “Cuban Harry” — wrote on one Instagram car selfie, enjoying what appeared to be a fat joint, a rifle next to him. “#sticktalk.”

For federal jurors shown the image, the street talk needed some translation.

“The heater would be a reference to the AK47 on the seat there,” U.S. Homeland Security Agent Kevin Selent testified.

The heater would be a reference to the AK47 on the seat there.

U.S. Homeland Security Agent Kevin Selent

Garcia’s trial began Tuesday with digital era evidence: prosecutors pored over his Instagram account, which they argue confirms he was a big-time doper, selling weed, Xanax and the potent cough syrup drink known as “lean,” “sizzurp” or “drank.”

Jurors will have to decide whether Garcia was doing real business or just image-building on social media – his lawyers insist the 26-year-old supposed music producer was more addict than kingpin, a wannabe hanging with celebrities.

“On Instagram, Harrison was a baller, if you will, taking photos with Chris Brown and Lil’ Wayne,” lawyer Percy Martinez told jurors in opening statements. “In real life, he was a big kid with kids of his own.”

Garcia is facing five federal felonies, the most serious involving using firearms during drug dealing. His federal trial is just his first legal hurdle. He is also facing state trial in Broward County after investigators arrested him in December on allegations he masterminded dozens of South Florida pharmacy burglaries, thefts that supplied the powerful pain-killers he used to brew the cough syrup drink.

For over a decade, variations of lean have been popular in the hip-hop and club scene, with stars such as Lil’ Wayne, Young Thug and Future rapping about the drink. The brew is normally made with prescription syrup of promethazine with codeine and soda.

Investigators believe Garcia provided large amounts of the drink to hip-hop stars in South Florida. He was so proud of his business that he even posted many photos of a specially made purple pendant he wore on a gold chain.

“It’s a diamond-encrusted emblem — promethazine with codeine and a cup,” Agent Selent testified.

Garcia was a fixture in the international rap game, flying around the world with Chris Brown, driving exotic cars and posing with bundles of cash on social media. His nicknames included Cuban Harry, Muhammad Lean and the CEO of the Purple Drank.

Garcia also showed off his body art, tattoos that included the cartoon character Richie Rich laundering money in a washing machine, the Miami skyline and movie drug kingpin Scarface wielding an assault rifle.

At a pretrial hearing in January, Garcia took the stand to claim that those social media images did not portray his life as a drug dealer, but were just posted to build street cred for his career in the hip-hop industry.

“I had an image to portray, to boost up my followers,” testified Garcia. “I guess it’s just the music industry.”

I had an image to portray, to boost up my followers. I guess it’s just the music industry.

Harrison Garcia, on trial for drug dealing

But prosecutors outlined much more evidence than just the photos on Tuesday.

Prosecutors played helicopter surveillance footage and undercover videos of confidential informants buying drugs from Garcia. To one deal, consummated at a Taco Bell parking lot in Westchester, Garcia drove a BMW I8, a luxury sportscar with gull-wing doors that runs more than $150,000.

Garcia also admitted to the drug dealing, even leading them to a Kendall “trap house” apartment he used to store his goods. There, agents seized guns, including an AK47 and an Uzi, as well as thousands of Xanax pills and drug packaging.

“Everything you need to be a street-level drug dealer,” prosecutor Jonathan Osborne told jurors.

Garcia’s defense team, however, said the guns belonged to others, suggesting they were mere props.

“You won’t see photos of the guns and drugs together,” Martinez said.

The trial continues Wednesday before U.S. Judge Patricia Seitz.