Facebook page purports drugs for sale
BEMIDJI -- The description was simple, brazen and, if true, incredibly stupid.
"WEED FOR SALE!!!"
Below the headline was a picture of a dozen glass jars of purported marijuana, with a Sprite can for size reference.
The advertisement was posted on a popular Facebook page called "Bemidji Area Online Sale" last week. It quickly garnered more than 200 comments, ranging from calls of "He's a cop!" to, basically, "You're an idiot."
"Our drug task force is looking into it," Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin said.
If you are a member of the page, which acts as an online garage sale, you will see for-sale items popping up constantly in your Facebook news feed. More than 8,000 people are members and the items sold, traded and advertised include cars, tools, clothes (especially for infants), weapons, appliances, pets, electronics and just about anything else a big-box store might carry. Recently, a woman advertised 16 lunch trays, "Sold in lot only. 5 blue, 5 pink, 6 purple."
There are many random items listed for sale on the page, which is administered by Shawn Williams, but up until July 29, marijuana had not been among them.
"It's the first time ever that anything like this has happened," he said.
Williams started the page in September 2010. On Thursday, he said he was proud of providing a free resource for the community where goods can be bought and sold. But the page, on which he spends an estimated 40 hours a week on top of running Williams Construction, can be a hassle.
Especially when someone tries to sell a dozen jars of dope.
"I had more phone calls that day than I probably have in my lifetime," he said. "(Members) were angry at me for allowing the post. I was between a rock and a hard place because I was getting grief from the members and I was getting 'you need to leave this up so we can track this guy' from the cops."
The account of a man who, at least on Facebook, goes by "Darrin Michael Thompson (Darrin Fuller)" was responsible for posting the ad. As the comments piled up, Thompson, or Fuller, or whatever his name really is, said he would be in the Target parking lot, should anyone be interested in making an obvious drug deal in a public place after thousands of people saw the location and the make and model of the car.
"in a black and silver taurus if yall serious lol" Thompson wrote.
Two deputies with the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office were dispatched to the parking lot, but never found the car. One of the deputies had the post -- comments still accumulating -- pulled up on his in-squad laptop.
"We appreciate the easy ones," Mastin said. "Often times they're not that easy."
Police tracked the IP address, Williams said, but could never prove exactly who the post came from.
A reverse Google image search of the photo's URL turned up its possible origin: On a May 2009 forum about marijuana growing on the website www.buymarijuanaseeds.com, a more high-quality version of the image is shown.
If it is the original, then Thompson's post was a joke, but one that police did not find funny.
"Speaking in generalities this is definitely something we look into," Mastin said, adding he does not often see crimes "as blatant" as the one Thompson may have been trying to carry out.
A week after the post, Williams shut the page down and reworked the guidelines. He also deleted about 38,000 photos -- individually -- in an effort to start fresh.
"I started Bemidji Area Online Sales so things are staying local," Williams said. "So people aren't driving to Fargo to buy a desk, they're buying it from their neighbor so the money is staying local."
Williams has had unmitigated successes as proprietor of the page.
"I sold a $9,000 truck in nine seconds. I literally have the screen print-out," he said. "Even in the paper you don't have that quick of a response.
"It's such a positive thing for the community."
Williams admitted the page can be a pain for law enforcement, saying police "have expressed frustration." Despite that, Williams maintains the page, while somewhat flawed, is overwhelmingly an asset to the Bemidji area.
"I know three people who quit their jobs and they buy stuff and they sell stuff (on the page), and they make more money than they would at Walmart," he said.
Williams is a business owner and wood worker and, in his free moments, the proprietor of a popular online rummage sale. But, he explained, he's not a cop.
"There is a negative side," he said. "I had a guy who wanted somebody to come shoot his dogs because they bark too much at night. It's like, 'I understand you want to put your dogs down, why don't you just take them to the pound?'"