Second death, more accusations sharpen focus on Ed Buck, California Democratic megadonor
Detectives investigate second death in two years at Democratic fundraiser Ed Buck's California apartment
Democratic Party megadonor Ed Buck faces new questions this week after Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives opened an investigation into the second death of a man at Buck's home in less than two years, and a third man came forward with an account of what he described as his drug-fueled interactions with the well-connected Californian.
Deputies in West Hollywood responded early Monday morning to a report of a person not breathing at Buck's home, and county firefighters pronounced the man dead. The cause of the death will be determined by the coroner, according to Nicole Nishida, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department, and investigators have not released the man's identity.
But, critics are questioning whether Buck's race — both men found dead were black — or if his wealth or political ties to the Democratic Party influenced an initial investigation of the 64-year-old who has donated tens of thousands of dollars to a slew of liberal causes and candidates over the years, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and a who's who of top California politicians.
Officials said the investigation of the second death will include a review of the first man's death, in 2017. In that case, Gemmel Moore, a young black man, was found dead in Buck's apartment. After a slow-moving investigation that went on for months, Buck was not charged.
“On July 27, 2017 there was a death investigation of a male adult, Gemmel Moore, who was determined to have overdosed at the same location. Mr. Edward Buck was present during both incidents,” the most recent statement said.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, The Daily Mail published an account by Jermaine Gagnon, 28, who claimed he narrowly escaped death in Buck’s apartment. Gagnon, who said he met Buck online in April 2018, claimed the Democratic megadonor flew him from Minnesota to Los Angeles.
“He was quite open about being very generous to the black community,” Gagnon said about Buck. “I’m his type, and pretty much half of the black community is his type — vulnerable, depressed. If you’re in a depressive state, that’s the energy that feeds him.”
Gagnon charged that Buck injected him with crystal methamphetamine at his sex toy-filled apartment. Gagnon told The Mail: “He took my phone. I was so scared. I felt death walked into my soul. I called my mother. I said, ‘I feel like he’s going to kill me, I think I’m going to die.’”
Attorney Seymour Amster, Buck's attorney, said after Monday’s death that Buck was not arrested, and was cooperating with investigators.
“From what I know, it was an old friend who died of an accidental overdose, and unfortunately, we believe that the substance was ingested at some place other than the apartment,” Amster said. “The person came over intoxicated.”
Amster did not return Fox News' emails and phone calls about the Gagnon report.
A massive protest erupted outside Buck’s apartment Monday night. The Daily Mail reported more than 100 people gathered to demand answers and accountability.
“Arrest Ed Buck, prosecute Ed Buck, and then a jury needs to convict Ed Buck,” activist Jasmyne Cannick said to the crowd. “This man has had two dead bodies in his house, and he is still in his house.”
Said another demonstrator: “This man is a danger to our community.”
Buck’s support of political causes began in 1987 in Arizona. That year, The New York Times described Buck, then a registered Republican, as a “33-year-old millionaire entrepreneur who retired from the insurance service business a year ago” to become politically active.
He took the reins of a recall drive that year against then-Gov. Evan Mecham, a Republican who'd drawn widespread publicity for canceling a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday for state workers.
During the campaign, it was disclosed that Buck had been arrested twice. He was accused of public indecency in an adult bookstore in 1983, and in 1987 faced a charge of obtaining a drug without a proper prescription. The public indecency charge was reduced to disturbing the peace, and Buck paid a $26 fine. Prosecution in the drug case was suspended after he agreed to counseling.
The Times reported Tuesday that Buck has given more than $116,000 to Democratic politicians and groups, including about $1,500 to support Obama and $2,950 to Clinton, according to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks campaign fundraising.
CNN reported that Buck, in 2017, gave $10,400 to the Getting Stuff Done PAC affiliated with Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, $2,700 to Rep. Ted Lieu of California, and $1,000 each to Rep. Jimmy Gomez of California, Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, and former Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
In a statement to The Associated Press, Lieu said he was “deeply disturbed” by the disclosure of a second death at Buck's home and was donating contributions he received from Buck to charity.
After Fox News reported on the initial investigation of Buck last year, at least six Democrats in California and Arizona confirmed they had returned or redirected donations from him.
Buck is a past candidate for the West Hollywood City Council and is well known in LGBTQ political circles. In response to the latest death, the Los Angeles LGBT Center called for a full investigation. “While much is still to be learned, it appears this tragedy is linked to substance use. LGBT people and other marginalized groups are at elevated risk for impacts that result from the current epidemic uses of opioids, methamphetamine, and other dangerous drugs,” the center said.
“It says a lot about the dark underbelly of gay culture and West Hollywood,” Steve Martin, a former West Hollywood city councilman who is gay, told The Los Angeles Times. “We always are slapping ourselves on the back about how open-minded and diverse we are, and frankly the residents know that’s not always the case. When an incident like this comes up, it makes us confront a lot of issues that are really uncomfortable.”
The Times reported that 46 percent of West Hollywood residents identify as LGBTQ, according to community surveys; the city is 80 percent white.
Gemmel Moore, 26, was found dead at Ed Buck’s West Hollywood apartment on July 27, 2017. (Facebook)
Buck lived in a rent-controlled apartment block for the last 22 years.
The Daily Beast reported that Buck’s neighbors were suspicious he lived a “double life.”
Beatriz Albuquerque, 29, who lives in the apartment next door to Buck, told The Daily Beast he had men over almost every day: “Usually it’s like one a day, but almost every day he has somebody come over. Every time he has people over, they’re usually quiet. It’s not like he has crazy parties.”
Albuquerque and her husband, Josh Tedla, 31, told The Daily Beast Buck’s guests seemed “normal but sometimes a little weird,” and the young men often would hang around the building after stopping over or sitting on the doorstep waiting for Buck to let them back in.
As for Buck's relationship with Moore, Amster has previously described them as friends, and said his client had nothing to do with that death.
A charge evaluation worksheet obtained by The Los Angeles Times said the “admissible evidence is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that suspect Buck furnished drugs to Gemmel Moore or that suspect Buck possessed drugs.”
An autopsy report said Moore died of a methamphetamine overdose. He was found naked on a mattress in the living room with drug paraphernalia littered about.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.