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Ravers roundly dispute drug-soaked atmosphere

By Christina Leonard
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 26, 2000

They say they go for the music, the atmosphere, the people.

But they're not all high.

In fact, those who go to raves and the people who promote them emphatically denied Friday the police portrayal of the all-night gatherings as nothing more than drug-soaked parties.

"They make it look like all that happens at parties is the sex and orgies and drugs, and it's not," said Matthew Palmer, a 19-year-old raver. "There are people there for the music, and people, and to be happy."

The raves made news Thursday when authorities accused Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, the former Mafia underboss and turncoat, of heading an Arizona crime syndicate dealing in the designer drug known as Ecstasy.

Phoenix police focused on the raves when they launched an investigation into the use of designer drugs among high school kids in July.

Undercover officers concluded that up to 90 percent of rave participants were on Ecstasy. One officer said he was shocked at the volume of the drug he saw dealt "hand to hand."

"They'll tell you right up front whether they have some or they will direct you to whoever does," Detective Jim Gibbs. But organizers of legitimate raves say that's not possible because they pat down and frisk incoming ravers.

"You can't walk in there with drugs in your pocket. You can't walk in there with drugs in your socks," Alan Holcomb said. "We're basically doing the closest thing to strip-searching to keep drugs out."

Holcomb, an attorney who represents promoters in the "electronic music scene," said there are no more drugs at raves than at any other club or event. "It's about the music, not about drugs," he said.

Gibbs agreed that drug use at legitimate raves may be lower, and "a percentage of people that go in there buy into peace, love, community, that kind of stuff."

But Gibbs said the majority of those at the more "underground" events were high.

"All you have to do is look in their eyes . . . you won't find any pupils on them."

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Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-7972.

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