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article imageRachel Hoffman: Six years gone but not forgotten Special

By Ben Morris     May 7, 2014 in Crime
Tallahassee - May 7th marks six years since the death of Rachel Hoffman, a Florida State University graduate who dealt marijuana for extra income. Her death showcased everything wrong with drug prohibition.
Rachel Hoffman left a mark in the lives of all those who had the pleasure to know her. Those closest to the dearly departed young woman, remember Hoffman as giving, loving, and supportive. She made it a mission to develop an interest, and a fascination with the lives of those around her. To know Hoffman was to know love, to have known her is a great honor.
“She made me like myself more, because she thought who I was and what I did was so neat,” said Hoffman’s best friend Liza Lugo in an email interview. Lugo met Hoffman as a graduate student at Florida State and was immediately drawn to Rachel thanks to her big heart. Lugo recalled being pushed to play her tuba for Hoffman, who reacted with such respect; Lugo was then introduced often by Hoffman as a “bad ass tuba player.”
With all of the popularity and love Hoffman had, one aspect of her life became her downfall. She smoked, and dealt small amounts of marijuana out of her apartment, the size of which has been disputed amongst law enforcement, and friends like Lugo.
When police raided her apartment in early 2008, they found four ounces of cannabis, a few ecstasy pills, and drug paraphernalia. Acting on an anonymous tip, police threatened Hoffman with felony charges due to the amount of drugs she had in her possession. In most other states she would have faced a misdemeanor, but Hoffman resided in Florida, there was no hope she could go unscathed. Thanks to a previous possession charge, the young woman was going to sit in a prison cell for years.
According to police Hoffman admitted to selling five to ten pounds of marijuana per week. With that amount, estimates reach almost $2 million per year in profit, for a young woman who needed her father to pay for her rent, car, and most other bills. Police stood by their argument that Hoffman lead a massive drug operation, but Lugo, who did everything with Hoffman, vehemently rejects the suggestion that Hoffman lead a multi-million dollar drug empire.
“I was at her apartment nearly every day, and I can guarantee that I never saw that amount of money, weed, or people in her apartment, said Lugo, who admitted to seeing Hoffman sell small amounts of marijuana, but nothing more than the rare half ounce. Lugo added, the apartment she spent so much time in would have been a terrible space to sell ten pounds a week, considering it was a one bedroom apartment with one closet full of shoes, and clothes. However; the Tallahassee Police Department believed her, and set dominoes in a row that would crash down on the lives of her loved ones who refuse to forget her.
Hoffman was in a drug court program at the time her apartment was raided. When you are in the program you are not allowed to be involved in drugs in any capacity unless police are given clearance by the State Attorney. Going on with an operation that was a clear violation of drug court regulations they asked a woman with a distaste of guns to purchase a gun, 1,500 ecstasy pills and more than two ounces of cocaine off of two men who she did not know.
Anyone who has purchased illegal drugs knows there is a trust between dealer, and buyer that needs to be earned. Anyone who asks for large amounts of drugs, and/or weapons from a dealer they do not know would immediately be shut off from any drug purchases. The Tallahassee Police Department were impervious to that fact, and went along with a sting operation so full of holes, and mistakes, it should not have happened.
Confidential informants are not trained by police. Hoffman was not the right person to be involved in an operation of that magnitude. Never before participating in a sting operation, Hoffman made mistakes. The Grand Jury Report commissioned after Hoffman’s death, noted Hoffman was, “In violation of her agreement (when she) made contact with potential targets and set up transactions without the knowledge of the TPD” The report added, “(Hoffman) should have never been used as a Confidential Informant.”
On May 7th, 2008 Hoffman was lead to a different location than the spot planned, by Denelio Bradshaw, and Andrea Greene. Greene, who was Bradshaw’s ex brother-in-law, had a violent criminal history dating back years before the sting operation. The two men were able to lead Hoffman away from the watchful eyes of more than ten police officers and a DEA airplane tasked with tracking Hoffman through the air. Without any visuals or communication of any kind, Hoffman was blasted with five bullets from the gun she was set to purchase. Her family and friends were left wondering what happened, until her body was discovered the next day in the same area drug enforcement lost track of her.
Marijuana legalization activists look at the raid as a clear example of a failed drug policy, but were also angered at the heartless reaction by the TPD who blamed Hoffman for her death. Brushing off any suggestion they held some responsibility in her murder, TPD Police Chief Dennis Jones went on 20/20 and said, "The plan we had was deviated from- and unfortunately Rachel decided to deviate from that plan, and not meet at the predetermined location."
The perceived lack of sympathy by the TPD angered her friends, and family. Hoffman’s death broke the hearts of her loved ones, and caused her mother to take action to prevent the tragedy that ripped her daughter from her, from ever happening again.
Margie Weiss, and her ex-husband Irv Hoffman filed a wrongful death suit, and pushed for the passing of Rachel’s law, legislation aimed at better training CI’s. While many mothers would understandably shut their doors and grieve quietly, Weiss has not hesitated to talk to journalists about a daughter she remembers as, “More fun to be with than anyone else in the world.” Weiss frequently talks about her daughter because she, “can’t deal with her being dead, so (talking about Rachel) keeps her alive.”
Not only does she speak about Rachel’s life, Weiss created the Rachel Morningstar Foundation which hosts the annual Purple Hatters Ball. By honoring Rachel’s love of music and her big purple hat, friends, and strangers who never met Hoffman are able to connect, by enjoying something she loved. Her daughter may have, “died because she was using marijuana,” but her memory is still alive to those who were close to a woman who had a bright future.
Hoffman became a martyr for marijuana. A young woman who worked at children’s camps in the summer, and was involved in her synagogue, died tragically for no good reason, but her name will not be forgotten. Her friends and family will make sure we all remember a sweetheart who touched many lives.
More about War on drugs, Marijuana, marijuana laws, Tallahassee
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