Accused ‘lean’ drink mastermind: Instagram posts just for hip-hop music street cred

Miami’s Harrison Garcia, who is accused of peddling illegal cough syrup used to make the drink known as “lean.”
Miami’s Harrison Garcia, who is accused of peddling illegal cough syrup used to make the drink known as “lean.” Instagram

For all his Instagram photos of guns, cash and drugs, the self-proclaimed “CEO of the Purple Drank” insisted he wasn’t actually peddling large bottles of prescription cough syrup to Miami’s hip-hop crowd.

He posted all that stuff to enhance his street cred, self-described rap producer Harrison Garcia told a federal judge Monday. And for the likes on social media.

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

And so Garcia, the accused mastermind of dozens of pharmacy heists across South Florida, claimed he was not a dealer but just a junkie, addicted to drinking the syrup mixed with soda, a brew known as “lean” or “sizzurp.”

“I can drink a bottle in like two days. It’s easy to get. It just makes you feel sleepy,” Garcia said. “It helps you focus. People like it in the studio because when you record your songs, it helps your voice.”

Garcia, who goes by “Cuban Harry” in the music business and has ties to famous rappers such as Chris Brown, Lil’ Wayne and Future, took the stand on Monday at a pretrial hearing, one month after his arrest.

Garcia, however, couldn’t account for the undercover videos of him selling illegal bottles of promethazine with codeine to federal informants. “I can’t explain it,” Garcia said, adding: “I was never a drug trafficker.”

“How about a drug seller?” federal prosecutor Jonathan Osborne asked.

Garcia, in an olive federal inmate jumpsuit, his long hair tied in a messy bun, stayed silent.

The 27-year-old Garcia appeared in federal court Monday on allegations he used his Instagram account to set up the deals. He was initially arrested in October, and had been awaiting trial when he was busted again in December for the pharmacy heists.

Garcia has yet to appear in a Broward court to face the more serious racketeering allegations, that he paid a crew of young men to bust into Walgreens and CVS stores to steal the syrup. He will join three men and a woman facing prosecution for dozens of pharmacy burglaries stretching from Plantation to Homestead.

Variations of the “lean” drink have been popular in hip-hop imagery and songs over the past decade, with rappers such as Lil’ Wayne, Young Thug and Future dropping odes to the concoction, which experts warn can pose serious health risks if abused.

Garcia was a fixture on the international hip-hop scene, jet-setting with the big-name stars, driving exotic cars and posing with bundles of cash on social media. His social media pages also displayed a lifestyle straight out of a rap video. He proudly shows off flashy gold chains, jewel-encrusted teeth and a gallery of large tattoos, including one of the fictional drug kingpin Scarface flashing an assault rifle.

U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents first targeted him precisely because of those Instagram images — some of which became evidence during Monday’s hearing. A judge had signed a search warrant for one of his homes in Little Havana, and Garcia was pulled over a few blocks away in October.

“Harrison Garcia is just a young, foolish man who got caught up in the rap world, drugs, the glamour,” defense lawyer Ted Mastos told the judge. “This all begins stupidly by him putting this stuff out on Instagram.”

At issue during Monday’s hearing: Garcia claims agents, three times, ignored his constitutional-mandated requests for a lawyer when he was arrested. He even said an agent forced him to give up his keys to the house by threatening his puppies named Moonrock and Blue Ivy (named, respectively, for a type of marijuana product, and Beyonce and Jay Z’s son).

“He told me if I didn’t give him the keys, he was going to kill both the dogs,” Garcia claimed.

But HSI agent Rimas Sliazas testified that Garcia quickly cooperated, signing waivers to search his property and even leading investigators to a previously unknown Kendall apartment and a storage unit, where they found drugs, cash and guns.

“We tried to remain very calm, and maintain a friendly demeanor with him to establish a rapport,” Sliazas said. “I try to remain as humble as possible.”

Garcia’s trial is set for Feb. 6. A judge will decide by then whether jurors can hear evidence of Garcia’s cooperation.

Taking the stand Monday was a risk. Garcia got to spin his side of the story, but also opened himself up to being cross examined on image after image of apparent drug dealing, including photos of many cough-syrup bottles and a satchel full of Xanax pills found inside his Kendall apartment. He showed intimate knowledge of the trade — one bottle could cost at least $600, Garcia said.

So Garcia blamed it on show business, even the Instagram pics of him showing off large stacks of bills. “I would withdraw cash just to flex it. It was stupid on my behalf,” Garcia said.

Garcia and his love of cough syrup also also opened himself up to some ribbing by U.S. magistrate Judge William Turnoff.

“Your client has never coughed once,” the judge said.

Garcia chuckled: “I don’t get sick after drinking it for so long.”