Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Joe Miller May Have Died From Inhaling Poppers

In an ironic twist in the mysterious death of prominent Indianapolis businessman and philanthropist Joe Miller,Advance Indiana has learned from a Marion County Coroner's Office spokeswoman that an autopsy determined the cause of his death was "asphyxiation due to nitrogen inhalation." Miller had earned a reputation as the world's largest distributor of poppers, a nitrate-based chemical that he manufactured at a plant in Indianapolis and distributed throughout the world in small glass bottles for illicit recreational drug use during sex for the euphoric rush it provided when inhaled by humans. Miller primarily marketed poppers to a gay audience, who purchased them in adult bookstores and gay clubs or over the Internet. Poppers were manufactured in varying forms of alkyl nitrates, including amyl, butyl and isopropyl nitrate compounds. Miller marketed the chemical substance under trade names Rush, Quicksilver and Jungle Juice, among others. Online forensic reports have documented cases of asphyxiation due to nitrogen inhalation in a number of reported suicide and accidental death cases.

Miller was found dead at his luxury condominium in Downtown Indianapolis along the canal last August by one of his personal attorneys at the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg according to one of Miller's friends. Fellow blogger Ruth Holladay first reported his death after learning from a close friend of Miller that he had taken his own life. The Indianapolis Star briefly posted an online story reporting his death and attributing the suspected cause of his death to suicide but pulled the story a short time after it appeared. No other mainstream news organizations in Indianapolis have reported on his death other than a paid obituary that appeared in the Star. Many prominent friends of Miller, including former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, later gathered at the Indianapolis Repertory Theater for a memorial service held in honor of his life. Former Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan, who described himself as a close friend of Miller, spoke at the memorial service as did Sheila Kennedy, a former executive director of the ACLU of Indiana on whose board Miller served before his death. Miller was one of the largest contributors to the Democratic Party and its candidates in recent years, contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars. He also contributed generously to organizations that provided services to those suffering from HIV/AIDS, including the Damien Center in Indianapolis, which named its testing center after him.

Friends of Miller, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said his popper business had been under investigation by the government and had been raided shortly before his body was discovered. According to one source, federal investigators hauled away computers and other records from his home and businesses. Websites promoting his popper products went dark soon thereafter and businesses that sold his product told customers it was no longer able to stock the product because the government had shut down the manufacturer's business after a raid. To date, no government agency has acknowledged such a raid occurred and no news media reports have confirmed from government sources the raid occurred. A claim filed against the estate opened in the Marion Co. Probate Court by Miller's attorneys, however, confirms work had been performed for him related to an investigation involving his popper business. Attorneys for Barnes & Thornburg, which also opened Miller's estate with the probate court, filed a claim for more than $46,000 for legal services it described as "Pac West Distribution Investigation" that were performed prior to his death. Pac West distributed the popper products Miller's Great Lakes Products company manufactured.

One Miller friend said he had complained to him about financial woes a short time prior to his death, although many believed he had amassed a sizable fortune from his very profitable, if illicit, business. Oddly, the Indianapolis Business Journal received a letter to the editor from Miller just days before his reported suicide that the business newspaper ran after his death without ever mentioning the prominent businessman had died. In the letter, Miller took issue with a story the IBJ had published suggesting the museums on the canal near where he lived failed to generate sufficient foot traffic on the canal. The letter showed no signs of a man in distress; rather, it depicted someone with a positive view of the neighborhood in which he lived. Documents filed by attorneys in his estate case indicate his estate is solvent. A rather odd claim filed against the estate included one filed by the Indiana Historical Society, which claimed Miller had not fulfilled $96,000 of the $120,000 he had pledged to the nonprofit organization. Ruschman Fine Arts filed a $15,000 claim for three pieces of art work it claimed Miller had not paid for. Stephen Cranfill of Bionic Cat filed a $2,800 claim for computer work it had performed for Miller that remained unpaid. The law firm of Wooden & McLaughlin also filed a claim for $2,100 in unpaid legal services it said it had rendered to him to enforce a loan agreement with Lee Alig, who is the CEO of Mansur Real Estate Services.

Miller's very simply-worded and short will left everything to his brother, Charles Miller of Ninevah, Indiana, who he also appointed to serve as his estate's personal representative. Court filings did not indicate an inventory of his estate has been filed as of last week, but it is likely most of his estate passed through a trust fund he had established. His downtown condominium, according to records on file with the assessor's office list its owner as the Joseph F. Miller Family Trust. The property is very conservatively assessed at a value of $367,100. One of Miller's friends described the finely appointed home as being equipped with a sophisticated surveillance system and high-tech gadgets straight out of a James Bond movie. The friend said Miller had surveillance cameras outside and throughout the home.

Miller had boasted in the past that he was the largest manufacturer of poppers in the world and spent more money advertising in publications marketed to gay men than any other business. Poppers first became popular among gay men in disco clubs back in the 1970s. When the HIV/AIDS epidemic first hit America's gay population in the early 1980s, a number of medical researchers first believed poppers caused the virus that was killing so many gay men because so many of the disease's victims admitted regularly using poppers. Miller's company had actually promoted the use of poppers by gay men as a healthy way of living. Miller countered the research linking the connection between HIV/AIDS with research he funded with his own resources to prove there was no causal connection. The CDC later agreed poppers didn't cause HIV/AIDS but also believed the recreational use of the drug was a co-factor in causing many of the diseases that commonly affected those infected with the virus, particularly Kaposi's Sarcoma, a rare form of skin cancer that began appearing in many HIV-infected gay men. Medical researchers generally agree that continual use of the chemical substance adversely affects the body's immune system. When combined with other sex-enhancement drugs, such as Viagra, Levitra or Cialis, it can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure causing death. Gay men were warned not to combine the use of the two drugs after many gay men began dying after Viagra first hit the market and became a popular recreation drug. Miller frequently sparred with critics of his product over the years. Most gay publications ceased advertising his products as their controversial use grew.

A high-level IMPD official told Advance Indiana that local police knew nothing about any ongoing investigation of Miller or his businesses. A former police officer with the department told quite a different tale of Miller from days gone by. According to a source who once worked vice for the Indianapolis Police Department, Miller had become a person of interest in an investigation of a male prostitution business known as Rent-A-Man back in the 1970s. The former vice officer said IPD had been investigating a male prostitution ring that had been exploiting young run-away males to provide sex-for-money services to local men, including some prominent Indianapolis businessmen. Miller became a person of interest to IPD after Johnson County officials arrested him on charges of molesting two underage males ages 14 and 15. Although Johnson County officials eventually dropped the charges after the boys' parents refused to let them cooperate in the investigation for fear of the long-term harm the publicity of a trial would cause them, Marion County officials didn't give up. Ann DeLaney, who handled sex crimes for the Marion County Prosecutor's Office refiled charges against Miller.

The former vice officer told how Miller had signed a sworn confession to police during questioning stating that he had been given a job as the grand jury bailiff by former Marion Co. Prosecutor James Kelley (D) in consideration for sexual favors he performed for Kelley. According to the investigator, Miller passed a polygraph exam with flying colors. Kelley had been at odds with IPD's brass at the time because of a special unit he had formed to investigate corruption in the police department, which had been well-documented in a series of Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporting by the Indianapolis Star as documented in one of the reporter's recently-released book, "Deadline: Indianapolis" authored by Dick Cady. Cady interviewed Miller, who he said told him some very interesting stories. Cady recounted that Miller was known as a chicken hawk because of his taste for young boys, and that he was known to sell poppers and marijuana in the gay community during the period in question.

While investigating the death of three gay men who were found in a Hamilton County field shot to the death, Indianapolis homicide investigators learned Miller's boss, Prosecutor James Kelley, had been in attendance at a late-night part of gay men where the three dead men were last seen alive. All three victims were employees of a local gay bar. Police learned Kelley had learned from a friend of the men that the three men were missing and wanted to file a missing person's report. Kelley advised the friend on filing a missing person's report but advised him to leave his name out of it according to Cady's book. Kelley was never implicated in the triple homicide, but when word of Kelley's attendance at the party surfaced in local news media reports, his reputation suffered badly. Indeed, another man employed at the gay bar where the three men worked was found guilty and is still serving a life sentence for the killings.

In addition to his sworn confession, Miller produced to police very damning evidence of his intimate relationship with Kelley, including notes and letters and hotel and airline receipts for the pair's travel together to other cities in the United States and Canada. Police had sought evidence from Miller that Kelley and/or persons in his office were selling grand jury transcripts but Miller would not confirm the allegation. IPD brass later struck a deal not to pursue its investigation of Kelley after he announced he would not be seeking re-election to office in 1978. The lead investigator in the case resigned in protest according to the former vice officer. The charges against Miller were later dropped after he recanted his sworn statement. Miller protested that he had been threatened by police with a lengthy prison sentence if he did not provide dirt to them on Kelley. The former vice officer to this day remains convinced Miller spoke the truth about Kelley and had molested the two young boys in Johnson County.

The former vice officer said Miller obtained the formula for manufacturing poppers from an Eli Lilly employee who spirited it out the back door and assisted Miller in setting up the business. The Lilly employee later lost his job with the pharmaceutical giant after he was charged in the Rent-A-Man male prostitution investigation. Miller later grew the business into a worldwide business with multi-million dollar sales. Although poppers were illegal to sell for human consumption, Miller skirted laws restricting their sale by marketing them as room deodorizers or video head cleaner with a wink and a nod. The chemical compound is sometimes prescribed by doctors to treat certain heart conditions but sales of other prescription drugs like Viagra contain a warning not to combine their use with nitrate drugs prescribed by a physician. Unfortunately, some users of poppers died without knowing that danger.

When news of Miller's death first spread throughout the Indianapolis community, there were rumors linking his death to the murder-suicide that rocked the Barnes & Thornburg law firm. Within the same 24-hour period an attorney with the firm found Miller's body at his home, Dave Frisby killed his wife, also an attorney with the firm, at the Brownsburg home where the couple had resided together before she filed for divorce. Frisby then drove downtown to a parking garage adjacent to the law firm's offices on Meridian Street armed with two handguns, whereupon he began firing shots into the windows of the floor where his deceased wife had worked before turning the gun on himself and plunging to his death to the street below while dozens of shocked pedestrians looked on. Shortly before the tragedy, Frisby had posted on his website a message condemning lawyers at the firm and blaming them for the break-up of his marriage. "The bad lawyers at the Barnes and Thornburg law firm ... do not respect the institution of marriage and corrupted my wife Mary Jane (sex and drugs). Someone (maybe one of their good lawyers) please make them pay. Justice demands the truth out. It's a tragedy." Knowledgeable sources now believe the timng of their deaths and the connections to the firm are merely coincidental.

As intriguing as the entire Miller death mystery is, the even greater mystery is the total media silence on his death. While Indianapolis' mainstream news sources have stumbled all over each other to report every detail it can gather on the Ponzi scheme federal investigators allege prominent Indianapolis businessman Tim Durham operated to defraud more than $200 million out of innocent small-time Ohio investors, including intimate details of his life, the media has reported nothing on the circumstances surrounding an equally prominent Indianapolis businessman engaged in an illicit drug business with a sordid past, who liked Durham, showered generous contributions on many Indiana politicians. Somehow or another I have to believe if there were still old-school investigative newspaper reporters like Dick Cady working today there would have been a lot more reporting on Miller's death and questions raised about his ties to prominent Indiana Democrats and business leaders. A special thanks to Dick Cady for callling my attention to the old Johnson County criminal charges against Miller, which led to the discovery of so much more troubling information about this man. Again, I ask, why the conspiracy of silence?

1 comment:

abideth said...

An amazing read, and to think "nitates" in those Viagra and Cialis commercials are for those who might have angina. Right. Sure.