By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A federal prosecutor told jurors Wednesday that political fundraiser Ed Buck gave large amounts of methamphetamine to two men who overdosed and died at his West Hollywood apartment, but the defense countered that the defendant did nothing to cause the deaths.

Defense attorney Chris Darden, in his opening statement in Buck’s trial, told the jury that his client was a victim of “manipulative people” who took advantage of his generosity in order to get free drugs and money.

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Darden alleged that underlying medical conditions hastened the deaths of Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean, not the drugs they may have ingested in Buck’s presence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chelsea Norell alleged that Buck was “obsessed” with “party and play,” a term used by some gay men to describe a sexual encounter involving drugs.

“The party is the drugs, the play is the sex,” Norell said in her opening statement. “If they didn’t party, he wasn’t interested.”

Buck faces nine felony counts, including two counts of distribution of controlled substances resulting in death stemming from the deaths of the 26- year-old Moore in July 2017 and the 55-year-old Dean in January 2019. If convicted, each of the two charges carries 20-year mandatory minimums.

Buck is additionally charged with knowingly enticing Moore to travel to Los Angeles to engage in prostitution.

Buck also faces a second count of enticing a different man to travel with the same intent; one count of knowingly and intentionally distributing methamphetamine; and one count of using his West Hollywood apartment for the purpose of distributing narcotics such as methamphetamine, and the sedatives gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) and clonazepam.

Prosecutors allege Buck had a “fetish” for paying Black men he met online to smoke and shoot methamphetamine, sometimes to the point of unconsciousness. He also faces state charges of running a drug den, but the federal case is proceeding first.

The defense alleges that Buck was “selected” for prosecution for unexplained reasons. Party and play, Darden told the jury, is “conduct millions of people engage in.”

Buck, 66, appeared to fidget as Norell described repeated multi-gram drug buys from a dealer who the prosecutor said would take the stand to tell of Buck’s history of at least 20 methamphetamine purchases.

According to Norell, Buck’s alleged “ritual” involved injecting men “over and over” with methamphetamine, and having them model underwear for him.

She alleged that even after Moore died, Buck “continued to insist that his dates get as high as possible.”

Darden, however, told the seven-woman, five-man jury there is no evidence showing that “anyone was forced” to go to Buck’s apartment “for whatever reason.”

A prosecution trial memorandum alleges Buck lured vulnerable, homeless gay men, who were addicted to drugs or working as escorts to his Laurel Avenue apartment, where he provided drugs and money in exchange for sexual activity.

Darden countered that some of the men who showed up at Buck’s doorstep were “convicted felons with every reason to exaggerate their experiences” with Buck.

After the deaths of Moore and Dean, Black Lives Matter and the media “got involved” and word got out that men who had met Buck should come forward with their stories, Darden said.

Darden, best known for being part of the prosecution team in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, described his current client as an advocate for LGBTQ and Black civil rights, animal rights, and a supporter of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

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Buck “did nothing to cause the death of any person,” Darden said in his opening statement to the jury.

Craig Sinclair, a 30-year-old formerly homeless man, told the jury of being introduced to Buck through a friend in 2018 who said he could “get money” from Buck.

Sinclair, the first prosecution witness, said he was told Buck “wanted someone to prance around in underwear and smoke drugs with him” in exchange for $200 “every time I would come over. … I did not want to be on the streets.”

The money meant “a place to shower, to lay my head, and some food in my mouth,” Sinclair testified.

Sinclair said he was living in a dangerous homeless encampment at the time and welcomed the opportunity to make some cash. But, he said, he grew frightened when Buck pressured him to inject methamphetamine and GHB, which he refused to do.

At one point, Sinclair told the jury, he passed out after smoking methamphetamine, only to awaken to find Buck “sitting on me and … injecting me with crystal meth.”

Sinclair testified that Buck “liked to see me where I was barely able to stand, barely conscious,” and bought him gifts as long as he complied with the defendant’s “fetish.”

Buck “came off as an actual friend in the beginning, but his true colors showed as I got to know him,” Sinclair said.

Under cross-examination, Sinclair admitted that he wasn’t forced to go to Buck’s apartment. However, he blamed Buck for helping to make him an addict because of “all the drugs that were pushed on me” at the apartment.

Darden retorted, “Is there anything else in your life that you want to blame on Ed Buck?”

The second witness, Liam Sacks, a neighbor of Buck’s between 2016 and 2019, said he noticed the defendant had many more visitors than most people, especially late at night.

Sacks said Buck once told him that the young males who would visit his apartment were his “clients. He said he was some kind of social worker.”

Sacks testified that in July 2017, he saw paramedics responding to a death at Buck’s home, which turned out to be Moore. In the days that followed, the stream of visitors slowed down, “then gradually picked up again,” Sacks said on the stand.

Buck was arrested in September 2019 after being charged in federal court with providing the methamphetamine that led to the overdose death of Moore. He was indicted weeks later in connection with the death of Dean.

Buck has been in custody at a downtown federal lockup since his arrest.

The trial is expected to last between eight and 10 days.

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(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)