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The Yogurt Connection was a drug smuggling ring which operated out of Indianapolismarker, Indianamarker, United Statesmarker in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Prosecutors estimated that the gang ran an estimated 250,000 pounds of Colombianmarker, Jamaicanmarker and Thaimarker marijuana. Distribution reached into eleven Midwestern U.S. states and was valued at $50 million to $100 million United States dollars, then the largest known ring of its kind.

History

From their hometown of Indianapolis, Indianamarker during 1975, Linda Leary (born April 15, 1931) and her two sons, Richard Heilbrunn (born June 20, 1951) and Paul Heilbrunn (born January 15, 1954), organized a drug smuggling ring which prosecutors called "The Yogurt Connection"—an allusion to the family's YoGo franchise and the French Connection drug trafficking scheme.

Officially, they were selling Dr. Bronner's Natural Castile Soap through a health-food distribution business called Heilbrunn and Friends. Initially the "friends" were North Central High Schoolmarker graduates who set up marijuana sales networks at various universities and eventually the wider market.

In addition to their illegal activities, Linda and her sons maintained high profiles and excellent reputations in the community. Paul was a broker and financier. Linda was head of the Indianapolis League of Women Voters, president of the local chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women and a volunteer fund-raiser for the city's new zoo. They made highly visible loans to unknowing recipients, including a local radio station, a Cablevision franchise, and the Indianapolis Dining Guide. Few residents suspected that the same people who played tennis at the club and supported the government initiatives of then-mayor Richard Lugar, could also smuggle illegal drugs.

According to the federal government’s indictment of the family, Paul organized the gang and saw to its growth. More businessman than drug dealer, Paul wore three-piece suits, drove a late-model BMW, frequented the most expensive restaurants and paid in hundred dollar bills. Paul had a reputation for being ruthless, which was evident in September 1975. According to federal prosecutors, Paul was supposed to talk to John Brady Jenkins, an employee and an old friend from North Central High School, about a large debt Jenkins owed the organization. Paul suspected trouble with Jenkins and rather than meeting with John himself, Paul asked his brother Richard to take his place. Paul was correct; at the meeting, Jenkins pulled a pistol, killed a man who had accompanied Richard and put four bullets into Richard, leaving him for dead. Richard survived the wounds received from his high school friend John, though later he walked with a pronounced limp.

Jenkins escaped too and was eventually captured in a small Canadian town, and eventually hanged himself in a British Columbiamarker jail. According to hearsay, he committed suicide to put an end to threats made on a younger brother, intended to prevent Jenkins from turning government informant. A string of unsolved murders were attributed to the gang, including the 1976 death of Philip Winkler, the son of an Indianapolis oil company executive. None were ever prosecuted.

In 1983, federal agents say they picked up a cocaine distributor who had been fired by Paul. In exchange for a grant of immunity, the man agreed to tell the authorities as much as he knew about the Heilbrunn operation. In the second half of 1985 Linda and her sons fled to Austriamarker after learning a federal grand jury was looking into allegations the Heilbrunns were directing a multi-state smuggling operation. In November 1987, after four years spent gathering evidence, the authorities moved in on the Yogurt Connection with indictments against Leary, her sons and more than 30 other people. Leary and her sons were arrested in May 1989 in Austria.

U.S. District Judge Larry J. McKinney sentenced Leary to nine years for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana. He sentenced her to a concurrent five-year term for racketeering. Convictions of Richard and Paul followed.

The family members have since been released from Federal Prisons:
  • Paul Bruce Heilbrunn, DOC Number 03367-028, Released April 15, 2003
  • Richard S. Heilbrunn, DOC Number 03368-028, Released September 23, 1994
  • Linda Leary, DOC Number 03366-028, Released June 16, 1992


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