He was her favorite drug.
Once Republican stalwart and John McCain fundraiser Emily Pitha fell for Chris Hustrulid, he promised to say goodbye to the narcotic nights and mixing records as a DJ, and began punching a clock and pushing hardware.
But friends of the couple told The Daily Beast that Hustrulid, 36, never stopped hustling and used his romance with Pitha and her political connections with the stars of the Arizona GOP—her LinkedIn also lists jobs with Sen. Jeff Flake and former Sen. Jon Kyl—for his personal gain.
“I got the impression from him that once he started dating Emily that his life was on easy street; that his life was kind of untouchable,” one longtime friend, who wished to remain anonymous, said. “It wasn’t that he wasn’t doing any major crimes. It was just the way he talked. Everybody knew that Emily had pull.”
Another source close to Pitha, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, told us Pitha, 34, drifted after hooking up with Hustrulid.
“Once they got together, she cut all her friends out of her life,” said the friend. “He pretty much Svengali’d her.”
Pitha was a catch.
She was also a political rainmaker tapped by GOP heavies from John McCain to Marco Rubio to court Arizona donors to fatten their election war chests.
Meanwhile, her new boyfriend told her he was making a fresh start.
He’d left behind Texas and a toxic relationship with the mother of his two young children because she couldn’t kick her prescription-pill habit.
When the Hustrulid trio moved into Pitha’s two-bedroom home on East Bethany Home Road three years ago in the Wrigley Terrace suburb of Phoenix, everything seemed very cozy.
That all changed Wednesday.
A brown parcel containing a jigsaw puzzle was shipped from the Netherlands from a “Peter De Groot” addressed to a “Gloria Mears” and headed straight to Hustrulid and Pitha’s home, according to the incident report.
On Monday, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in San Francisco flagged and X-rayed it and determined the item wasn’t a puzzle at all, but a puzzle box filled with a plastic baggie stuffed with 253 grams of ecstasy. According to the report, the ecstasy doses were purple-colored, pentagon-shaped tablets, each scored with a ram’s head.
Other agencies were notified and a sting was organized.
Instead of the normal letter carrier, Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies (led by outspoken hardliner Sheriff Joe Arpaio) and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service sent an undercover agent in to deliver the drugs.
“When [Hustrulid] signed for the package, he signed his real name,” Maricopa County Det. Doug Matteson told The Daily Beast, noting that Pitha arrived minutes afterward and joined her boyfriend in remaining silent after they were read their Miranda rights.
Armed with a warrant, authorities searched the house and allegedly discovered a meth lab in the rear. “It was a storage shed on the outside, behind the house,” said Det. Matteson, who was present during the search. “It was a working meth lab. They had glasswares and oils and materials and explosive materials and there was a quarter-pound of meth there.”
There were also signs of a plan to cultivate cannabis, according to the cops.
“They were building an addition and had one of those false walls that would have been for an illegal marijuana grow,” Matteson said.
However, Hustrulid’s mother, Joan Rhode, told us the deputies are confused. It wasn’t a marijuana grow but rather the couple’s planned renovation to the house to give the 10-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl their own separate rooms.
“I believe they were excavating because they were going to put in an addition to the house since they only had two bedrooms,” she said. “I had just talked to them about giving a little antique dressing table to my granddaughter, but Chris said, ‘We don’t have the room for it now but we will in a few months when she has her own bedroom.’”
According to the incident report, the search didn’t stop at meth or marijuana hallmarks.
They also evidence-tagged from Pitha’s home (which was fit with security cameras) 5 grams of marijuana, 3 grams of heroin, 3 grams of cocaine, 10 acid hits, shatter, hash oil, and $7,000 in cash.
And both were slapped with charges of child endangerment, manufacturing narcotics, and possession of drug lab equipment among others. Pitha was bailed out Thursday, the AP reported. It’s unclear if Hustrulid posted yet.
Earlier Thursday, Rhode admitted the family is going to struggle to spring her son. “The bail is $20,000 in cash and we don’t have that kind of money. And I think her family is more affluent.”
The 63-year-old retail manager said she had visited her grandchildren in February and said her son’s surveillance cameras were installed to “protect his family” and the so-called meth lab wasn’t filled with paraphernalia but common household clutter.
“The last time I looked in that back shed it was so full because that’s where they store things,” she said. “And it had bikes and just everything a family would have to store.”
Since Pitha and Hustrulid were booked, the fallout has left Rhode shaken to the core after being forced to see her son’s mugshot splashed on the evening news.
Pitha worked for the Arizona fundraising outfit Lovas Co., which boasted a client roster that included former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. She was quickly sacked by McCain’s re-election fundraising campaign this week when news broke of her and her boyfriend being booked for cooking crank.
Long after deputies had turned the family home into a crime scene, the rest of the family had no idea what had happened.
“I know Emily [Pitha] called my ex-husband saying, ‘There’s a family emergency and can you pick up the kids from school,’” Rhode said of the frantic phone call before the couple was hauled away to the Maricopa County pen.
“They picked up the children and didn’t know until they heard it on the news at 8-something that evening,” she said. “It was very shocking and devastating to our family.”
She stressed that whenever she visited, there were “never any comings and goings of outside people ever.”
When her grandson’s birthday arrived in February, Rhode wanted to get him something special and her son told her that he could use a little extra cash for summer soccer camp.
“He said, ‘If you want to help out with soccer camp that would be appreciated.’
“So I gave him some money for him to play in the camp and it didn’t pay for the whole thing. But if they’re making money hand over fist dealing drugs, why would he feel the need to ask for money for the soccer camp?”
Rhode said that her son should be known as nothing less than a dutiful dad, religiously dropping off and picking up his kids every day to and from school, taking them to the dentist and Sunday church.
He even made sure that after they parted with their biological mother the kids received counseling.
“My son was 100 percent dedicated to his children,” Rhode said. “He took the most active role. He felt it was his responsibility—they were his children.”
A source close to both Pitha and Hustrulid agreed. “His kids are his thing,” the source said. “Him and his son were really inseparable.”
Still, there were times when even the way he cared for the kids surprised friends and neighbors. “He was always running around the street with his kids,” the source close to Hustrulid said. “It would be like he was fucked up, like drunk or something, and I asked him, ‘Why are you out running around in circle with a kid in a stroller. You don’t jog, so what are you doing?’”
As for the political powerhouse Pitha, she welcomed the role of motherhood.
“She took the children in and she became a mother to them,” Rhode said, fondly reflecting on how the children even gave her their own special name.
“My granddaughter at one time must have heard my son call Emily ‘Honey’ and it stuck so now both children call her ‘Honey.’”
A source close to the couple also remembered how they turned into a nuclear family almost overnight. “Right after they met, Chris started devoting all his attention to her,” the source said. “She was more the surrogate-type mom for his kids.”
“I know they talked about getting married all the time,” Rhode said. They also want to grow their family. “They talked about having another child together,” she said.
The future seemed bright for her son being with Pitha.
Another source close to Hustrulid was less shocked by TV news.
“I wasn’t surprised to see him in the news for what he was doing,” they said. “That kind of scale was a little bit of a surprise. [But] Chris was like that—he’s a hustler.
“He doesn’t care. He has little-guy syndrome and consequences be damned.”
The couple met and made their romance official at a company mixer hosted at a Tempe, Arizona, watering hole.
“They were partying that night and since then they stuck together like glue. They’ve been inseparable,” a source close to Hustrulid said.
They were major opposites but weren’t slow when it came to affection. “She just came and jumped on him and they’ve been together ever since,” a source close to both Pitha and Hustrulid said. “I’m pretty sure they had sex the first time they met.”
Hustrulid was a classic renegade who geeked out on electronics. Pitha was a reserved, well-educated rising political star.
“He was more street smarts and she was more book smarts—it was a weird combination,” the source said. “She didn’t seem like his type and he didn’t seem like her type.”
They were worlds apart.
“She was smarter than him,” the source said. “But he’s a slick talker. Not shy. Quick.
“He would always be messing with stuff, pulling electronics apart, and jumping on bicycles while she was pretty, wealthy, and well-connected but didn’t talk much at all.”
The friend tried to talk sense into Hustrulid after he had broken up with his children’s biological mother. “I used to joke with him, ‘You’re just trying to get over your ex-wife. You should just kept moving.’”
But Hustrulid was head over heels for Pitha. “He definitely moved up when he got with her.”
Hustrulid apparently spent his weekdays downing Adderall while working for a company called Better Direct (which he later sued for back pay and lost). He sold brand-name computers like Hewlett Packard and Lenovo to the General Services Administration—then he’d take off and go get tanked for the night. The next day he’d do it again.
He even boasted on an internal blog at the company where that he’d begun DJing again “by mere accident.”
He wrote that he had earned top marks as the “head DJ at the famous Sam’s Boat in Austin, Texas” but walked away from the hard partying after becoming a dad.
“When my first child was born in 2006, it was time to retire. No more crazy late nights (early mornings?). No more rooms full of amps, speakers and CDs.”
“He and his roommate would go home and get fucked up,” the source said. “They would get off work at 3 o’clock and get plastered until about 8 or 9 o’clock and go to work at 5 or 6 in the morning.”
The friend claimed that it was during Hustrulid’s daily benders that he adopted some of the narcotics tradecraft. “The mail thing was something that he learned from his roommate,” the source said of the hardware salesman. “He would get packages of a pound of pot coming through the mail.”
The source said the enterprising cohort would get these questionable packages monthly and specifically used the USPS because “they need a warrant to get into your package where DHL and FedEx don’t.”
As for Pitha’s friends—at least one pre-Hustrulid (who she dubbed “a criminal”) feels she lost a friend.
“I knew her before—she was a great person,” the former friend said. “The person that is in the news is not the person that I knew.
“I never expected she would be involved with a meth lab.”
Joan Rhode is hoping there is another explanation. “I’m considering the fact that because of her strong political affiliations there is always the possibility they were set up,” she said.
But the facts weigh heavy and there’s a hint that she has already given up when she talks about her son.
“He was a good man and a good father,” she said. “I mean is a good man and father. In my mind I’ve lost him because he’s incarcerated and I’m frightened for his future and frightened for my grandchildren.”