The Growth of Synthetic Cannabis – “Spice” – And A Spice Kingpin is Sentenced

Prosecutions represent one of the most significant investigations to date in the United States regarding synthetic cannabinoid trafficking which resulted in more than 220 Spice-related emergency room visits in Colorado in the Fall of 2013

CANNABIS
CANNABIS

DENVER – U.S. District Court Judge Philip A. Brimmer today sentenced John Bowan, age 68, of Las Vegas to 60 months in federal prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release for his role as the kingpin in a Conspiracy to Defraud the United States, Distribute Controlled Substances, and Money Laundering, federal law enforcement announced today. In addition to the prison sentence, assets were ordered forfeited, including a $1,800,000 money judgment as well as three real properties in Florida.

Following an eight month investigation by federal, state and local law enforcement in May 2014, a federal grand jury in Denver returned indictments charging nine individuals from across the country with conspiracy and drug distribution charges related to “Spice”.

“Spice” is a common term for synthetic cannabinoids. From August through September 2013, there were 221 documented synthetic cannabinoid related emergency room visits in the Denver and Colorado Springs metro areas. There were hospitalizations in other states as well. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initially investigated the outbreak of these emergency room visits, declaring an emergency health epidemic in 2013. In response to the crisis, federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutors came together to identify solutions to protect the public, especially youth, from the purchase and use of Spice and other synthetic cannabinoid products.

The majority of “Spice” victims were between the ages of 12 through 29, with victims ranging in age from 12 to 70 years of age. Seventy-five percent of the victims were male. Local convenience stores and gas stations made retail sales of the spice products. In this case, investigators determined that the original chemical product was sent to the United States from China. The indictment alleges the chemical was imported to Florida and received by defendant Daniel Bernier. In Florida the chemical was sprayed on a green vegetable substance. The chemical-coated substance was then packaged and shipped to both wholesalers and retailers in Colorado and throughout the United States.

The indictment and other court documents stated that the distribution was organized by John Bowen. He first operated under the name “The Really Cool Stuff Company”. After the product received negative media attention, Bowan changed the distribution name to “Heart of Asia.” Creager Mercantile, run by defendant Donald Creager, III, was one of the wholesalers. Creager shipped the product to local corner stores and gas stations in Colorado. Defendant James Johnson of Castle Rock was a salesperson working for “The Really Cool Stuff Company” and later “Heart of Asia.”

The defendants also shipped product to retail outlets in other states, including Avalon on 4th LLC, associated with defendant Kenneth Chastain in Wisconsin; Main Stop, Inc., associated with defendant Altaf Hussain in Illinois; and “Tobacco Hut,” associated with defendants Peter Karfias and Stephanie Christensen in Nebraska.

To date, eight individuals have been convicted and sentenced as follows:

•John Bowen – XX months in federal prison
•Daniel Bernier – 42 months in federal prison
•James Johnson – 18 months in federal prison
•Donald Creager, III – 5 years’ probation with 1 year home detention as a condition of probation and a $50,000 fine
•Kenneth Chastain – 60 days imprisonment with 3 years of supervised release to follow
•Altaf Hussain Dandia – 5 years’ probation
•Peter Karfias – 5 years’ probation with 6 months home detention as a condition of probation
•Stephanie Christenson – 5 years’ probation with 3 months of home detention as a condition of probation

The investigation encompassed Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Alaska, Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Nevada, with documented distribution of synthetic cannabinoids from Heart of Asia to numerous additional states.

Law enforcement agencies emphasizes that no brand of “Spice” or similar products are safe. All synthetic cannabinoids are dangerous. No “Spice” products have been approved by the FDA, and may constitute controlled substances in violation of state and federal law.

“Synthetic cannabinoid, also known as Spice, is a dangerous illegal substance that can make individuals very ill, and even kill them,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh. “Thanks to the hard work of law enforcement at every level in Colorado, including the Assistant U.S. Attorneys, and the agents from the DEA, FDA Office of Inspector General and the IRS Criminal Investigation, as well as our state partners, the District Attorney’s Office for the 18th Judicial District and the Colorado Attorney General’s Office — we’ve removed a substantial amount of Spice from the streets of Colorado, and put in prison those who were making and selling the dangerous substance.”

“The investigation of Bowen’s organization was key to one of the most significant synthetic drug investigations conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration.” said Barbra Roach, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Denver Field Division. “Synthetic cannabinoids pose significant and dangerous health threats to our communities, and those who would try to profit from them must be held accountable. There is no such thing as safe ‘Spice’.”

“Those who distribute drugs in a manner that defeats the government’s ability to regulate those products put consumers at risk,” said Catherine A. Hermsen, Special Agent in Charge of FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations’ Kansas City Field Office. “Our agents will continue to work with other federal partners to bring these criminals to justice.”

“Spice is a dangerous concoction of chemicals and can be deadly,” said Steven Osborne, Acting Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation, Denver Field Office. “By using our financial expertise to follow the money and working with other law enforcement partners we were able to dismantle the operation and get Spice off the streets which in the end will save lives.”

This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigation (FDA OCI), the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation (IRS CI), the ATF, the District Attorney’s Office of the 18th Judicial District, the Aurora Police Department, the North Metro Drug Task Force, the West Metro Drug Task Force, the Castle Rock Police Department, the Denver Police Department, the Lakewood Police Department, and the Colorado Department of Revenue.

The United States Attorney’s Office also commends the 18th Judicial District and the Colorado Attorney General’s office for their work to remove Spice from the shelves of stores in Colorado.

The United States Attorney’s Offices for the Central District of Florida, the District of Nebraska, the District of Nevada, the Western District of Wisconsin and the Northern District of Illinois have provided substantial assistance in this matter as well.

The defendants were prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jaime Pena and Tim Neff, with Tonya Andrews handling the asset forfeiture.

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