Federal agents and local police arrested 28 people last week tied to a synthetic drug ring selling bath salts and synthetic marijuana nationwide.
The drug ring imported chemicals with misleading labels and descriptions from China and other countries, according to four indictments filed in the U.S. District Court in the past month. Workers in the St. Louis area and in Indiana used the chemicals to make and sell drugs that resemble methamphetamine and marijuana, though with more dangerous side effects.
The indictments say the ring made synthetic cathinones, a "speed" type drug more commonly known as bath salts, by cutting the imported chemicals with laxative powder and giving the product a new name, such as Full Throttle, Fresh, Limited, Starry Nights, Twisted, Pump It and Blitz.
The drug ring also used the chemicals to make a synthetic version of marijuana by liquefying the chemicals in acetone, spraying them onto herbs and adding flavorings, such as "Tasty Puff." The drug, which is more powerful and unpredictable than marijuana, was sold under the names Mega Kush, Mad Hatter, Bayou Blaster, Avalon, Pirates Booty, Lights Out, Golden Leaf, DEEW, Cloud 9, Primo, Optima and Crazy Eyes.
People who use bath salts report side effects of hypertension, paranoia, anxiety and psychosis, according to the U. S. Attorney's Office. Synthetic marijuana also has dangerous side effects, including excessive heart rate, vomiting and seizures.
The defendants sold the drugs at two shops in St. Louis -- South 94 Bait and Tackle Trading Post in St. Charles County and Smoke Sensations: Nights of Rave in St. Louis -- and a St. Clair County company called TS Botanicals.
Though the drugs are intended to be smoked or snorted for a high, the ring purposefully mislabeled the drug packaging to "thwart drug-trafficking laws," according to the indictment. The packages said the drugs were "not for human consumption," and marketed the drugs as scouring powder, research chemicals, incense and novelty products with no clear instructions.
"Parents should not be lulled into a false sense of confidence that these substances must be okay just because they were purchased down at the corner gas station or convenience store," says United States Attorney Richard Callahan. "The bottom line is that these drugs are extremely dangerous, and the ingestion of these substances has led to serious medical consequences requiring hospitalization and even death and suicide."
Selling "Full Throttle" and "Pirates Booty" is apparently quite lucrative. Prosecutors also want the drug ring to forfeit more than $23 million in assets, including cash, gold and silver bars, houses and condos.
The investigation began in 2010 when Dr. Anthony Scalzo, director of toxicology for St. Louis University and Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, got calls about patients experiencing rapid heartbeat, anxiety, hallucinations, elevated blood pressure and agitation after using synthetic drugs.
"These drugs can cause serious health problems or even kill those who ingest them," says James Gibbons, deputy special agent in charge for HSI Chicago, which oversees St. Louis.
The 28 people arrested last week face charges of conspiracy to distribute Schedule I controlled substances and analogues; conspiracy to introduce and receive misbranded drugs; conspiracy to import controlled substances; conspiracy to receive, sell and facilitate the transportation of smuggled goods; and money laundering.
Each drug conspiracy charge or money laundering charge carries a 20 year prison penalty and/or fines up to $1 million.
Here are the people charged: Anwer Rao, 35, O'Fallon, IL Michael Lentsch, 34, O'Fallon, IL Matthew Fiedler, 23, Belleville, IL Larry Farmer, Jr., 40, Keyesport, IL Charles Kinney, 55, O'Fallon, IL Brandien Robinson, 28, O'Fallon, IL Mansi Patel, 28, Phoenix, AZ Greg Sloan, 58, St. Charles, MO, Doug Sloan, 53, Indianapolis, IN Igor Holdaiy, 52, St. Louis, MO Elizabeth Pogue, 41, Bridgeton, MO Charles Wolfe, 53, St. Peters, MO Brett Beeman, 42, O'Fallon, MO Sherri Beeman, 37, O'Fallon, MO Roger Galvin, 36, Charlack, MO John Galvin, 52, St. Louis, MO Robert Jaynes, Jr., 43, Indianapolis, IN Kirk Parsons, 45, Indianapolis, IN David Neal, 45, Carmel, IN Marcia Gronek, 52, St. Peters, MO Mark Palmer, 44, Granite City, IL Anthony Palmer, 25, Mt. Vernon, IL Samuel Leinicke, 24, Arnold, MO Charles Wolfe, 53, St. Peters, MO Robert Wolfe, 52, Hazelwood, MO Joseph Gabrick, 52, O'Fallon, MO Pamela Tabatt, 56, St. Peters, MO Richard Gross, 34, Winfield, MO Paul Berra, Jr., 30, Warrenton, MO