U.S. Attorney John Walsh, District of Colorado, announced the arrests. The controlled substance in this case is commonly known as Spice.
This investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Playing a critical role in the investigation was the Northern Colorado Drug Task Force, which is made up of the Fort Collins Police Department, the Loveland Police Department, and Colorado Adult Parole.
The court unsealed the indictment Monday.
The five defendants arrested include: Dien Le, Ponlue Pim, Pirun Pim, Ricky Pim and Kenneth Barnes. They appeared in U.S. District Court in Denver July 22 where they were advised of their rights and the charges pending against them. They are due back in court July 25 for arraignment and a detention hearing.
On July 19, HSI special agents and Northern Colorado Task Force officers executed search warrants at seven locations, including residences and businesses in Fort Collins. During the course of executing those warrants, special agents and officers seized the following items: money from several bank accounts used by the defendants (amounts to be determined), $26,000 in cash, 75 pounds of Spice and the chemicals and dry products to make Spice, thousands of packaging units of Spice for later sale, and several firearms.
According to the indictment, from Oct. 11, 2012 through about April 30, 2013, and continuing within the State of Colorado and elsewhere, the defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired to manufacture, possess with the intent to distribute and to distribute mixtures or substances containing detectable amounts of JWH-018 [1-pentyl-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole], also known as synthetic cannabinoid, a Schedule I controlled substance. The street name for this drug is Spice.
The investigation revealed that Barnes ordered JWH-018, which is a white powder, from China. He had the powder delivered from China to New York City. From there, the illegal substance was sent from New York to Fort Collins, Colo. Barnes also had a green leafy substance sent to Fort Collins from San Antonio, Texas. In Fort Collins, Barnes, Le and the Pims mixed the substances together, wet it, and let it dry, thus creating Spice. They then packaged the product and took it to head shops, gas stations and other local stores to sell it. The cost of 1.5 gram packets was $10, and the cost for 3 gram packets was $20.
The product used by the defendants, JWH-018, is manufactured in China, with no Food and Drug Administration or other type of oversight. It can contain substances that are dangerous to an individuals' health. Some purchase Spice because they cannot purchase marijuana. Both substances are dangerous to an individual's health, which is why both JWH-018 and marijuana are both listed as Schedule I Controlled Substances, which are banned from use.
"Spice is a very dangerous substance that is being used by people as young as teenagers," said U.S. Attorney John Walsh. "When a person uses Spice they have no actual idea what they are putting into their body â as a key part of the product is made in China without regulatory controls."
"Illicit smuggling schemes involving synthetic marijuana pose a growing threat to public health and safety," said Kumar Kibble, special agent in charge of HSI Denver. "Because these drugs are unregulated and untested, it is impossible to know what chemicals are being ingested, making them incredibly dangerous. With these latest arrests, HSI and our law enforcement partners have struck a huge blow to the synthetic drug industry."
"This is another excellent example of federal and local law enforcement personnel working well together," said Lt. Greg Yeager, commander of the Northern Colorado Drug Task Force. "The dismantling of this drug trafficking organization will have a lasting impact on the presence of illegal drugs not only in the city of Fort Collins, but across the nation."
Those charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance face not more than 20 years in federal prison, and a fine of up to $1 million. Those charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture or distribute also face not more than 20 years in federal prison, and up to a $1 million fine, per count.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Sibert, District of Colorado.
The charges contained in the indictment are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.