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8 charged in Rochester synthetic drug scheme

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Eight Rochester residents were charged Monday with conspiracy to import and distribute significant quantities of Methylone, also known as Molly, a Schedule I controlled substance, from a source of supply located in China.

According to U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr., federal authorities in Rochester successfully infiltrated a significant international synthetic drug trafficking ring. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $1,000,000 fine, or both. The criminal complaint is the culmination of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Border Patrol and the New York State Police.

Named in the criminal complaint are: Joshua Buerman, 25, Michele Hess, 21, Kevin Willard, 21, Andrew Bosch, 28, Madhu Ashok, 21, Lance Minielly, 23, Jesse James Macaveny, 20, and Rita Levy Panzica, 18.

According to the complaint, since June 2012, members of the organization used a source of supply located in China to obtain significant quantities of Methylone, as well as several other synthetic substances. Methylone is a stimulant that has a chemical structure closely related to 3,4-methyelenedioxymethamphetamine, known commonly as MDMA or ecstasy. Methylone was the subject of an October 2011 DEA Emergency Scheduling Order and was permanently listed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act in April 2013.

As part of its investigation, federal law enforcement obtained a court order to intercept communications from an email address that belonged to the source of supply in China. During the 30-day interception period, investigators generated more than 450 leads which were disseminated to various police agencies across the United States. These leads resulted in 54 arrests nationwide, with subjects located in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, California and Texas. Agents also seized more than 70 kilograms of Methylone and numerous controlled substance analogs, several kilograms of cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA, more than $50,000 in cash, several motor vehicles and several firearms.

Rochester investigators also obtained evidence indicating that the China-based supplier shipped an assortment of controlled substances and controlled substance analogs to numerous customers located abroad, including but not limited to Austria, Canada, Finland, Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Lithuania.

In August, 2013, investigators learned through the email interception that several shipments of Methylone were being made to members of the Rochester organization. The packages were intercepted and found to contain a total of 3.5 kilograms of Methylone crystals.

"This international investigation shows one path by which massive quantities of synthetic drugs can enter our communities," said Hochul. "Both law enforcement and the public must continue to be vigilant as we together work towards keeping this and like substances – which can be deadly – out of the area."

"The defendants in this case thought they could safely import illegal drugs into the United States by using the Internet," said James C. Spero, special agent in charge of HSI Buffalo. "Their arrests today clearly demonstrate that they were wrong. HSI will continue to work with our partners at the DEA, the New York State Police and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to identify these criminal schemes and bring their perpetrators to justice."

DEA Special Agent in Charge Brian R. Crowell said, "There has been a 300 percent increase in poison centers nationwide responding to calls related to synthetic drugs and 60 percent of the cases involved patients 25 years old and younger. Our youth are the targets of drug trafficking organizations distributing synthetic drugs like Methylone under the guise of it being molly or ecstasy. Today's arrests are of members of a molly distribution crew responsible for spreading this dangerous poison throughout the northeast. Kids need to know they are not taking ecstasy. We are seeing street dealers selling something with a catchy name such as molly, and in fact it's poisonous synthetic chemicals made in labs in China. Overdoses from ingesting these types of chemicals are extremely dangerous and unforgiving. I commend the investigators from the DEA Rochester Resident Office, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the New York State Police for doing all they can to keep our children and young adults safe from this poison."

Methylone has become an increasingly popular club drug, causing users to experience feelings very similar to ecstasy. The New York City medical examiner has confirmed two young people, including Jeffrey Russ of Greece, N.Y., who died at the Electric Zoo festival on Randalls Island over Labor Day weekend, recently took lethal mixtures of Methylone and MDMA.

The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Updated on Sept. 23, 2013.