ST. LOUIS — Two leaders of a synthetic drug trafficking conspiracy were each sentenced Friday to 12½ years in federal prison.
These sentences resulted from an extensive investigation by the following agencies: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Criminal Investigation Division, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS). Significant assistance was also provided by the following agencies: St. Louis County (Missouri) Police Department, St. Charles County (Missouri) Sheriff’s Department, the Missouri Lake Area Narcotics Enforcement Group, the Metropolitan Enforcement Group for Southern Illinois, and the Southern Illinois Drug Task Force.
Anwer Rao, 36, and Michael Lentsch, 36, both from of O’Fallon, Illinois, were each sentenced to 150 months in prison on numerous counts related to conspiracy to sell synthetic drugs, commonly known as “bath salts.”
The manufacture of synthetic drugs is a recent development designed to circumvent traditional drug laws by creating new chemical compounds that mimic the effects of drugs like marijuana and cocaine but purport to avoid the classification of a controlled substance because of a chemical alteration. The synthetic drugs are most frequently marketed as legitimate products and sold in typical commercial outlets such as convenience stores and gas stations. The drugs masquerade as incense, potpourri, glass cleaner, bath salts, and plant food, just to name a few; their cost, however, is much higher than the normal commercial product they mimic.
One group of synthetic drugs is made up of cathinones, and is a “speed” type drug commonly marketed as bath salts. Synthetic cathinones are typically snorted, and are packaged in containers with names such as Full Throttle, Fresh, Limited, Starry Nights, Twisted, Pump It and Blitz. Rao and Lentsch manufactured and marketed cathinones under the name “Go Go.” Reported effects have included hypertension, paranoia, anxiety and even psychosis.
Another group of synthetic drugs is made from synthetic cannabinoids which are a far more powerful and unpredictable form of marijuana. Cannabinoids are typically smoked, and are packaged in multi-gram packets with names such as Mega Kush, Mad Hatter, Bayou Blaster, Avalon, Pirates Booty, Lights Out, and Golden Leaf. Rao and Lentsch manufactured and marketed their own blends of synthetic cannabinoids under the names “Mad Hatter,” “Deew,” “Cloud 9 Optima,” “Crazy Eyes,” and “Primo.”
Although commonly referred to as synthetic marijuana, the effects are far more powerful and dangerous than so-called natural marijuana, with reported additional effects including excessive heart rate, vomiting and seizures.
These sentences were part of a multi-defendant case charging offenses involving the importation, manufacture and sale of these synthetic drugs. Several co-defendants have pleaded guilty to related charges and await sentencing. Others are still facing trial on the following charges:
- conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute Schedule I controlled substances and Schedule I controlled substance analogues;
- conspiracy to introduce and receive misbranded drugs in interstate commerce;
- conspiracy to import controlled substances and controlled substance analogues;
- conspiracy to receive, sell and facilitate the transportation of smuggled goods with forfeiture allegations; and
- money laundering.
The drug conspiracy charges and money laundering conspiracy charges carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison for each count and/or fines ranging from $500,000 to $1 million. Additional indictments seek the forfeiture of assets and property totaling more than $12 million.