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Louisiana businessman pleads guilty to synthetic marijuana conspiracy

LAFAYETTE, La. – A Louisiana business owner pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge Friday for his role in a multi-state synthetic marijuana distribution ring following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in coordination with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the FBI, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Lafayette Police Department.

According to court documents, Richard Joseph Buswell, 44, of Lafayette, was the owner of Curious Goods, a chain of stores that sold smoking paraphernalia and herbal tobaccos. Lafayette police discovered Mr. Miyagi brand potpourri for sale within the business, which is synthetic marijuana, illegal under both federal and Louisiana law. Subsequent investigation by HSI revealed Buswell and co-defendants conspired to intentionally import, combine and distribute a Schedule I controlled substance from March 2011 to July 2012. Buswell admitted in his guilty plea that he purchased synthetic marijuana from co-defendants in Louisiana and Georgia who imported it from China.

"In addition to their blatant contempt of the law, the boldness demonstrated by the defendants to smuggle and distribute dangerous illegal drugs reflects a callous disregard for public safety," said Raymond R. Parmer Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New Orleans. "These individuals seriously underestimated the dedication of HSI and its law enforcement partners to investigate and discover the scope of this complicated criminal conspiracy."

Parmer oversees a five-state area of responsibility including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee.

Financial records show Buswell deposited approximately $5 million into Curious Goods business checking accounts from March to December 2011, and the company paid approximately $1.5 million to purchase synthetic marijuana from the co-defendants. Five of the eight co-defendants have now pleaded guilty. The remaining defendants have a trial date set for March 31, 2014.

Defendants Boyd Barrow, 44, of Canton, Ga.; Thomas William Malone Jr., 45, of Roswell, Ga.; and Drew T. Green, 38, of Roswell, Ga.; pleaded guilty in September 2012 to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance. Joshua Espinoza, 49, of Marietta, Ga., pleaded guilty in November 2012.

Buswell is scheduled to be sentenced before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick J. Hanna on May 16, 2014. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison, a $1 million fine, restitution and three years of supervised release following the completion of his sentence.