Pubdate: Thu, 08 May 2014
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2014 The Denver Post Corp
Authors: Kirk Mitchell and Kieran Nicholson
Page: 4A


Law enforcement officers arrested nine suspected members of an
international drug ring that marketed a synthetic form of marijuana
called Spice, a drug that has been linked to serious illnesses,
hallucinations and even death.

"Spice is poison and pain deceptively packaged as pleasure," said 18th
Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler. It is sold in gas
stations and corner shops under product names like "Sexy Monkey" and
"Crazy Clown." Some packages are labeled "Not for Human

Beginning at 7 a.m., federal, state and local law enforcement officers
from around the country arrested nine people on federal charges
originating in Colorado's Federal District Court. Of those, five face
related state charges in Denver and Arapahoe counties, authorities

In addition, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers announced a
lawsuit against Orlando Martinez, owner of O's Pipe and Tobacco. It
was the third such lawsuit against retail businesses accused of
marketing Spice, Suthers said. He said 1,320 packages of the drug,
worth about $120,000, were seized from the store.

In August and September, 221 people were admitted in Denver-area and
Colorado Springs emergency rooms after using Spice. Some victims tried
to light themselves on fire, and one person tried to cut his head off,
Brauchler said. A 15-year-old Aurora boy died.

TheCenters for DiseaseControl and Prevention declared it a health
epidemic at the time. Although most of the victims were between the
ages of 12 and 29, one person was 70.

"This is the most significant synthetic drug investigation ever
conducted by the Denver field division of DEA and is part of an
ongoing international operation conducted by DEA," said Barbra Roach,
special agent in charge of Denver's DEA office. "This is cutting edge.
It is something our labs are seeing for the first time."

The criminal indictment alleges that the Spice was distributed to
Daniel Bernier in Florida. It was then allegedly sprayed onto a "green
vegetable substance" and shipped to Colorado, U.S. Attorney John Walsh

"Spice is a form of foreign-laboratory-produced poison, and has sent
many users to the hospital, or even to the morgue," Walsh said.

The distribution network allegedly was organized by Bernier and John
Bowen under a company named "The Really Cool Stuff Company." The name
of the company was changed to "Heart of Asia." James Johnson of Castle
Rock was allegedly a salesman who worked for the company. Donald
Creager III, who runs Creager Mercantile in Denver, was allegedly a
wholesaler, Walsh said.

Others allegedly connected to the ring included Altaf Hussain in
Illinois and Peter Karfias and Stephanie Christensen of Nebraska

The defendants face charges including violating the U.S. Controlled
Substances Act by distributing banned drugs and possession with intent
to distribute a controlled substance. Penalties range from five to 20
years in prison, Walsh said.

In addition to the nine arrests out of the Denver federal court, DEA
agents arrested hundreds of people in 25 states across the country in
related synthetic marijuana cases.

DEA agents across Colorado and the nation served warrants at homes,
warehouses and smoke shops, DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said.

The DEA has been cracking down on synthetic drugs, including so-called
bath salts, Spice and Molly, since the drugs first gained widespread
popularity years ago. Spice was outlawed in late 2010.

Ferdinand Large, staff coordinator for DEA's Special Operations
Division, said investigators have tracked hundreds of millions of
dollars of drug proceeds being sent to Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and
Jordan. U.S. authorities long have worried about criminal and
terrorist groups in the Middle East using drug trafficking to fund
illicit activities.

Last year, the DEA and Customs and Border Protection wrapped up a
seven-month investigation that ended in 150 arrests and the seizure of
about a ton of drugs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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