Carlsbad Man Pleads Guilty to Federal “Spice” Trafficking Charge
ALBUQUERQUE – Phillip Larez, 33, of Carlsbad, N.M., entered a guilty plea this afternoon in Las Cruces federal court to a distribution of a controlled substance analogue charge. Under the terms of his plea agreement, Larez will be sentenced to a year of probation.
Larez and his co-defendants, Garlan R. Plumlee, 62, and Justin E. Thompson, 33, also residents of Carlsbad, were indicted in Dec. 2012, and charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance analogue, distribution of a controlled substance analogue, and possession of a controlled substance analogue with intent to distribute. The indictment also charged Plumlee with money laundering offenses. The indictment was superseded in March 2014, to add an additional possession with intent to distribute charge against the three defendants.
According to the superseding indictment, from March 2011 through June 2012, the defendants conspired to distribute controlled substance analogues in Eddy County, N.M. The indictment also alleges that the defendants distributed controlled substance analogues on Feb. 2, 2012 and June 27, 2012, and that they possessed controlled substance analogues with intent to distribute on June 28, 2012. Plumlee also is charged with laundering the proceeds of this unlawful drug trafficking on Jan. 18, 2012, Feb. 10, 2012, May 23, 2012 and June 29, 2012.
The controlled substance analogues charged in the superseding indictment are commonly referred to as synthetic marijuana or “spice.” According to the DEA, over the past several years, there has been a growing use of synthetic cannabinoids. Smoke-able herbal blends marketed as being “legal” and providing a marijuana-like high have become increasingly popular because they are easily available and, in many cases, more potent and dangerous than marijuana. These products consist of plant material that has been coated with dangerous psychoactive compounds that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. These substances, however, have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for human consumption, and there is no oversight of the manufacturing process. Synthetic cannabinoids often are labeled as incense to mask their intended purpose.
According to court filings, the three men used “The Looking Glass,” a head shop owned by Plumlee and located on Canal Street in Carlsbad to sell “spice,” under the names “Scooby Snax,” “Diablo,” and “Knockout.” Court filings state that officers seized approximately 4,779 packages of “spice” with 38 different names from “The Looking Glass” on June 28, 2012, when they executed a search warrant at the business. Plumlee allegedly withdrew $147,000 out of his business and personal bank accounts the day after the search warrant was executed.
During today’s proceeding, Larez entered a guilty plea to Count 3 of the superseding indictment charging him with distributing “spice” on June 27, 2012. In his plea agreement, Larez admitted that he was employed at a business called “The Looking Glass” that sold substances which were labeled as “incense.” On June 27, 2014, as part of his job at “The Looking Glass,” Larez sold some “incense” to an undercover officer, and the “incense” contained a detectable amount of an analogue known as “spice.” Larez admitted knowing that the substance was intended for human consumption and that the substance had a substantially similar effect on the human body as other substances which had been listed as controlled substances under the law.
Co-defendant Thompson entered a guilty plea on April 4, 2014, to Count 1 of the superseding indictment charging him with conspiracy to distribute “spice” under a plea agreement that requires a sentence of two years of probation. In entering his guilty plea, Thompson admitted being the manager of “The Looking Glass” under the direction of Plumlee, the owner of the business. Thompson admitted stocking and selling “incense” at “The Looking Glass” while knowing that the “incense” was “spice.”
Plumlee has entered a not guilty plea to the charges in the superseding indictment and is scheduled for trial on Sept. 8, 2014. If convicted, Plumlee faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison. Charges in indictments are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The case was investigated by the Las Cruces office of the DEA and the Pecos Valley Drug Task Force, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Renee L. Camacho and E. Gareth Winstead of the U.S. Attorney’s Las Cruces Branch Office.
The Pecos Valley Drug Task Force is comprised of officers from the Eddy County Sheriff’s Office, Carlsbad Police Department and Artesia Police Department, and is part of the HIDTA Region VI Drug Task Force. The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program was created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. HIDTA is a program of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) which provides assistance to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States and seeks to reduce drug trafficking and production by facilitating coordinated law enforcement activities and information sharing.