Rio Rancho Men Arrested on Federal Synthetic Drug Trafficking Charges
ALBUQUERQUE – Roman Salsberry Huerta, 44, and Dean Tommy Cole, 23, both of Rio Rancho, N.M., made their initial appearances in federal court this morning on criminal complaints charging them with synthetic drug trafficking offenses. Both men remain in custody pending detention hearings scheduled for Dec. 9, 2013.
Huerta and Cole were arrested by DEA agents and officers of the Rio Rancho Police Department on criminal complaints charging the two with conspiracy to distribute controlled substance analogues, commonly known as “Spice,” and distribution of Spice. Huerta also is charged with possession of Spice with intent to distribute and with maintaining two drug-involved premises.
According to the criminal complaints, Huerta is the owner of Smoke World, a business located on Southern Blvd. in Rio Rancho, and Cole is employed at Smoke World. The complaints allege that Huerta sold Spice to an informant in the Smoke World premises in May 2013, and that Cole sold Spice to the informant in the premises on two occasions in summer of 2013.
The complaints state that on Aug. 8, 2013, law enforcement authorities executed a federal search warrant at Huerta’s Rio Rancho residence where they allegedly found a Spice manufacturing facility with all the equipment and ingredients necessary to manufacture and distribute Spice. The authorities also allegedly found two large caches of cash in the residence, $102,000 in a lock box hidden under dirty clothes in a hamper and $4,059 in a lock box in a bedroom closet, which they seized as alleged proceeds from the sale of Spice.
Also on Aug. 8, 2013, law enforcement authorities executed a federal search warrant at Smoke World where they allegedly seized substances believed to be Spice that were packaged for retail sale and in bulk form. The packaged substances allegedly were packaged similarly to Spice allegedly found in Huerta’s residence.
If convicted on the charges in the criminal complaints, Huerta and Cole each face maximum penalties of twenty years in prison. Charges in criminal complaints are merely accusations. Criminal defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case was investigated by the Albuquerque office of the DEA and the Rio Rancho Police Department and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel R. Meyers.
Background on Designer Synthetic Drugs
Designer synthetic drugs are often marketed as herbal incense, potpourri, bath salts, jewelry cleaner, or plant food, and have caused significant abuse, addiction, overdoses, and emergency room visits. Those who have abused synthetic drugs have suffered vomiting, anxiety, agitation, irritability, seizures, hallucinations, tachycardia, elevated blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. They have caused significant organ damage as well as overdose deaths.
Smokable herbal blends marketed as being “legal” and providing a marijuana-like high have become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults, because they are easily available and, in many cases, they are more potent and dangerous than marijuana. These products consist of plant material that has been impregnated with dangerous psychoactive compounds that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Synthetic cannabinoids are sold at a variety of retail outlets, in head shops and over the Internet. Brands such as “Spice,” “K2,” “Blaze,” and “Red X Dawn” are labeled as incense to mask their intended purpose. In 2012, a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported 11,406 emergency department visits involving a synthetic cannabinoid product during 2010. In a 2013 report, SAMHSA reported the number of emergency department visits in 2011 involving a synthetic cannabinoid product had increased 2.5 times to 28,531. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 5,205 calls related to human exposure of synthetic cannabinoids.
For the past several years, there has also been a growing use of, and interest in, synthetic cathinones (stimulants/hallucinogens) sold under the guise of “bath salts” or “plant food.” Marketed under names such as “Ivory Wave,” “Purple Wave,” “Vanilla Sky,” or “Bliss,” these products are comprised of a class of dangerous substances perceived to mimic cocaine, LSD, MDMA, and/or methamphetamine. Users have reported impaired perception, reduced motor control, disorientation, extreme paranoia, and violent episodes. The long-term physical and psychological effects of use are unknown but potentially severe. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 2,656 calls related to synthetic cathinone (“bath salts”) exposures in 2012 and overdose deaths have been reported as well.
These products have become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults and those who mistakenly believe they can bypass the drug testing protocols of employers and government agencies to protect public safety. They are sold at a variety of retail outlets, in head shops, and over the Internet. However, they have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human consumption or for medical use, and there is no oversight of the manufacturing process.
Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act
While many of the designer drugs being marketed today are not specifically prohibited in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986 (AEA) allows many of these drugs to be treated as controlled substances if they are proven to be chemically and/or pharmacologically similar to a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance.
DEA has used its emergency scheduling authority to combat both synthetic cathinones (the so-called “bath salts” with names like Ivory Wave, etc.) and synthetic cannabinoids (the so-called incense products like K2, Spice, etc.), temporarily placing several of these dangerous chemicals into Schedule I of the CSA. Congress has also acted, permanently placing 26 substances into Schedule I of the CSA in 2012.
For more information about this operation and synthetic designer drugs, visit www.dea.gov.