News and Press Releases

Three Indicted, Businesses Raided in DEA-Coordinated "Project Synergy" Synthetic Drug Distribution Take Down

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 26, 2013

Contact Person: Lance Crick (864) 282-2100

Columbia, South Carolina -----United States Attorney Bill Nettles announced today at a press conference held in Greenville, South Carolina, that Steven David Petty, age 42, and his wife, Sirena Petty, age 39, both of Gaffney, South Carolina, were arrested earlier this morning pursuant to a indictment charging them with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of a mixture or substance containing a detectible amount of UR-144 and XLR-11, which are both Schedule I Controlled Substance Analogues, as defined by Title 21, United States Code, 802(32), knowing that said substances were intended for human consumption as provided in Title 21, United States Code, Section 813, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 841(a) and 841(b)(1)(C);all in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 846. A third individual, Jessica Owen Weast, age 27, of Ellenboro, North Carolina, a former employee of the Pettys, has also been charged in this indictment and was arrested in North Carolina today. The businesses operated by the Pettys, Carousel Music in Gaffney, South Carolina, and Smokers Edge in Shelby, North Carolina, were also listed in the indictment. The indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation which notices the defendants of a potential money judgment of $1,000,000. The maximum penalty the three defendant could receive is 20 years imprisonment and a $1,000,000 fine. The Pettys appeared before United States Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn D. Austin at 2pm this afternoon for arraignment and bond purposes and Weast’s hearing is scheduled for 4 pm today.

Pursuant to the indictment and arrests of the defendants, DEA agents executed several federal search warrants in concert this morning, to include a search of the Pettys’ residence in Gaffney as well as search of both Carousel Music and Smokers Edge. Additionally, federal seizure warrants were executed on some nine bank accounts associated with the Pettys, resulting in the seizure of over $600,000. Agents found and seized what they believe to be over $800,000 in cash in the Petty’s residence. The investigation included several purchases of controlled substance analogues by an undercover DEA agent at Smokers Edge. Controlled substance analogues are commonly referred to as synthetic or designer drugs [in common parlance, K2, Spice, and bath salts].

These investigations and arrests were part of a nation-wide initiative. Local and federal law enforcement in South Carolina joined a national crack down known as “Project Synergy,” a DEA enforcement action dealing with synthetic drug trafficking. The largest-ever synthetic drug take down to date, the DEA has executed over 300 search warrants along with more than 150 arrest warrants in recent weeks.

In addition to the arrests made in the Upstate, the DEA Charleston Resident Office has conducted an enforcement campaign targeting synthetic cannabinoid retailers distributing controlled substance products. Investigators targeted suspect businesses, employed undercover buys of controlled substances, and conducted financial investigations. Prosecutors and agents then prepared and executed search & seizure warrant to disrupt the distribution of synthetic cannabinoid from the target businesses. On May 21, 2013, agents executed six federal search warrants at five retail locations (Exchange Factor, Factor Five, El Cheapo Convenience Store, Smoke Signals and Up in Smoke) identified as distributors of synthetic cannabinoids (Spice) and a residence utilized to store synthetic cannabinoids in Charleston, South Carolina. Additionally, agents executed three seizure warrants on business accounts associated with the laundering of illegal proceeds gained from the distribution of synthetic cannabinoids. Agents located and seized synthetic cannabinoids from the aforementioned locations resulting in the seizure of approximately 72 kilograms of synthetic cannabinoids, 45 gross grams of heroin, 5 weapons, approximately $45,000 in U.S Currency and approximately $80,000 from three bank accounts. In summary, with regard to the Charleston arm of the initiative, DEA has made 3 arrests, and seized $162,334.27 in cash and $689,104.44 in financial instruments.

These and other investigations continue.

Mr. Nettles said that the indicted individuals are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

The Carousel Music and Smokers Edge case was investigated by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Cherokee County (South Carolina) Sheriff’s Office, the Cleveland County (North Carolina) Sheriff’s Office, and assisted by Homeland Security Investigations (Greenville Office) as well as by members of the Greenville DEA Taskforce, which includes officers from the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office, the Anderson City Police Department, the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, the Greenville Police Department, the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office, and the South Carolina Highway Patrol. . The case is assigned to Assistant United States Attorney Andrew B. Moorman of the Greenville office for prosecution. The Exchange Factor, Factor Five, El Cheapo Convenience Store, Smoke Signals and Up in Smoke cases were investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force which includes agents from the City of Charleston Police Department, Charleston County Sherriff’s Office, Dorchester County Sherriff’s Office, Hampton County Sherriff’s Office, North Charleston Police Department, Summerville Police Department, South Carolina Highway Patrol, and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. These cases are assigned to Assistant United States Attorney Peter Philips for prosecution.

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