Three Members of International Synthetic Drug-Trafficking Organization Arrested in Los Angeles
Three members of an international synthetic drug-trafficking organization—responsible for selling synthetic drugs with brand names like Twilite, Passion Sense, Stoopid, Black Diamond, and Platinum—were arrested in Los Angeles on Tuesday. The federal charges were unsealed in the Northern District of New York today. According to documents also unsealed in the Southern District of Indiana today, a leader of the organization has already pleaded guilty to federal drug-trafficking charges.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian of the Northern District of New York and U.S. Attorney Josh J. Minkler of the Southern District of Indiana made the announcement.
“The manufacture and distribution of synthetic narcotics is a growing problem that is especially dangerous to the young people of our communities,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “Drug traffickers peddle these illegal synthetic drugs with harmless sounding names to impressionable youth who are typically unaware of the harmful chemicals they actually are ingesting. The Criminal Division will continue to partner with local and federal law enforcement around the nation to stem the flow of these unsafe and illegal substances and bring the traffickers to justice.”
“Despite the efforts of these drug traffickers to evade prosecution through the creation of synthetic drugs, these indictments demonstrate the ability of law enforcement to effectively respond to those who market these dangerous substances,” said U.S. Attorney Hartunian. “We will continue to use all our resources to combat this national problem.”
“Synthetic narcotics are not the harmless product traffickers and users make them out to be,” said U.S. Attorney Minkler. “They are mind-altering substances that cause psychosis and even death with our nation’s youth.”
Andrew Raymond, 36, Brian Requena, 37, and Zefren Michael, 35, all of Los Angeles, California, were indicted in the Northern District of New York for conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute and to distribute controlled substance analogues, intending that those analogues be used for human consumption. Raymond and Requena were also charged with a money laundering conspiracy.
In a related case, Roger Upchurch, 66, of Indianapolis, Indiana, pleaded guilty on March 11, 2015, before Chief U.S. District Judge Richard L. Young in the Southern District of Indiana, to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance analogue and money laundering. Upchurch also forfeited over $2 million in cash and other assets obtained from his illegal activities, including a house, two cars and a Sweetwater pontoon boat. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.
As part of his guilty plea, Upchurch admitted that he was a leading member of the international drug-trafficking organization, working in the Los Angeles-area, to produce and distribute thousands of kilograms of smokable synthetic cannabinoids (SSCs) with brand names such as Twilite, Passion Sense, Stoopid, Black Diamond and Platinum. SSCs, also popularly known as “Spice,” are smokable drugs that are designed to mimic marijuana. The synthetic chemicals used to produce these SSCs were imported from China, then applied to a plant-like substance and sold like marijuana in a smokable form.
According to allegations in the indictment, Raymond, Requena, Michaels, and others conspired with Upchurch to manufacture SSCs for distribution throughout the United States. In an effort to avoid detection and prosecution by law enforcement, the drug-trafficking organization allegedly mislabeled and fraudulently labeled packages with “not for human consumption” and other false statements, including falsely marketing their products as potpourri, incense or aroma.
The charges in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
This investigation is part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program, and these cases were supported under the DEA Special Operations Division’s Project Synergy. These cases are the result of investigative efforts led by the DEA’s Indianapolis Field Office, with valuable assistance provided by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
The case in the Southern District of Indiana is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Brian Sardelli of the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew Brookman and Debra Richards of the Southern District of Indianapolis. The case pending in the Northern District of New York is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Carla Freedman.