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Press Release

Spice Manufacturers Convicted for Selling Spice in Hampton Roads

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Virginia

NORFOLK, Va. – Charles Burton Ritchie, 46, Benjamin Galecki, 42, both of Pensacola, Florida, were convicted today by a federal jury on charges related to their respective roles in a $21 million spice manufacturing and distribution conspiracy.

“Spice is a dangerous mixture of ingredients that can be deadly,” said Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Often it is our young people who fall victim to these illegal drugs, obtaining them at gas stations and convenience stores without any idea how dangerous they can be. I want to commend our trial team and investigative partners for their terrific work on this case.”

“Spice wreaks havoc on the lives of its users,” said Clark E. Settles, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Washington, which oversees the Norfolk office that conducted this investigation. “Consumers ingest these toxic chemicals for a short-term high, all too often to have devastating effects on their bodies. Today’s verdict underscores the hard work our special agents and law enforcement partners do to protect the people of Hampton Roads.”

“Today’s verdict demonstrates the commitment of FDA and its law enforcement partners to aggressively pursue those who distribute potentially dangerous unapproved drugs, which poses a risk to the public health,” said Mark McCormack, Special Agent in Charge of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations.

Ritchie and Galecki were indicted on Sept. 8, 2015. According to court records and evidence presented at trial, Ritchie and Galecki operated Zencense, a Pensacola-based company that manufactured smokable synthetic cannabinoids, commonly known as “spice,” throughout 2012. Ritchie and Galecki’s company gave their spice blends such names as Bizarro, Neutronium, Orgazmo, and Sonic Zero. Their products contained XLR-11 and UR-144, which at that time were analogues of JWH-018, a Schedule I controlled substance. In Dec. 2012, Ritchie and Galecki purported to sell their company to a third party in California, though they continued to exercise control over the company into 2013. The new company’s name was ZenBio.

Between August 2012 and April 2013, Zencense and ZenBio shipped a total of approximately 1,000 kilograms of spice to the Hampton Roads area. Zencense and ZenBio spice was sold at Hampton Pipe and Tobacco, a headshop in Hampton, as well as at the Red Barn, a convenience store in Newport News, among other locations.

Ritchie and Galecki each face a maximum penalty of 79 years in prison when sentenced on May 22. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Clark E. Settles, Special Agent in Charge of (HSI) Washington; Joseph Cronin, Inspector in Charge of the Washington Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; Mark McCormack, Special Agent in Charge of Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations; Terrance Salt, Chief of the Hampton Police Division; Richard W. Myers, Chief of the Newport News Police Department; and Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, Superintendent of the Virginia State Police, made the announcement after the verdict was accepted by U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eric Hurt and Kevin Hudson are prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 4:15-cr-18.

Updated January 23, 2017

Drug Trafficking