Former Employee of Iowa City Pipe Dreamz Head Shop Sentenced on Federal Synthetic Drug Charges
A man who worked for the owner of a head shop in Iowa City was sentenced to more than nine years in federal prison yesterday in federal court in Cedar Rapids.
Wayne Christopher Watkins, age 40, from Peoria, Illinois, received the prison term after an October 8, 2015 guilty plea to conspiring to manufacture and distribute a synthetic drug called AB-FUBINACA. The owner of Pipe Dreamz in Iowa City, Robert Carl Sharp, pled guilty on October 5, 2015, but has since filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
In a plea agreement, Watkins admitted that shortly after Sharp was released from federal prison in 2012, he began selling, and later manufacturing, smokeable synthetic cannabinoid products which are commonly known as “Spice,” “incense,” or K2. Watkins initially worked for Sharp at a store in Peoria, Illinois, called Smoke-N-Ink. Both men moved to Iowa in 2013 when Sharp opened a head shop called Pipe Dreamz in Iowa City.
Sharp would order synthetic cannabinoid chemicals and also purchase bulk quantities of dried damiana leaves, a plant material that resembles dried marijuana. Watkins admitted Sharp would purchase the chemicals, packaging materials, and plant material (typically damiana leaf), from various suppliers and then they would manufacture the product. Watkins admitted he would dilute the chemical in acetone, and then spray the mixture onto the leaves. Watkins would then add some flavoring and package the substances into the various brands sold by Sharp.
Watkins and Sharp sold these products in packets that marketed the substances as incense, and contained a warning that the products were “not for human consumption,” although both men admitted they knew the products were actually intended for human consumption. The synthetic cannabinoids in these products were actually research chemicals that have not been tested or approved as safe for human consumption, and which have unpredictable short-term effects and unknown long-term effects on users.
On May 7, 2014, Sharp’s store, his house and storage unit in Center Point, Watkins’s house in Cedar Rapids, and the Pipe Dreamz store in Iowa City, were all searched by federal law enforcement. During the searches, officers seized thousands of synthetic cannabinoid products, including the sprayed-on plant variety and a liquid form of the chemicals that was designed for use in e‑cigarettes. Officers seized an active manufacturing operation in Watkins’s house, as shown in photographs admitted at an earlier hearing, https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndia/file/782426/download
Watkins claimed Sharp told him that the chemicals they were using were legal. However, Watkins admitted he believed there was a high probability that the substances he received and distributed were regulated by federal drug laws and he deliberately avoided learning of the true identity of the substances.
Watkins was sentenced in Cedar Rapids by United States District Court Chief Judge Linda R. Reade. Watkins was sentenced to 115 months’ imprisonment. A special assessment of $100 was imposed. He must also serve a three-year term of supervised release after the prison term. There is no parole in the federal system.
The case was investigated by the Iowa City Police Department and as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program of the United States Department of Justice through a cooperative effort of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Task Force consisting of the DEA, the Linn County Sheriff's Office, the Cedar Rapids Police Department, the Marion Police Department, the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement, and the Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services; and the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Dan Chatham.
Court file information available https://ecf.iand.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/login.pl. The case file number is 15-CR-31-LRR.
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