Former Iowa City Head Shop Owner Sentenced to 30 Years in Federal Prison for Selling Synthetic Drugs
A man who owned and operated a head shop in Iowa City in 2014 was sentenced yesterday to 30 years in federal prison.
Robert Carl Sharp, age 37, from Peoria, Illinois, received the prison term after an October 5, 2015 guilty plea to three counts of possessing with intent to distribute and conspiring to manufacture and distribute a synthetic drug called AB‑FUBINACA.
Court documents reflect that in 2012, in Peoria, Illinois, Sharp began selling, and later manufacturing, smokeable synthetic cannabinoid products which are commonly known as “Spice,” “incense,” or K2. 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 Sharp 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.
Sharp eventually moved to Iowa and opened a head shop called Pipe Dreamz in downtown Iowa City. He employed another individual, Wayne Watkins, to manufacture synthetic cannabinoid products called “Gods of Aroma,” “Bizarro,” “AK-47 Cherry Popper,” “Bling Bling Monkey,” “Super Nova,” and “Darkness.” Sharp would order synthetic cannabinoid chemicals and also purchase bulk quantities of dried damiana leaves, a plant material that resembles dried marijuana. Watkins would dilute the synthetic cannabinoid chemical in acetone, and then spray the mixture on the damiana leaves. Watkins would then add some flavoring and package the substances into the various brands sold by Sharp.
On May 7, 2015, Sharp’s store, his house and storage unit in Center Point, along with 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 synthetic cannabinoids that was designed for use in e‑cigarettes. Officers seized an active manufacturing lab in Watkins’s house.
At the plea hearing, Sharp stated he was told by the individuals from whom he purchased the substances that he was buying legal chemicals. He admitted at the plea hearing, however, that despite those statements from his suppliers, he believed there was a high probability that the substances he received and distributed were regulated by federal drug laws, but took deliberate actions to avoid learning of the true identity of the substances by not having them tested by a laboratory.
Sharp was sentenced in Cedar Rapids by United States District Court Chief Judge Linda R. Reade. Sharp was sentenced to 360 months’ imprisonment. A special assessment of $300 was imposed. Sharp was also ordered to pay forfeiture of $200,000 that represented proceeds of his drug dealing. He must also serve a 3‑year term of supervised release after the prison term. There is no parole in the federal system. Watkins was previously sentenced to 115 months’ imprisonment.
The investigation of Sharp and raids of his business, home, and other related locations in May 2014 were a part of a coordinated DEA takedown called Project Synergy Phase II. The second phase of Project Synergy, which began January 2014, culminated on May 7, 2014, in 29 states, and involved more than 45 DEA offices serving nearly 200 search warrants. On that date, authorities seized hundreds of thousands of individually packaged, ready-to-sell synthetic drugs as well as hundreds of kilograms of raw synthetic products to make thousands more. Additionally, more than $20 million in cash and assets were seized.
Sharp is being held in the United States Marshal’s custody until he can be transported to a federal prison.
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. The case was 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-31-1-LRR.
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