El Paso, Texas, Men Enter Guilty Pleas in New Mexico in Spice Trafficking Case
ALBUQUERQUE – Juan C. Chavez, 39, of El Paso, Texas pled guilty today in federal court in Las Cruces, N.M., to participating in a conspiracy to distribute controlled substance analogues, commonly known as “spice.” Co-defendant David Molinar, 34, also of El Paso, Texas, entered a guilty plea on Aug. 19, 2016, in the same case to the unlawful sale of drug paraphernalia. Under the terms of their plea agreements, Chavez will be sentenced to 18 months in prison and Molinar will be sentenced to 15 months in prison. Each will serve a term of supervised release to be determined by the court after completing his prison sentence.
Chavez, Molinar and co-defendants Tasha S. Garcia, 30, of El Paso, and Kenia N. Liberato, 27, of Sunland Park, N.M., were charged in an eight-count indictment filed on Sept. 16, 2015. The indictment charges all four defendants with conspiring to distribute “spice” from June 2012 through Sept. 2015. It also charged Molinar and Chavez with maintaining a place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing and using “spice,” and three counts of possession of “spice.” Molinar, Chavez and Garcia also were charged with distributing “spice” and selling drug paraphernalia in May 2014, and distributing “spice” in June 2015. According to the indictment, the defendants committed the crimes in Doña Ana County, N.M.
During today’s proceedings, Chavez pled guilty to Count 1 of the indictment charging him with conspiracy to distribute controlled substance analogues. In entering the guilty plea, Chavez admitted that from June 2012 through Sept. 2015, he owned and operated a head shop known as “Station Recreation.” While operating “Station Recreation,” Chavez agreed and acted with his co-defendants to distribute “spice.”
Molinar entered a guilty plea on Aug. 19, 2016, to Count 7 of the indictment, which charged him with selling drug paraphernalia. In his plea agreement, Molinar admitted that he was the co-owner of a smoke shop in Sunland Park, and that on May 29, 2014, one of his employees sold drug paraphernalia at the smoke shop.
Sentencing hearings for Chavez and Molinar have yet to be scheduled.
The charges against Garcia have been dismissed, and Liberato is participating in a pretrial diversion program.
This case was investigated by the El Paso office of the DEA, Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Border Patrol, Anthony (N.M.) Police Department, El Paso Police Department, El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, Texas Attorney General’s Office and Charleston, W.V. Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark A. Saltman and John Balla of the U.S. Attorney’s Las Cruces Branch Office are prosecuting the case.
The controlled substance analogues charged in the indictment are commonly referred to as synthetic cannabinoids or “spice.” According to the DEA, over the past several years, there has been a growing use of synthetic cannabinoids. Smoke-able herbal blends marketed as being “legal” and providing a marijuana-like high have become increasingly popular because they are easily available and, in many cases, more potent and dangerous than marijuana. These products consist of plant material that has been coated with dangerous psychoactive compounds that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. These substances, however, have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for human consumption, and there is no oversight of the manufacturing process. Synthetic cannabinoids often are labeled as incense to mask their intended purpose.