JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Tom Larson, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a Columbia, Mo., man pleaded guilty in federal court today to his role in a conspiracy to smuggle chemicals into the United States from the People’s Republic of China, which were used to manufacture synthetic cannabinoids, commonly referred to as K2.
Wesley Adam Upchurch, 30, of Columbia, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Matt J. Whitworth to conspiracy to smuggle goods into the United States.
By pleading guilty today, Upchurch admitted that he and other conspirators purchased various synthetic cannabinoids in powder form from China between March 1, 2011, to March 27, 2014. The packages containing these imported chemicals often bore misleading labeling, including manifests or declarations, regarding the contents, in order to avoid detection by law enforcement officers. These chemicals were combined with other ingredients, such as generic potpourri, then packaged and sold at various retail outlets.
Upchurch admitted that he wire transferred a total of $250,500 to vendors in China as payment for the illegal shipments. Periodically, Upchurch and others ordered new chemicals in an attempt to avoid federal drug scheduling regulations, while still producing synthetic cannabinoids which created a “high” and had similar physiological effects as controlled substances.
Upchurch is among 18 defendants who have pleaded guilty in this case, four of whom have been sentenced.
Co-defendant Kent Allen Holtz, 46, of Kaiser, Mo., pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to commit mail fraud and awaits sentencing. Holtz admitted that he distributed synthetic cannabinoids through Artistic Impressions, Fat Tobes Tattoo and Straight Aces. Holtz distributed approximately 310,500 grams (3.1 kilograms) of synthetic cannabinoids. Holtz charged his customers an average price of $2 per gram. Between April 30, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2012, Holtz deposited proceeds from these sales in the aggregate amount of approximately $534,093.
Holtz and others solicited and filled wholesale orders of Kryp2nite, Jolly Roger, Aces & Eights and other packaged synthetic drugs to Dynamic Scents, owned by co-defendants Alexander Vladimir McMillin, also known as “Shasha,” 33, Matthew Ashby Hawkins, 42, Patrick Ross Hawkins, 35, and Molly Jane (Hawkins) Charmichael, 40, all of Columbia – who have also pleaded guilty to the mail fraud conspiracy and await sentencing. Dynamic Scents then resold those products throughout the state of Missouri and elsewhere, to retailers who sold those products to end users.
Holtz also sold synthetic cannabinoids to numerous businesses, including Bocomo Bay, Inc., Puff-n-Snuff, Smellgoodz, and Mozark Products.
Between Feb. 2, 2010, and May 25, 2012, Holtz caused ThirdEye (and its successor entities, Thirdeye, Inc., and 3RDI, LLC) to mail 86 parcels containing Kryp2nite, a synthetic cannabinoid product. Payments for these Kryp2nite shipments totaled $194,700.
The synthetic drugs manufactured by Holtz were labeled as “incense,” “herbal incense,” “potpourri,” “therapeutic potpourri” and other misleading substances that were “not for human consumption” when, in fact, these products were synthetic drugs intended for consumption in order to obtain a physiological “high.” When sold at retail stores, these products were often located next to products and paraphernalia used for smoking the substances.
Under the terms of today’s plea agreement, Upchurch is subject to a sentence of five years in federal prison without parole. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.
This case is being prosecuted by Supervisory Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael S. Oliver. It was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, IRS-Criminal Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, the Columbia, Mo., Police Department, the MUSTANG Task Force, the LANEG Drug Task Force, the Cole County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department, the Morgan County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department, the Camden County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department, the Camdenton, Mo., Police Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Kirksville, Mo., Police Department, the North Missouri Drug Task Force, the Schuyler County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department, the Edina, Mo., Police Department, the Linn County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department and the Brookfield, Mo., Police Department.