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5 people charged with manufacturing and distributing fake marijuana in Colorado

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(Photo: MGN Online)

DENVER – Five residents of Larimer County were arrested on Friday for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute synthetic marijuana.

The group appeared in U.S. District Court in Denver on Monday, where they were advised of their rights and the charges pending against them.  They are due back in court on July 25, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. for arraignment and a detention hearing.

On Friday, HSI agents and Northern Colorado Task Force officers executed search warrants at seven locations, including residences and businesses in Fort Collins.  Confiscated in the search warrants were: money from several bank accounts used by the defendants (amounts to be determined), $26,000 in cash, 75 pounds of Spice and the chemicals and dry products to make Spice, thousands of packaging units of Spice for later sale, and several firearms.

The bust was a joint effort by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Northern Colorado Task Force.

Known by the street name Spice, the primary drug involved is JWH-018. According to charging documents, the defendants, Dien Le, Ponlue Pim, Pirun Pim, Ricky Pim, and Kenneth Barnes, knowingly and intentionally conspired to manufacture, possess with the intent to distribute, and to distribute mixtures or substances containing detectable amounts of JWH-018.

Investigators say the group operated the manufacturing and distribution ring from October 11, 2012 through April 30, 2013.

Defendant Barnes is accused of ordering JWH-018 from China, having it shipped to New York and then routed to Fort Collins. Barnes is also being charged with having a leafy green substance sent from San Antonio, Texas to Fort Collins.

The drug JWH-018 is manufactured in China without Food and Drug Administration oversight, and may contain substances with negative health effects.

“Spice is a very dangerous substance that is being used by people as young as teenagers,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh.  “When a person uses Spice they have no actual idea what they are putting into their body – as a key part of the product is made in China without regulatory controls.”

Investigators claim that the group would mix the substances together, add moisture, and after it dried had produced Spice. After packaging the product they would distribute it to head shops, gas stations and other local retain stores. Consumers would typically pay $10 for 1.5 grams or $20 for 3 grams of the drug.

Synthetic marijuana is illegal in the state of Colorado.

“Illicit smuggling schemes involving synthetic marijuana pose a growing threat to public health and safety,” said Kumar Kibble, special agent in charge of HSI Denver.  “Because these drugs are unregulated and untested, it is impossible to know what chemicals are being ingested, making them incredibly dangerous.  With these latest arrests, HSI and our law enforcement partners have struck a huge blow to the synthetic drug industry.”

Charges could result in penalties including up to 20 years in federal prison and fines up to $1,000 per count.

“This is another excellent example of federal and local law enforcement personnel working well together,” said Lt. Greg Yeager, Commander of the Northern Colorado Drug Task Force.  “The dismantling of this drug trafficking organization will have a lasting impact on the presence of illegal drugs not only in the City of Fort Collins, but across the nation.”

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Sibert.