Synthetic ‘Spice’ Kingpins Get 2-Decade Sentences in Las Vegas

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Photo Credit: Pensacola News Journal

Two defendants were sentenced Wednesday to 20 years each in federal prison for crimes committed in connection with the manufacture of synthetic cannabinoid products (commonly referred to as “spice”), operating a continuing criminal enterprise, manufacturing and distributing controlled substance analogues, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, maintaining a drug premises, and possession of a listed chemical with the intent to manufacture a controlled substance.

On July 3, 2019, following a ten-day federal jury trial in Las Vegas, Nevada, Charles Burton Ritchie, 49, of Park City, Utah, and Benjamin Galecki, 46, of Pensacola, Florida, were found guilty of 24 counts, including operating a continuing criminal enterprise, manufacturing and possessing with the intent to distribute controlled substance analogues, and money laundering, among other related charges.

“Charles Burton Ritchie and Benjamin Galecki operated a nationwide criminal enterprise, selling dangerous drugs worth millions of dollars that contained illegal ingredients imported from China,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “These sentences demonstrate the department’s commitment to aggressively pursuing criminals who seek to circumvent U.S. drug laws by selling dangerous drugs that threaten the health of our communities across the nation.”

“Our office appreciates the opportunity to work closely with our law enforcement partners and the national Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces to dismantle this illegal drug-manufacturing operation,” said U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Trutanich of the District of Nevada. “Our joint efforts have helped curb the flow of spice into communities across the country.”

“Working collaboratively with our justice partners to rid our communities of spice and other toxic cannabinoid products helps save lives,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Dan Neill of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Las Vegas Field Office. “Disrupting this organization sends a clear message that we will not tolerate those who prey on our communities to further their criminal activity.”

“Ritchie and Galecki benefited greatly at the detriment of our community and others by putting illegal drugs on the streets and profiting from it,” said Special Agent in Charge Tara Sullivan, IRS Criminal Investigation. “IRS Criminal Investigation is proud to serve on the side of justice to clean up the streets.”

According to court documents and evidence presented during trial, from March 21 to July 25, 2012, Ritchie and Galecki owned and managed Zencense Incenseworks, a company that (a) manufactured smokable synthetic cannabinoid products and (b) marketed and sold them as “potpourri,” “incense,” or “aromatherapy.” Ritchie and Galecki rented a warehouse in Las Vegas for the sole purpose of manufacturing these synthetic products, which contained the dangerous chemical XLR-11 — a controlled substance analogue. At the Las Vegas warehouse, a Zencense employee would mix XLR-11 with acetone and liquid flavoring, and then apply the chemical mixture to dried plant material. Next, the employee would mail the compounded mixture to Ritchie and Galecki in Pensacola, Florida, where other workers would place the spice into small retail bags.

The defendants sold their products — with suggestive brand names such as “Bizarro,” “Orgazmo,” “Headhunter,” and “Defcon 5 Total Annihilation” — to smoke shops across the United States. From June 1 to July 25, 2012, Ritchie and Galecki were responsible for manufacturing and distributing approximately 4,000 pounds of spice, and they made approximately $1.61 million selling XLR-11 spice manufactured in Nevada.

In two separate cases that were transferred to the District of Nevada, the defendants were each sentenced for money laundering and unlawful monetary transactions. Ritchie received nine years in federal prison for charges brought in the Southern District of Alabama and nine years in federal prison for charges brought in the Eastern District of Virginia. Galecki received eight years in federal prison for charges brought in the Southern District of Alabama and eight years in federal prison for charges brought in the Eastern District of Virginia. All sentences will run concurrent to each other. Additionally, the defendants were ordered to forfeit approximately $2.5 million as a result of their illegal enterprise in the District of Nevada.

This case was investigated by the IRS-Criminal Investigation, the DEA, and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Trial Attorneys Cole Radovich and Acting Assistant Deputy Chief Jason Ruiz of the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Keller and Daniel Hollingsworth of the District of Nevada prosecuted the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Griffin of the Southern District of Alabama and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eric Hurt and Kevin Hudson of the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the separate cases that were transferred to the District of Nevada.

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