Feds join fight against synthetic drugs with indictments of 3 in Springfield

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A federal grand jury indicted three members of a family from Springfield for their roles in what investigators call a conspiracy to distribute synthetic drugs, commonly referred to as K2, including a product called Kryp2nite.  Investigators believe the Franklin family has hauled in around $6.7 million from the sales of those products in the past three years. 

With those funds, investigators believe, Brandon, Douglas and Caitlyn Franklin have bought real estate and vehicles, paid off mortgages of relatives and associates, and opened investment and retirement accounts.

“This indictment marks the first-ever federal prosecution for synthetic drugs in the Western District of Missouri,” said Acting U.S. Attorney David Ketchmark in a news release.  “Those who profit from the sale of these dangerous and illegal substances are nothing more than drug traffickers.  They may think they can skirt the letter of the law by tweaking a molecule or changing a chemical formula.  But together with our law enforcement partners, we are combating this alarming trend and we will bring them to justice.

“We’ve seen a nationwide trend of these designer drugs being sold in legitimate-looking packages with catchy titles,” Ketchmark said.  “They are marketed as benign products, but in reality they are just as dangerous – and just as illegal – as the drugs they mimic.”

Brandon Franklin, 26, his father, Douglas Franklin, 54, and his sister, Caitlyn Franklin, 24, all of Springfield, were charged in a three-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Springfield last Tuesday.  The indictment was unsealed and made public on Friday following the arrests and initial court appearances of the defendants.

The Franklins were in the Greene County jail on Friday evening.  They'll likely stay there until there next appearance in federal court, scheduled for next Wednesday.  A magistrate could decide then whether to keep them in custody or set a bond.

As part of this ongoing investigation, law enforcement officers executed numerous seizure warrants and search warrants in the Springfield area on Friday.  Court documents show they also got warrants for property in Redding, Calif.; Springfield, Ore.; and Rogersville, Mo., that they think the Franklins bought with the money they earned from selling the synthetic drugs.

Investigators believe the Franklins were involved in the scheme to distribute K2 through their Springfield business, ThirdEye, since October 2009.  K2 is the common name for a controlled substance analogue, which is any product with a chemical structure substantially similar to the chemical structure of a controlled substance and which has similar effects on the central nervous system as a controlled substance.

“This indictment demonstrates the commitment of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations to protect the public from those who cause the interstate distribution of misbranded drugs,” said Special Agent in Charge Patrick Holland of FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, Kansas City Field Office.  “The FDA will continue to aggressively pursue perpetrators of such acts, and ensure that they are punished to the full extent of the law.”

“We play a unique role in federal law enforcement’s counter-drug effort in that we target the profit and financial gains of those peddling illegal drugs,” said Steve Howard, acting special agent in charge of IRS Criminal Investigation.  “One of the government’s most powerful tools is the ability to seize assets associated with drug-related crime.”

The three defendants are charged together with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

According to the indictment, the Franklins engaged in a mail fraud scheme by selling and shipping (via FedEx) Kryp2nite products that were falsely labeled as “incense” and “not for human consumption.”  Kryp2nite is a synthetic cannabinoid, the indictment says, which contains compounds intended for human consumption as a drug. 

Investigators believe Kryp2nite products were shipped to several businesses, including:

  • Mr. Nice Guy, 1338 W. Sunshine St., Springfield;
  • Good Vibes, 506 College St., Springfield;
  • Sunshine 1, 1207 W. Kearney St., Springfield;
  • SRB Green Energy, 1620 E. Sunshine St., Springfield;
  • the home of Allen Gibson, 3341 S. Robberson Ave., Springfield;
  • Mr. Nice Guy, 2316 S. Main St., Joplin;
  • Ray’s Country Store, RR1 Box 89, Mountain Grove; and
  • Country Express, 221 N. Maple Ave., Mountain Grove.

The alleged money laundering conspiracy is related to conducting financial transactions involving the proceeds of unlawful activity, which were designed to conceal or disguise the nature, location, source, ownership and control of the proceeds. 

The federal indictment contains several forfeiture provisions, which would require the defendants to forfeit to the government any property derived from the proceeds of the alleged offenses, including a money judgment of $6,760,041; real estate in Springfield, Rogersville, Mo., Springfield, Ore., and Redding, Calif.; a 2010 Toyota Tacoma and an INTE enclosed trailer; the funds contained in several bank accounts totaling more than $535,000; and investment funds totaling more than $318,000.

Synthetic Designer Drugs

Over the past several years, smokable herbal blends marketed as being “legal” and providing a marijuana-like high have become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults, because they are easily available and, in many cases, they are 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 synthetic cannabinoids are sold at a variety of retail outlets, in head shops and over the Internet. Brands such as Spice, K2, Blaze, and Red X Dawn are labeled as incense to mask their intended purpose.

Another class of synthetic drugs, synthetic cathinones (stimulants/hallucinogens) are sold under the guise of “bath salts” or “plant food.” Marketed under names such as Ivory Wave, Purple Wave, Vanilla Sky, or Bliss, these products are comprised of a class of dangerous substances perceived to mimic cocaine, LSD, MDMA, and/or methamphetamine.  Users have reported impaired perception, reduced motor control, disorientation, extreme paranoia, and violent episodes. The long-term physical and psychological effects of use are unknown but potentially severe.

These products have become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults and those who mistakenly believe they can bypass the drug testing protocols that have been set up by employers and government agencies to protect public safety. They are sold at a variety of retail outlets, in head shops, and over the Internet. However, they have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human consumption or for medical use, and there is no oversight of the manufacturing process.

While many of the designer drugs being marketed today are not specifically prohibited in the Controlled Substances Act, the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act allows these drugs to be treated as controlled substances if they are proven to be chemically and/or pharmacologically similar to a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance.  This analogue provision specifically exists to combat these new and emerging designer drugs.

Ketchmark cautioned that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.

This case is being prosecuted by Supervisory Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael S. Oliver. It was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations, IRS-Criminal Investigation, the Jasper County Drug Task Force, the South Central Drug Task Force, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Springfield, Mo., Police Department the Newton County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department and the and the Greene County, Mo., Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

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Portions of this report are from a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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