In Jefferson City, Missouri, four co-conspirators pleaded guilty to their roles in a large-scale synthetic cannabinoid trafficking ring. The four individuals, according to the indictment, trafficked $6.6-million of synthetic cannabinoids. In addition to the drug trafficking charges, the defendants also faced money laundering and mail fraud charges. Despite a 14-count indictment packed with incriminating information, the prosecution dropped every drug-related charge against the Fulton County men.
The indictment charged 13 individuals as part of the aforementioned drug trafficking ring. Seven defendants, so far, pleaded guilty to either one or two charges. From Fulton County, 30-year-old Joshua Adam Sheets signed the first plea agreement. On December 20, he pleaded guilty to mail fraud conspiracy and participation in a money laundering conspiracy. One week later on December 27, the remaining Fulton County suspects pleaded guilty to the same charges. U.S. Magistrate Judge Matt J. Whitworth heard the plea agreement that Shawn Michael Browning, 26; Timothy Christopher Sandford, 30; and Brandon Derek Rader, 32, signed.
Three of the other accused individuals pleaded guilty on previous dates. Another Fulton County defendant, Dara Leanne Shirley, pleaded guilty to money laundering. Both Casey Dewayne Miller of Columbia and Billie L. Bruce of Jefferson City pleaded guilty to the synthetic cannabinoid distribution charges. As of December 28, 2016, little information exists on the status of any remaining defendants.
A 29-page indictment accused the suspects—13 in total—of operating a massive synthetic cannabinoid distribution ring. This scale distribution of controlled (and sometimes unscheduled) substances inherently brought charges of the same sort.
- Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud – Count One
- The mail fraud charges came from the group’s use of USPS, Fedex, and UPS for illegal purposes. First, the indictment explained, shipment of illicit products inherently qualifies as mail fraud. And second, the group shipped the cannabinoids in various packages labeled “not for human consumption.” Packages claimed to contain “incense,” “aromatherapy,” and “potpourri” but contained smoking blends instead.
- Conspiracy to Distribute a Controlled Substance – Count Two
- The first conspiracy to distribute charge came from a list of non-controlled substances—in the literal sense. The cannabinoids in the first distribution charge: XLR-11, 5F-PB-22, PB-22, AB-PINACA, FUB-144, NM-2201, 5F-AMB, THJ-2201, ABCHIMINACA, and 5F-AB-PINACA. The DEA, at the time, included only few of the above substances in any scheduled classification. However, The Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act automatically enlists any chemical analog of a Schedule I or Schedule II drug in the Schedule I list.
- Conspiracy to Distribute a Controlled Substance – Count Three Through Seven
- Geniunely illegal substances in a mixture or medium “containing a detectable amount
of AB-PINACA, XLR-11, UR-144, AB-FUBINACA, and AB-CHIMINACA.” These charges ranged from conspiracy to distribute, pure distribution, and possion with intent to distribute.
- Maintaining a Place for the Purpose of Storing and Distributing a Controlled Substance – Counts Eight Through Eleven
- The defendants sold the incense blends to customers via smokeshops in Missouri. Shawn Browning and Adam Sheets sold through “S&J Smoke Shop.” Christopher Standford and Brandon Rader used “Inscentives Resale.” Law enforcement raided both locations and found the illegal cannabinoids in each shop.
- Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering – Count Twelve
- The four defendents who recently pleaded guilty opened several bank accounts under various business names. Rader, for instance opened accounts at “United Credit Union checking account in Fulton, Missouri, for First Stop Last Stop Pawn and Aromatherapy.” The money laundering also linked directly to the mail fraud charge. According to US law, profiting from the usage of interstate pathways constitutes money laundering.
The four men from Fulton county, according to the indictment, earned $6,656,843.00 from conducting mail fraud. In Browning’s case, his Plea Agreement required the acknowledgement that he, himself, contributed to $2,112,142.35 of the total funds accumulated. All $2,112,142.35 is subject to forfeiture—this includes liquid finances, property, and any additional interest. Additionally, any money traceable to Count 12 is subject to forfeiture. This includes $9,581.00 that authorities seized during a raid on the defendant’s smokeshop. The other Fulton County defendants agreed to the terms of the plea deal as well, including the forfeiture of profits.
Relevent court documents can be found on Scribd. “Transcript of Hearing on Arraignment and Detention,” The Indictment, The Plea Agreement, and The Change of Plea.