In early June, we wrote about the sentencing of several members of a US-based cannabinoid trafficking ring. At the time of the update, nearly all the defendants named in the indictment had been sentenced. The leaders of the organization were still waiting for their sentencing court dates.
Not long after the latest update, both of the main owners of the Olathe-based business pleaded guilty to one count of each of the following: conspiracy; producing and selling misbranded drugs; producing and selling counterfeit drugs; and conspiracy to launder money. In less than two years, the Dua generated more than $16 million in synthetic cannabinoid and substituted cathinone sales.
Tracy Picanso, a 61-year-old from Olathe, Kansas, and Roy Ehrett, a 59-year-old also from Olathe, were the kingpins in the $16 million operation. They owned at least nine companies associated with the synthetic (mostly cannabinoid) industry. According the 2014 indictment, the two owned “Retailing Specialists, Innovative Products 4U, The Outer Edge, Lakeridge Holdings, Monster Warehouse, Monster Distribution, Monster, 3P Distribution and Life Source.”
Including the businesses owned by co-conspirators, the operation involved more than 15 companies. They also controlled 40 or more bank accounts. From Kansas, they sold products to resellers in Missouri, Texas, Georgia, California, and Colorado. The resellers—or at least the owners of larger reselling operations—also found themselves in the indictment for spreading the cannabinoids even further.
The most recent co-defendant to be sentenced, Michelle Reulet of Montgomery, Texas, received five years in prison. Her partner, Michael Myers, received a two year sentence only months prior. He lucked out as he already spent two years in the county jail awaiting sentencing and thus received time served that equaled his prison sentence. Reulet, though, admitted that she knew her customers used the products to get high, despite the “not for human consumption” warning label. Myers said nothing of the sort.
Picanso and Ehrett pleaded guilty to selling legal highs, but if that had not occurred, authorities gathered ample evidence for a justified conviction. For instance, law enforcement found product “testers” who tested the blends made by Picanso and Ehrett. Some of the “herbal incense” blends were sold under the names “Pump It, Head Trip, Black Arts, Grave Digger, Voodoo Doll, and Lights Out.”
“Without FDA oversight, unapproved and counterfeit drugs that are produced and marketed outside the Federal system present the prospect of serious harm to the public’s health,” said Special Agent in Charge Spencer E. Morrison, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations. This is one case the FDA “police” helped investigate because the products, although labelled “not for human consumption,” were actually intended for human consumption, investigators explained. And since they were intended for human consumption, the products needed dosage guidelines. Naturally, since the products were legal if not for human consumption, no dosage guidelines were included on the packaging.
If dosage guidelines had been included on the “spice” packages, the operation would have been just as illegal. Although, possibly less so; the prosecution argued that the “not for human consumption” labels were designed to attract buyers.
The FDA also claimed the duo sold drugs that were advertised as Viagra replacements. “Selling illegal prescription drugs, such as counterfeit Viagra and Cialis, to an unsuspecting public that believes them to be part of the legitimate drug supply chain, overseen by the FDA, places at risk the public’s health,” said Catherine A. Hermsen, another special agent of the FDA police. “We commend our colleagues at the Drug Enforcement Administration and the United States Attorney’s Office for their contributions in unraveling the multiple components of this complex case.”
Picanso and Ehrett were both sentenced to 54-months in federal prison.