The recent sentencing of a 57-year-old resident of Missouri to federal prison brought to close a long-running drug conspiracy case that involved multiple states and 30 different defendants.
The defendant in the final case was the leader of the drug operation, which supplied synthetic drugs to stores all over the country. Synthetic drugs, known sometimes as bath salts or herbal incense, have properties that are very similar to their banned counterparts.
However, their effects can be far more dangerous and addictive. Bath salts have been reported to cause everything from violent behavior and self-harm to heart and renal failure. They're blamed for numerous deaths across the country.
According to prosecutors, the group that distributed the drugs, lead by the most recent defendant to be sentenced, was so bold that it once operated largely out in the open. They simply hid its products under various labels that included such benign descriptions as potpourri or even watch cleaner.
In reality, the group was importing synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones from overseas and spraying them on edible or smokable substances. They then repackaged their products in containers disguised as other, non-edible products.
The defendant who directed the action did try to cover his tracks. He admonished his cohorts not to keep records of their activities and sales, while steadfastly maintaining to authorities that he was doing nothing illegal by selling his "aromatherapy products."
He even claimed he had legal advice on the issue. Just the same, he urged his fellow dealers to be wary of police, to use rental cars when traveling in order to avoid being followed and to talk in code on their phones.
In the end, however, the products were seized and a co-conspirator got sloppy. Although the defendant had made millions in a short period of time, he wasn't able to permanently elude the law. His sentence is for more than 15 years in prison.
Cases like this illustrate the danger of trying to work around existing drug laws with creative new substances. The odds are good that some of his co-defendants bought the defendant's story about the "legal advice" he was getting.
Steer clear of any scheme that involves drugs, even if they're new and someone claims they're legal. The best defense to a drug trafficking charge is to avoid being involved in the first place.