A federal judge in Denver sentenced the 68-year-old leader of an international drug ring that marketed a dangerous synthetic form of marijuana called Spice to five years in prison on Monday.
John Bowen, of Las Vegas, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States, distribution of controlled substances and money laundering.
Bowen was one of nine members of a ring that distributed the synthetic cannabinoid who were arrested in May 2014. All pled guilty and Bowen, whose sentence includes forfeiture of $1.8 million and some property in Florida, was the last to be sentenced.
The drug led to 220 Spice-related emergency room visits in the Colorado Springs and Denver metro areas in the fall of 2013. Some victims tried to light themselves on fire, and one person tried to cut his head off, authorities said after the bust.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared the hospitalizations a health epidemic at the time. Although most of the victims were between the ages of 12 and 29, one person was 70.
There were hospitalizations in other states as well.
“Spice is a dangerous concoction of chemicals and can be deadly,” Steven Osborne, Acting Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation, Denver Field Office, said in a release after the sentencing.
“By using our financial expertise to follow the money and working with other law enforcement partners we were able to dismantle the operation and get Spice off the streets which in the end will save lives.”
Sentences given to other members of the ring ranged from probation to 42 months in prison.
Bowen’s sentencing by U.S. District Judge Philip A. Brimmer followed an eight-month investigation by federal, state and local law enforcement .
In May 2014, a federal grand jury in Denver returned indictments against the ring.