Emergency room nurse Lanay Washington and her colleagues in the University of Colorado Hospital ER have treated their share of patients suffering the ill effects of synthetic cannabinoids. (Kathryn Scott Osler, Denver Post file)

Colorado ‘Spice’ case: Man in synthetic pot syndicate gets 3½ years

A federal judge in Denver U.S. District Court on Thursday sentenced a Florida man to 3½ years in prison for selling an unproven formula of synthetic pot without knowing whether it would harm anyone.

U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer also sentenced the man, Daniel Bernier, 28, to three years probation.

Earlier in the afternoon, Brimmer sentenced Chicago-area resident Altaf Hussain Dandia to five years probation in connection to the same synthetic pot syndicate. The judge did so in recognition that Dandia was a lesser player in a conspiracy in which nine people have been charged with crimes, he said.

So far, four of the nine have entered guilty pleas.

More on synthetic marijuana: Remember last fall, when New Hampshire declared a state emergency over “Spice”?

Federal prosecutor Jaime Peña said Bernier sprayed chemicals that he imported from China onto leaves, packaged the “Spice” with a warning label that said it was “not meant for human consumption” and then sold it — targeting young people — under provocative names such as “Sexy Monkey.”

“Nobody knew what the effect of these chemicals would be, other than it would make people high,” Peña said.

“Spice” has been linked to serious illnesses, hallucinations and even death. It was sold at gas stations and corner shops.

In August and September 2013, 221 people were admitted into Denver-area and Colorado Springs emergency rooms after using “Spice.” Some victims tried to light themselves on fire, and one person tried to cut his head off, officials said. A 15-year-old Aurora boy died.

“My actions were ignorant. They were reckless,” Bernier, who was dressed in a suit, told the judge.

Brimmer denied a defense request to lower the sentence because of mitigating circumstances, including the fact that Bernier provided detailed explanations of how the syndicate operated. The judge explained that “the big picture” was that Bernier sold a dangerous product without knowing its impact.

“That was fire Mr. Bernier was willing to play with,” the judge said.

Brimmer noted that when “Spice” made people sick, Bernier groused about lost revenue as customers sought refunds for unused product.

Bernier already forfeited $1.8 million as well as three properties in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Kirk Mitchell: 303-954-1206, denverpost.com/coldcases or twitter.com/kirkmitchell

This story was first published on DenverPost.com