Two men have been indicted on 169 counts in an alleged synthetic cannabinoid enterprise that operated in the Denver area and across state lines and which authorities say included the manufacture, distribution and sale of laced herbal cigarettes.
Michael Jamal Whitney, 35, and John Palmer Swanson, 33, are accused of a litany of charges, including violations of the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act.
Other counts in the indictment include money laundering and distribution of synthetic cannabinoids, also known as “spice.”
The 120-page indictment was announced Wednesday by the 1st Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Jefferson County, which says the enterprise operated between April 2014 and July.
The grand jury alleges Whitney — operator of Integral Industries, LLC — and Swanson — who ran What U Tokin Bout, LLC — conspired to make “Next Best Thing,” a synthetic cannabinoid cigarette brand, and distribute it to smoke stores in Colorado and throughout the country.
Prosecutors say Whitney and Swanson are alleged to have worked together to develop and manufacture NBT. Officials claim Swanson’s company was primary distributor of the product and the two men conspired and agreed to keep their enterprise working, producing and selling NBT to the general public with knowledge that it contained synthetic cannabinoids.
“During the course of the investigation law enforcement officials in other states seized NBT from retail stores and tested the cigarettes for illegal substances,” the indictment says. “These seized NBT cigarettes tested positive for synthetic cannabinoids.”
It adds: “Despite the seizures by law enforcement, Integral and WUTB continued to distribute NBT herbal cigarettes.”
The indictment outlines thousands and thousands of dollars in transactions involving the men and synthetic cannabinoids. Product traced backed to the group was found in Denver, Jefferson County, Parker and Sterling, authorities say.
Further, law enforcement traced back synthetic cannabinoids in Utah, Wyoming, Texas, Ohio, Tennessee and Nebraska to the enterprise.
The indictment says Whitney’s synthetic cannabinoid-laced cigarrettes were sold in a variety of flavors and available for purchase in both five and 10 pack quantities.
Prosecutors say both Whitney and Swanson have been taken into custody. Each is being held in lieu of $1 million bail each and are set to be arraigned on Oct. 21.
The indictment was filed on Aug. 23 and the men were arrested two days later.
“This is an unusual situation to find illegal drugs following a legitimate, traditional retail supply route to consumers,” District Attorney Peter Weir said in a statement. “These herbal cigarettes were laced with a drug ‘spice’ which was not named on their ingredients list. In addition to being illegal, this poses a serious risk to public safety.”
Weir added: “The indictment of these two men and their businesses are a significant step in taking dangerous, illegal synthetic cannabinoids out of our community and out of the hands of children and adults.”