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Bath salts' crackdown results in 17 Phoenix-area warrants (Operation Log Jam)

  1. Basoodler
    Seven Valley residents were among 90 people arrested during a national crackdown on the designer-drug industry that sells "spice" and "bath salts" and is blamed for increases in poisoning cases and hospital admissions.

    Federal and local authorities executed 17 search warrants in Maricopa County that targeted manufacturers, smoke shops and individuals believed to be responsible for making or selling simulated cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana, said Doug Coleman, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Phoenix field office.

    "This operation has disrupted the entire nationwide synthetic designer-drug industry, from manufacturers and distributors to retailers,'' Coleman said Thursday. "We will continue to use all the tools available to us to bring to justice those who peddle these poisons and harm our society."

    In Arizona, more than $3million in assets, 3,322 pounds of synthetic cannabinoids (spice), and 733 pounds of synthetic cathinones (bath salts) were seized along with 13 firearms and 12 vehicles.

    Called Operation Log Jam, the raids were conducted by the DEA and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with assistance by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and local and state agencies.

    The crackdown comes despite state legislative efforts and federal bans that have failed to stop the sale and use of the drugs and amid reports of dramatic increases in emergency-room admissions and poisoning cases, Coleman said.

    National bath-salts-related poisoning cases reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers jumped to 6,000 in 2011 from about 300 in 2010, said Stephanie Siete, education director for Community Bridges in Mesa.

    "People are playing roulette with this stuff by altering the chemicals," Siete said. "They don't even know what they are going to get when they take the drug."

    The number of patients seeking help in emergency rooms is also on the rise, increasing from more than 10,000 last year from about 300 three years ago, said Coleman.

    Bath salts can cause death, hallucinations and violent behavior inusers whose body cores heat up as high as 108 degrees, Arizona emergency-room doctors have reported

    Last week, Tempe police warned about the danger of bath salts after arresting two men, one who they say ran naked through a neighborhood and another who they say crashed his vehicle into an apartment-complex gate

    "This is a very serious and dangerous thing," said Tempe police Sgt. Jeffrey Glover.

    Makers of the toxic concoctions have stayed one step ahead of federal bans and legislation by tweaking the molecules to create a similar but legal designer drug that retailers sell for as little as $10 a packet, authorities say.

    by Laurie Merrill and Lesley Marin - Jul. 26, 2012 10:03 PM
    The Arizona Republic-12 News Breaking News Team


  1. Basoodler
    Federal 'bath salts' sting in Arizona nabs 5

    sting involving federal agents posing as members of the Hells Angels has led to the arrest this week of five men associated with an Arizona network that authorities say is responsible for producing tens of millions of dollars worth of a hallucinogenic drug marketed innocuously as "bath salts."

    Doug Coleman, special agent in charge of the DEA in Arizona, said 17 search warrants were served here and about $3 million in assets were seized as part of a nationwide crackdown against a burgeoning synthetic designer-drug industry that has attempted to stay ahead of authorities by modifying the chemical makeup of its potent drugs. More arrests are expected in the operation.

    According to an affidavit by federal agent Ken Henry, on May 20 three federal agents met with 25-year-old Joshua Lowenstein in a north Phoenix hotel suite to talk about "Eight Ballz." In conversations that were secretly videotaped and recorded, the phony bikers said they needed 20 kilos (44 pounds) for an upcoming motorcycle rally on the East Coast.

    A month later, on June 20, the affidavit says federal task-force operatives consummated the deal in a parking lot on Thunderbird Road. Lowenstein allegedly arrived in a Honda and removed a black bag from his trunk containing 2,500 powder packets, which he exchanged for $5,600 cash.

    A concealed bug captured the suspect as he was asked whether the packets labeled "Eight Ballz Ultra-Premium Glass Cleaner" were safe. He allegedly answered, "Well, I can't guarantee anything, given the nature of the product ... Be careful with that stuff."

    The transaction represents just one scenario in the nationwide crackdown, Operation Log Jam.
    During raids in 109 cities, the Drug Enforcement Administration said, 91 people were arrested and agents seized the equivalent of 18 million drug packets.

    Lowenstein was one of five Valley men charged federally with attempting to distribute the hallucinogen PVP for human consumption. Other defendants were identified as: Nicholas Zizzo, 25, of Phoenix; Clinton Strunk, 42, of Mesa; Michael Lane, 51, of Cave Creek; and Andrew Freeman, 25, of Tempe.
    Coleman said the $3 million seized reflected only a fraction of the Arizona network's earnings. "You're talking tens of millions of dollars, easily," he said.

    None of the defendants or their attorneys could be reached.

    If convicted, the suspects face up to 20 years in prison with maximum fines of $1 million.

    But, as noted in the DEA affidavit, statutes governing designer drugs can be fuzzy because each time Congress bans a particular product, vendors come up with a slightly different formula. Prosecution problems are exacerbated because manufacturers mark the powders as "not for human consumption" and identify them as glass cleaners, incense or other household products.

    Coleman said the marketing methods are a ruse: "These guys are fully aware of what they're selling ... and what it's being used for."

    The government's 47-page complaint in U.S. District Court includes recorded conversations with defendants telling undercover agents that the powders they sell are lawful, but still could bring the wrath of federal narcotics agents.

    Zizzo, owner of Phoenix-based Consortium Distribution LLC, was recorded fretting about the welfare of his 18 employees, according to the complaint: "... DEA could come in, they could arrest every single one of us," he said. "They can drag us out, put us in a cell and hold us there. God knows we aren't doing anything illegal."

    Zizzo purportedly designed and named Eight Ballz and another bath salt known as Kratom, which he likened to artificial heroin. An online listing by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office shows Zizzo sought a trademark for the Eight Ballz brand.

    When ingested, snorted or smoked, bath salts and some other synthetic drugs have been linked to suicides, medical problems and anti-social behavior.

    A 1986 law, the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act, sought to eliminate loopholes by banning products that mimic illegal narcotics regardless of their precise chemical formula. Nevertheless, the drugs have proliferated.

    The Arizona criminal complaint says Freeman appeared on a May episode of Dateline NBC and touted a drug he designed known as "Bliss." On the show, Freeman described himself as "a mad (expletive) scientist." Asked about earnings, he said, "We're over a quarter-million dollars" during the first four months of 2011.

    Federal agents declined to discuss details of the undercover operation, which involved surveillance teams, informants and clandestine recordings.

    Although the designer-drug market has not historically been associated with violence, Coleman said elaborate sting operations require planning and moxie.

    "Anytime you, as a law-enforcement officer, are portraying yourself as a drug dealer or buyer ... you're going into an uncontrolled situation and, if anything happens, you have to handle it," he said.

    The DEA's Phoenix spokeswoman, Ramona Sanchez, said Operation Log Jam sends a message to those involved with an illicit industry: "The question is not whether we're going to come after you, it's when."

    by Dennis Wagner - Jul. 27, 2012 11:18 PM
    The Republic | azcentral.com

  2. Basoodler
    Five Valley men face federal charges in Phoenix synthetic drug takedown

    PHOENIX, AZ -- On July 25, 2012, five individuals were arrested in the Phoenix area as part of the first-ever nationwide law enforcement action against the synthetic designer drug industry responsible for the production and sale of synthetic drugs that are often marketed as bath salts, Spice, incense, or plant food. Operation Log Jam consisted of law enforcement activities conducted in more than 90 U.S. cities that targeted every level of the synthetic designer drug industry, including retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers.

    Clinton Strunk, 42, of Mesa, was charged with attempting to distribute a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone (a-PVP), a Schedule I controlled substance analogue, knowing that the substance was intended for human consumption. Michael Lane, 51, of Cave Creek, Andrew Freeman, 25, of Tempe, Nicholas Zizzo, 25, of Phoenix, and Joshua Lowenstein, 25, of Phoenix, were each charged with aiding and abetting in the distribution of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of a-PVP, a Schedule I controlled substance analogue, knowing that the substance was intended for human consumption.

    More specifically, three complaints filed in federal district court in Phoenix allege that Strunk attempted to distribute, and Lane, Freeman, Zizzo, and Lowenstein aided and abetted in the distribution of, Eight Ballz Ultra-Premium Glass Cleaner, Amped Exuberance Powder/Lady Bug Attractant, White Water Rapid Exuberance Powder/Ladybug Attractant, Snowman Glass Cleaner, Heavenly Soak Energy Soak and Hookah Cleaner, Lady Blanc, and Bullet Glass Cleaner, all of which contained a detectable amount of a-PVP, knowing that the substances were intended for human consumption.

    "Synthetic drugs are intended to produce effects similar to, and can be as dangerous as, the harmful drugs they mimic," said U.S. Attorney John S. Leonardo. "The U.S. Attorney's Office will continue to work with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to keep these dangerous substances out of our communities."

    "This operation has disrupted the entire nationwide synthetic designer drug industry, from manufacturers and distributors to retailers," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Doug Coleman. "DEA and our partners have seized thousands of pounds of these dangerous substances and millions of dollars in illegal proceeds, and we will continue to use all the tools available to us to bring to justice those who peddle these poisons and harm our society."

    While many of the designer drugs being marketed today that were seized as part of Operation Log Jam are not specifically prohibited in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986 (AEA) allows these drugs to be treated as controlled substances if they are proven to be chemically and/or pharmacologically similar to a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance. A number of cases that are part of Operation Log Jam will be prosecuted federally under this analogue provision, which specifically exists to combat these new and emerging designer drugs.

    DEA has used its emergency scheduling authority to combat both synthetic cathinones (the so-called bath salts) and synthetic cannabinoids (the so-called incense products like K2, Spice, etc.), temporarily placing several of these dangerous chemicals into Schedule I of the CSA. Congress has also acted, permanently placing 26 substances into Schedule I of the CSA.

    In 2010, poison centers nationwide responded to about 3,200 calls related to synthetic "Spice" and "bath salts." In 2011, that number jumped to more than 13,000 calls. Sixty percent of the cases involved patients 25 and younger.

    Convictions for attempting to distribute, and aiding and abetting the distribution of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of a-PVP, knowing that the substance was intended for human consumption, carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $1 million fine, or both. In determining an actual sentence, the assigned U.S. district court judge will consult the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide appropriate sentencing ranges. The judge, however, is not bound by those guidelines in determining a sentence.

    A criminal complaint is simply the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity and raises no inference of guilt. An individual is presumed innocent until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

    The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, with assistance from the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, the Mesa Police Department, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Surprise Police Department, the Tempe Police Department, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, and the Scottsdale Police Department. The prosecution is being handled by Don Pashayan and Marni Guerrero, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, District of Arizona, Phoenix.

    Aug. 5 2012
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