Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of Alabama unsealed an indictment last week against two Florida-based entrepreneurs, Charles Burton Ritchie and Benjamin Galecki, for their role in the manufacture and widespread distribution of spice in 2012 and 2013.
Allegedly, the pair created at least two companies in the Pensacola area to import hallucinogenic chemical compounds from China, then infused the chemicals with organic material and repackaged it for human consumption.
Ritchie and Galecki were arrested in early October, according to a report on WEAR-TV, which noted Galecki was the CEO of Pensacon, a popular fantasy role-playing convention, and also a board member on the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce. Ritchie, according to WEAR, also partnered with Galecki in a film production company that sold a documentary at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival .
Alabama prosecutors are claiming jurisdiction because the pair operated a call center in Robertsdale, but also shipped the chemicals through the state and even supplied their final product to retailers here. Named, but not charged in the indictment, is another member of the alleged conspiracy, “Kyle” of The Green Beavis lifestyle store on Wildwood Drive in Mobile, who allegedly bought a $1,500 kilogram of “AVALANCHE Vanilla Loose Bulk” product from the defendants in September 2012.
The indictment also names several other people involved with the conspiracy, including employees, retailers and suppliers. One, Anthony Notolli of California, pleaded guilty in May 2014 after being indicted there on similar charges. Notolli agreed to forfeit more than $6.6 million to the U.S. government after admitting to distributing 24 tons of spice nationwide. Notolli and another conspirator allegedly bought Ritchie and Galecki’s first spice manufacturing company, ZIW, in December 2012, but continued to do business with the defendants as they started a new spice-related company.
They are being charged with mail and wire fraud along with violations of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which is enforced by the Food and Drug Administration and intended to protect consumers from mislabeled products.
The indictment claims, “ … the packaged synthetic drugs were intended for human consumption although they carried a ‘not for human consumption’ label in an attempt to thwart the FDA and law-enforcement regarding the product’s status as drugs …”
It further charges the defendants for “falsely and misleadingly referred to their synthetic drug products as ‘spice,’ ‘incense,’ ‘potpourri,’ and other erroneous names when, in fact, such products were synthetic drugs intended for consumption in order to obtain a physiological effect of a ‘high.’”
The defendants’ also shipped a product called “Bizarro” to retailers in Tennessee, Minnesota and Maryland and other “misbranded drugs” to a distributor in Dallas, Texas.
Prosecutors are seeking the forfeiture of $17.2 million in proceeds from the defendants, along with property in Utah and a 2013 Lexus SUV.
According to press release announcing Notolli’s plea, President Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act into law in 2012, making 26 types of synthetic cannabinoids, including AM-2201, Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substance Act. Law enforcement agencies in the Mobile area stepped up enforcement against spice after a rash of hospitalizations in 2013 and 2014.
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