Feds squeeze synthetic drug shipments

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 7, 2012 - 1:26 PM

Two dozen packages of synthetic drugs from out-of-state are seized as postal inspectors take advantage of new laws in Minnesota, Wisconsin.

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Ingredients for making bath salts.

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Federal investigators have ramped up their attack on synthetic drugs entering Minnesota and western Wisconsin, seizing more than two dozen shipments from South Carolina, Texas and Nevada, as well as several intrastate shipments, the Star Tribune has found.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which conducted the seizures, isn't talking about its investigations, most of which remain active. Jeff Long, a spokesman, said only that it's the mission of the service to keep the mail safe.

Postal inspectors in St. Paul have jurisdiction in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, and their seizures follow laws passed last year in both states that ban certain chemicals commonly found in synthetic marijuana and in stimulants sold as "bath salts" or "plant food."

Synthetic marijuana and chemical analogs for such stimulants as methamphetamine, cocaine and MDMA (Ecstasy) have led to a rash of overdoses in recent years. Minnesota banned the sale of these drug analogs as of last July 1. The Legislature passed a bill this session designed to make prosecution easier. Wisconsin passed a similar ban that took effect July 11. In addition, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has classified several chemicals commonly used to mimic psychoactive drugs as controlled substances.

Hoffman man charged

Richard Jacobs, 37, of Hoffman, Minn., appears to be an early target of the new law. According to a federal search warrant filed July 18, Jacobs previously had purchased several packages of synthetic drugs from Southern Burn, a South Carolina firm. He also bought synthetics from a Texas firm, WTF Herbals, also known as We're the Future Herbals.

Jacobs nearly overdosed after snorting bath salts for three days with his girlfriend. That led to criminal drug possession charges in Grant County District Court. He pleaded guilty last week to a gross misdemeanor and was sentenced to a year in jail.

Kent Marshall, his attorney, said Thursday that his client was already in prison on another charge or he would have been inclined to fight the synthetic drug charges on constitutional grounds. Marshall said that when Jacobs ordered the bath salts, they were still legal to possess in Minnesota.

Since Jacobs' arrest in July, U.S. postal inspectors have filed at least 14 more search warrants related to packages of synthetic drugs shipped from Greenville, S.C., and at least nine shipments that listed return addresses in Houston.

Ravi Patel, 26, of Greenville, is the registered agent for Southern Burn and another South Carolina company called Revolution Distribution. Both entities listed the same UPS Store as a return address on shipments containing synthetic drugs. The packages were sent to various addresses in the Twin Cities and Rochester, as well as in Tomah and Black River Falls, Wis.

Trail to Texas and Nevada

Patel did not respond to messages seeking comment. Calls to Southern Burn's phone number are picked up by an answering service. The service answers "The Aroma Shop" and "Amsterdam High," which have websites that appear to be online distributors of bath salts and synthetic marijuana.

Justin L. Patterson, a convicted felon from Milwaukee who appears to have moved to Sugar Land, Texas, is listed in business records as the contact person for WTF Herbals. The company lists a Houston post office box as its address and does business through wtfherbals.com. Patterson, 30, said Sunday that he believed his products were legal in every state. He said he's recalling all shipments to Minnesota and will make no further sales in the state until the issue is straightened out.

Investigators said in court filings that they traced nearly two dozen shipments from another Texas company, JMR Enterprises Unlimited, to at least 10 names and addresses in Roseau and Warroad. The packages appear to have been purchased through an online "head shop" called the Supply Boys, court documents say.

Nine packages listed return addresses in Houston, but they appear to have actually been shipped from Henderson, Nev. The other package listed a return address in Las Vegas, actually a mailbox at a UPS Store.

Joshua M. Riley, a principal in JMR Enterprises, declined to comment on the seizures when reached Thursday by phone. Asked whether he was in Nevada or Texas, he chuckled.

"I'm around," he said.

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493

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