A 22-year-old Champlin man was charged Wednesday with possessing nearly 77,000 vape cartridges loaded with highly concentrated THC that were confiscated from a Coon Rapids home in what authorities are calling the largest seizure of its kind in state history.
Valentin V. Andonii was charged in Anoka County District Court with two first-degree drug counts, one for trafficking and another for possession.
Bail was set at $1 million for Andonii with conditions that he remain in Minnesota and surrender his passport. In setting bail, Judge Kristin Larson said Andonii's alleged activities present "extremely serious public safety consequences."
Larson also pointed out that Andonii is on probation for a felony drug conviction and has a pending felony case involving him allegedly fleeing a state trooper who had stopped him in November on suspicion of drunken driving.
In the meantime, Andonii remains jailed as of Wednesday afternoon. A message was left with his attorney seeking a response to the allegations.
The 76,972 cartridges collectively held more than 185 pounds of the active ingredient in marijuana and were seized Monday from a condominium in the 3600 block of Coon Rapids Boulevard with packaging illustrated with younger users in mind. Some sported famous cartoon characters or themes of sweet flavors.
Unlike legally purchased medical marijuana products that are tested by state regulators, health experts said the ingredients inside illicit vape cartridges aren't always clear.
The bust came amid a nationwide health scare triggered by nine vaping-related deaths, including one in Minnesota of a patient older than 65 who died in August after a prolonged hospitalization. Overall in Minnesota, state epidemiologists have counted 43 confirmed and probable cases of vaping-related illness, and another 24 are under review. All 43 individuals reported smoking THC e-cigarette products, but many also used nicotine.
Nearly 29,000 of the cartridges seized Monday were found in a Cadillac Escalade and 30,000 more in the attached garage next to the luxury SUV, according to the criminal complaint, which said authorities also gathered up nearly $145,000 from the residence and another $23,800 in counterfeit currency.
Authorities first got wind of the Minnesota trafficking operation in July from a confidential informant, who told law enforcement that the suspect "sells large quantities of THC cartridges, commonly in the thousands," according to a search warrant affidavit.
An undercover officer from the Northwest Metro Drug Task Force purchased vape cartridges from Andonii while under surveillance by other team members, who then followed the man to the home, the charges read.
A search of the residence and nearby vehicles Monday yielded many of the cartridges in the garage but also in each bedroom and near the living room, according to a search warrant inventory filed in District Court. Also seized from the property were THC gummies, prerolled marijuana cigarettes and marijuana vials.
Court records show that Andonii has three convictions for drug-related crimes, two of them felonies. His most recent drug conviction has him on probation until March 2021.
Next-door neighbors were unaware of the arrest or the bust and described Andonii and his 20-year-old girlfriend as model residents who rarely, if ever, get deliveries. Neighbors said they had not noticed any suspicious behavior at the condo complex.
Staff writer Liz Sawyer contributed to this report. Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482