Two Florida men found guilty for role in sale of ‘spice’ in Hampton Roads

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According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, K2 or “Spice” is a mixture of herbs and spices that is typically sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredients in marijuana. (Courtesy DEA)
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, K2 or “Spice” is a mixture of herbs and spices that is typically sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredients in marijuana. (Courtesy DEA)

Two Florida men are each facing up to 79 years in prison after being found guilty for their part in a $21 million spice manufacturing and distribution scheme in federal court Monday.

Charles Burton Ritchie, 46 and Benjamin Galecki, 42, both of Pensacola, Fla., operated a company called “Zencense,” a Pensacola-based company that produced and sold smokable, synthetic cannabinoids called spice throughout 2012, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release.

A federal jury in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk found the two men guilty on Monday, the release said.

According to federal court records, Ritchie and Galecki were charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute schedule I controlled substances, use of a communication facility, interstate transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises and distribution and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances and controlled substance analogues.

“Spice is a dangerous mixture of ingredients that can be deadly,” said Dana J. Boente, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Often it is our young people who fall victim to these illegal drugs, obtaining them at gas stations and convenience stores without any idea how dangerous they can be. I want to commend our trial team and investigative partners for their terrific work on this case.”

Ritchie and Galecki were both indicted on Sept. 8, 2015 for their role in the multi-million dollar conspiracy, the release said.

The release said the men’s company, Zencense, sold several types of the synthetic marijuana, with blends named “Bizarro,” “Neutronium,” “Orgazmo” and “Sonic Zero.”

Their products contained XLR-11 and UR-144, which at that time were chemically similar to JWH-018, a schedule I controlled substance, the release said.

In December 2012, Ritchie and Galecki purported to sell their company to a third party in California, though they continued to exercise control over the company into 2013, the release said.

The new company’s name was ZenBio, according to the release.

Between August 2012 and April 2013, Zencense and ZenBio shipped about 1,000 kilograms of spice to the Hampton Roads area, including stores such as Hampton Pipe and Tobacco, a headshop in Hampton, and the Red Barn, a convenience store in Newport News.

“Spice wreaks havoc on the lives of its users,” said Clark E. Settles, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations in Washington, which oversees the Norfolk office that conducted the investigation into Ritchie and Galecki. “Consumers ingest these toxic chemicals for a short-term high, all too often to have devastating effects on their bodies. Today’s verdict underscores the hard work our special agents and law enforcement partners do to protect the people of Hampton Roads.”

Ritchie and Galecki each face a maximum sentence of 79 years in prison, although a judge does not need to sentence them to the maximum amount of time. Sentencing is scheduled for both men on May 22.

“Today’s verdict demonstrates the commitment of FDA and its law enforcement partners to aggressively pursue those who distribute potentially dangerous unapproved drugs, which poses a risk to the public health,” said Mark McCormack, special agent in charge of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations.