Manufacturers of “Spice” Sentenced for Operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise and Other Crimes

Two defendants were sentenced Wednesday to 20 years each in federal prison for crimes committed in connection with the manufacture of synthetic cannabinoid products (commonly referred to as “spice”), operating a continuing criminal enterprise, manufacturing and distributing controlled substance analogues, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, maintaining a drug premises, and possession of a listed chemical with the intent to manufacture a controlled substance.

On July 3, 2019, following a ten-day federal jury trial in Las Vegas, Nevada, Charles Burton Ritchie, 49, of Park City, Utah, and Benjamin Galecki, 46, of Pensacola, Florida, were found guilty of 24 counts, including operating a continuing criminal enterprise, manufacturing and possessing with the intent to distribute controlled substance analogues, and money laundering, among other related charges.

“Charles Burton Ritchie and Benjamin Galecki operated a nationwide criminal enterprise, selling dangerous drugs worth millions of dollars that contained illegal ingredients imported from China,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.  “These sentences demonstrate the department’s commitment to aggressively pursuing criminals who seek to circumvent U.S. drug laws by selling dangerous drugs that threaten the health of our communities across the nation.”

“Our office appreciates the opportunity to work closely with our law enforcement partners and the national Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces to dismantle this illegal drug-manufacturing operation,” said U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Trutanich of the District of Nevada.  “Our joint efforts have helped curb the flow of spice into communities across the country.”

“Working collaboratively with our justice partners to rid our communities of spice and other toxic cannabinoid products helps save lives,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Dan Neill of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Las Vegas Field Office.  “Disrupting this organization sends a clear message that we will not tolerate those who prey on our communities to further their criminal activity.”

“Ritchie and Galecki benefited greatly at the detriment of our community and others by putting illegal drugs on the streets and profiting from it,” said Special Agent in Charge Tara Sullivan, IRS Criminal Investigation.  “IRS Criminal Investigation is proud to serve on the side of justice to clean up the streets.”

According to court documents and evidence presented during trial, from March 21 to July 25, 2012, Ritchie and Galecki owned and managed Zencense Incenseworks, a company that (a) manufactured smokable synthetic cannabinoid products and (b) marketed and sold them as “potpourri,” “incense,” or “aromatherapy.”  Ritchie and Galecki rented a warehouse in Las Vegas for the sole purpose of manufacturing these synthetic products, which contained the dangerous chemical XLR-11 — a controlled substance analogue.  At the Las Vegas warehouse, a Zencense employee would mix XLR-11 with acetone and liquid flavoring, and then apply the chemical mixture to dried plant material.  Next, the employee would mail the compounded mixture to Ritchie and Galecki in Pensacola, Florida, where other workers would place the spice into small retail bags.

The defendants sold their products — with suggestive brand names such as “Bizarro,” “Orgazmo,” “Headhunter,” and “Defcon 5 Total Annihilation” — to smoke shops across the United States.  From June 1 to July 25, 2012, Ritchie and Galecki were responsible for manufacturing and distributing approximately 4,000 pounds of spice, and they made approximately $1.61 million selling XLR-11 spice manufactured in Nevada.

In two separate cases that were transferred to the District of Nevada, the defendants were each sentenced for money laundering and unlawful monetary transactions.  Ritchie received nine years in federal prison for charges brought in the Southern District of Alabama and nine years in federal prison for charges brought in the Eastern District of Virginia.  Galecki received eight years in federal prison for charges brought in the Southern District of Alabama and eight years in federal prison for charges brought in the Eastern District of Virginia.  All sentences will run concurrent to each other.  Additionally, the defendants were ordered to forfeit approximately $2.5 million as a result of their illegal enterprise in the District of Nevada.

This case was investigated by the IRS-Criminal Investigation, the DEA, and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.  Trial Attorneys Cole Radovich and Acting Assistant Deputy Chief Jason Ruiz of the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Keller and Daniel Hollingsworth of the District of Nevada prosecuted the case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Griffin of the Southern District of Alabama and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eric Hurt and Kevin Hudson of the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the separate cases that were transferred to the District of Nevada.

The case was investigated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF).  The OCDETF program is a federal multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional task force that supplies supplemental federal funding to federal and state agencies involved in the identification, investigation, and prosecution of major drug trafficking organizations.  The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, and money laundering organizations, and those primarily responsible for the nation’s illegal drug supply.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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    The federal government has long identified the financial services sector as a critical component of the nation's infrastructure. The sector includes commercial banks, securities brokers and dealers, and providers of the key financial systems and services that support these functions. Altogether, the sector holds about $108 trillion in assets and faces a variety of cybersecurity-related risks. Key risks include (1) an increase in access to financial data through information technology service providers and supply chain partners; (2) a growth in sophistication of malware—software meant to do harm—and (3) an increase in interconnectivity via networks, the cloud, and mobile applications. Cyberattacks that exploit risks can occur against either public or private components of the sector. For example, in February 2016, hackers were able to install malware on the Bangladesh Central Bank's system through a service provider, which then directed the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to transfer money to accounts in other Asian countries. This attack resulted in the theft of approximately $81 million. Several industry groups and firms are taking steps to enhance the security and resilience of the U.S. financial services sector through a broad range of cyber risk mitigation efforts. These efforts include coordinating within the sector through groups such as the Financial Services Sector Coordinating Council and the Financial Systemic Analysis and Resilience Center, conducting industrywide incident response exercises, sharing threat and vulnerability information, developing and providing guidance in conducting risk assessments, and offering cybersecurity-related training. The Departments of Homeland Security and the Treasury and federal financial regulators are also taking multiple steps to support cybersecurity and resilience through risk mitigation efforts. Among other things, federal agencies provide cybersecurity expertise and conduct simulation exercises related to cyber incident response and recovery. Treasury, as the designated lead agency for the financial sector, plays a key role in supporting many of the efforts to enhance the sector's cybersecurity and resiliency. For example, Treasury's Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions serves as the chair of the committee of government agencies with sector responsibilities, and Treasury coordinates federal agency efforts to improve the sector's cybersecurity and related communications. However, Treasury does not track efforts or prioritize them according to goals established by the sector for enhancing cybersecurity and resiliency. Treasury also has not fully implemented GAO's previous recommendation to establish metrics related to the value and results of the sector's risk mitigation efforts. Further, the 2016 sector-specific plan, which is intended to direct sector activities, does not identify ways to measure sector progress and is out of date. Among other things, the sector-specific plan lacks information on sector-related requirements laid out in the 2019 National Cyber Strategy Implementation Plan . Unless more widespread and detailed tracking and prioritization of efforts occurs according to the goals laid out in the sector-specific plan, the sector could be insufficiently prepared to deal with cyber-related risks, such as those caused by increased access to data by third parties. For decades, the federal government has taken steps to protect the nation's critical infrastructures. The financial services sector's reliance on information technology makes it a leading target for cyber-based attacks. Recent high-profile breaches at commercial entities have heightened concerns that data are not being adequately protected. Under the Comptroller General's authority, GAO initiated this review to (1) describe the key cyber-related risks facing the financial sector; (2) describe steps the financial services industry is taking to share information on and address risks to its sector; and (3) assess steps federal agencies are taking to enhance the security and resilience of the sector. GAO analyzed relevant reports and information to determine risks and mitigation efforts and compared agency efforts against federal policies and guidance. GAO also interviewed officials at 16 private sector entities, two self-regulatory organizations, and eight federal agencies, including the Department of the Treasury. GAO is making recommendations to Treasury to track and prioritize the sector's cyber risk mitigation efforts, and to update the sector's plan with metrics for measuring progress and information on how sector efforts will meet sector goals and requirements, including those contained within the National Cyber Strategy Implementation Plan. Treasury generally agreed with the recommendations. For more information, contact Nick Marinos at (202) 512-9342 or marinosn@gao.gov or Michael Clements at (202) 512-7763 or ClementsM@gao.gov.
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