Crime & Courts

KBI raids synthetic drug distribution ring

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation said Thursday it had raided a synthetic drug distribution ring operating in Emporia, El Dorado, Arkansas City and Wichita, seizing more than $100,000 in cash, drugs and property.

Two arrests were made in connection with a seven-month undercover investigation of the sale synthetic cannabinoids XR-11 and Ur-144 – commonly known as potpourri – at businesses in the towns, according to news release from the KBI. Deputy director Kyle Smith said evidence collected during searches in El Dorado and Emporia led investigators to Wichita, where undercover agents bought the drug at a retail business near 21st and Woodlawn.

Smith said the store is a point-of-sale for the drug, but that there is no other known connection to the drug operation in Wichita. Smith would not comment on whether the ring was active in other states, but said the drugs were imported from China.

The name of the business was not released.

“One reason we are kind of pleased with this is that this is a distribution group,” Smith said. “… It’s nice to get someone selling on the street to kids, that’s great but if you can get to the organization behind it, that’s even better.”

Potpourri, a synthetic form of marijuana, is commonly called K2 or K3 and "spice." It’s also known as "syn smooth," "blueberry meltdown" and "head trip." The herb-based product was sold openly in coffeehouses, gas stations and convenience stores until Kansas lawmakers prohibited the chemicals used to produce the drug in 2010. Legislators banned the entire class of chemical compounds used in its manufacture last year after drugmakers varied its chemical makeup to circumvent the law.

Benjamin Huff of El Dorado and Emporia resident Jonathan Pope were arrested on suspicion of possession and distribution of a controlled substance and drug tax violation. More arrests are expected in Kansas, Smith said, but he declined to offer specifics.

On Monday, law enforcement officers bought the drugs at Blitzed Detox Shop in Emporia, and at El Dorado businesses All Out Detox and Price Right Smoke Shop/JKL Liquor, the KBI said. Evidence found at those locations led authorities to the homes of business owners and to other businesses in Wichita and Arkansas City. Agents also raided a suspected packaging operation at C&J Wholesale in El Dorado, according to the KBI.

Law enforcement also investigated financials records and people admitted to emergency rooms who used the drugs, the release said.

More than $100,000 in cash, five cars, a boat, a motorcycle, tools and equipment were seized. Several pounds of synthetic cannabinoid-treated potpourri were also taken as evidence.

The investigation is a joint operation between the KBI, El Dorado Police Department, Lyon County Sheriff’s Office and the Kansas Department of Revenue, according to the release.

Contributing: The Kansas City Star