SPRINGFIELD – Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced last week that a Springfield man and two Kirbyville men have been indicted by a federal grand jury for their roles in a conspiracy to distribute synthetic marijuana, commonly referred to as K2.
Travis E. Butchee, also known as “Donkey,” 37, of Springfield, and Michael J. Saguto, 42, and Christian L. Turner, 45, both of Kirbyville, were charged in a six-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Springfield on Wednesday, June 12. The indictment replaces a federal criminal complaint that was filed against Butchee and Saguto on May 17, adding Turner as a co-defendant and additional charges.
Butchee opened The Man Cave, a retail business at 1927 S. Glenstone in Springfield, in February 2013. Butchee and Saguto are the owners of Southern Spice, LLC and Saguto is the owner of Blues Away, a head shop and novelty store in Memphis, Tenn. Turner was employed by Saguto at Blues Away.
The federal indictment alleges that Butchee, Saguto and Turner participated in a mail fraud conspiracy from March 1, 2011 to May 16, 2013. They allegedly devised a scheme to defraud the Food and Drug Administration and to defraud the public in order to profit from false claims that synthetic marijuana products (such as Blazed, Red Eyed, Donkey Punch, Jolly Grape Giant, South of the Tracks, Baby Face, Scarface, Hillbilly Hay and others) – which were mailed or delivered by commercial carriers – were “incense” or “potpourri” and “not for human consumption.” In reality, the indictment says, these substances were synthetic cannabinoids that contained controlled substances and were intended for human consumption as a drug.
The indictment also alleges that Butchee, Saguto and Turner participated in a conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance. They allegedly manufactured and distributed synthetic cannabinoids using ingredients obtained through the mail from China and Thailand.
Butchee and Saguto are also charged with three counts of maintaining a place for the purpose of unlawfully storing and distributing a controlled substance. They allegedly used residences in Kirbyville, Merriam Woods and Springfield to store and distribute synthetic marijuana.
Turner is also charged with being a felon in possession of firearms. Turner, having been convicted of a felony, allegedly possessed a Ruger .22-caliber rifle, a Marlin 30-30 caliber rifle, a Rossi .243-caliber rifle with an interchangeable 20-gauge barrel, a Remington 12-gauge shotgun and a Remington .270-caliber rifle.
The indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation, which would require Butchee, Saguto and Turner to forfeit to the government any property obtained from the proceeds of the alleged mail fraud and drug-trafficking conspiracies, including a money judgment of $280,490 as well as $31,580 that was seized by law enforcement officers, a Hummer H2 and several firearms.
According to an affidavit filed in support of the original criminal complaint, Southern Spice manufactured synthetic cannabinoids under various labels, which was distributed to several businesses for resale. Search warrants were executed from January to December 2012 at several businesses – including Doobies (at two Springfield locations), Zak’s Place in Springfield, Beer and Bottle liquor store in Hollister, and Big E’s in Lebanon, Mo. – at which law enforcement officers seized hundreds of packages of K2 manufactured by Southern Spice, which were being sold by the businesses.
According to the affidavit, a total of $169,859 in checks from various head shops, tattoo parlors and other businesses were deposited into the Southern Spice bank account between April 10 and Nov. 20, 2012. Money was wired by Southern Spice to accounts in Hong Kong and China. An analysis of transactions from this bank account, the affidavit says, also showed purchases of other herbal products that are typically used as the plant ingredient in K2.
The affidavit cites four undercover purchases of K2 from The Man Cave by law enforcement officers in April and May 2013.
On May 16, 2013 law enforcement officers executed search warrants at the residences of Saguto and Butchee, as well as at a Merriam Woods residence owned by Butchee. At Saguto’s residence, officers seized the components of a synthetic cannabinoid manufacturing laboratory and a significant amount of cash contained in an ammo box. At the Merriam Woods residence, officers seized three five-gallon buckets containing a plant substance identified as synthetic cannabinoids as well as packages filled with a substance believed to be synthetic cannabinoids, which were labeled Hillbilly Hay.
Dickinson cautioned that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.
This case is being prosecuted by Supervisory Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael S. Oliver. It was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, IRS-Criminal Investigation, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, COMET (Combined Ozarks Multi-jurisdictional Enforcement Team) and the Springfield Police Department.
Synthetic Designer Drugs
Over the past several years, smokable herbal blends marketed as being “legal” and providing a marijuana-like high have become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults, because they are easily available and, in many cases, they are more potent and dangerous than marijuana. These products consist of plant material that has been coated with dangerous psychoactive compounds that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. These synthetic cannabinoids are sold at a variety of retail outlets, in head shops and over the Internet. Brands such as K2, Spice, Blaze, and Red X Dawn are labeled as incense to mask their intended purpose. However, they have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human consumption or for medical use, and there is no oversight of the manufacturing process.
While many of the designer drugs being marketed today are not specifically prohibited in the Controlled Substances Act, the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act allows these drugs to be treated as controlled substances if they are proven to be chemically and/or pharmacologically similar to a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance. This analogue provision specifically exists to combat these new and emerging designer drugs.