SANTA ANA, California – A Newport Beach man who orchestrated a wide-reaching conspiracy that smuggled, manufactured and distributed millions of dollars worth of analogue drugs which were used, among other things, to manufacture synthetic marijuana has been sentenced to 120 months in federal prison.
Sean Libbert, 41, was sentenced late last night by United States District Judge Cormac J. Carney.
According to court documents, Libbert organized and led a drug trafficking conspiracy that manufactured, marketed and sold synthetic marijuana – commonly called “spice” – under the brand name of “Da Kine Blend.” When he pleaded guilty last year, Libbert admitted that at least 100 kilograms of synthetic marijuana was manufactured using the analogue chemicals he provided, and that he knew the “spice” was being distributed for human consumption.
Libbert pleaded guilty last November to federal offenses related to the distribution of “spice.” Libbert pleaded guilty to four felony offenses: conspiring to manufacture, possess and distribute controlled substance analogues; conspiracy to smuggle controlled substance analogues into the United States; being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition; and money laundering.
“Spice” is known as an analogue drug because its chemical composition is very similar to a controlled substance. Analogues are intended to have a substantially similar or greater physiological effect than the narcotics they mimic. Popular with teenagers and younger adults because of the cheaper cost and glossy packaging, “spice” has been linked to overdoses, serious injuries and deaths across the country. In fact, the 2014 indictment – which was the first in this district involving drug analogues – alleged that chemicals distributed by Libbert nearly killed a victim in Florida who had ingested them. Though containing THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) and despite it being commonly referred to as “fake marijuana,” “spice” is considered by scientists and health officials to be much more dangerous than marijuana because of its high potency, and because the quality and quantity of chemicals used to make the “spice” is unregulated. The chemical analogues are typically manufactured in clandestine laboratories in China.
Over the course of 16 months in 2011 and 2012, Libbert's organization smuggled over 200 pounds of chemicals into the U.S., knowing that the drugs would be used to manufacture “spice” that was smoked or taken orally. During yesterday's lengthy sentencing hearing, Judge Carney noted that Libbert used fraudulent documents and misbranded labels to smuggle the chemical analogues from China.
As part of the scheme, Libbert incorporated a series of companies, opened up a series of bank accounts and private mailboxes, and sold than $5 million worth of “spice” to people across the United States, including other distributors and individual users.
Previously in this case, two other defendants pleaded guilty, including a Chinese national who sold Libbert and his associates synthetic drugs that were smuggled into the United States. Another three defendants charged in separate cases pleaded guilty to conspiring with Libbert to manufacture, possess and distribute controlled substance analogues. These other five defendants are expected to be sentenced by Judge Carney later this year.
The investigation into the analogue drug ring was conducted by the Los Angeles HIDTA (High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) Southern California Drug Task Force, which includes special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Drug Enforcement Administration and IRS Criminal Investigation.
In July 2012, HIDTA investigators executed a series of federal search warrants and seized several luxury vehicles, hundreds of pounds of analogues, and firearms –including a rifle, a shotgun, two pistols, and approximately 700 rounds of ammunition, all of which Libbert was prohibited from possessing as a result of three prior felony convictions, including a 2002 drug trafficking conviction.
In addition to the drug and firearms charges, Libbert also pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering stemming from his purchase of real estate in Ohio using drug proceeds. Investigators seized more than $1.1 million in assets connected to the case – including more than $700,000 in profits from the sale of Libbert's former residence in San Juan Capistrano – all of which have been administratively forfeited to the United States.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Carol Alexis Chen of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.
Component(s): USAO – California, Central
Contact: Thom Mrozek Spokesperson/Public Affairs Officer United States Attorney's Office
Central District of California (Los Angeles) 213-894-6947
Press Release Number: 17-127 Updated June 22, 2017
Central District of California DOJ / 17-127 / June 22, 2017