Lester hadn't known it, but the supposed storeowner was actually an operative sent in by the DEA. The goal of the undercover operation wasn't just to buy herbal incense, as anyone could have walked in off the street and purchased it at the time. Rather, the goal was to catch Lester on the record explaining that people smoke incense to get high — indisputable evidence that he knowingly sold herbal incense for human consumption.

The operative handed over $300 for 50 packets of five Mr. Nice Guy flavors, including strawberry, mango, and Relaxinol. He later turned them over to the DEA, which tested the products and determined they contained the synthetic cannabinoids AM-2201 and JWH-122 — compounds the agency contends were illegal at the time because they were analogs of JWH-018, one of the chemicals banned in March 2011.

Two months after the undercover buy, the DEA, armed with federal search warrants, paid a visit to Lester's store. It was stocked with "thousands of packages of synthetic cannabinoid products," mostly of the Mr. Nice Guy brand, according to the criminal complaint.

Attorneys Spencer Siegel and Thomas Wright get ready to turn over $250,000 worth of herbal incense on behalf of a client.
Courtesy of Siegel Siegel & Wright Law Firm
Attorneys Spencer Siegel and Thomas Wright get ready to turn over $250,000 worth of herbal incense on behalf of a client.
Dylan Harrison, cofounder of Mr. Nice Guy, is scheduled to be arraigned September 24.
Dylan Harrison, cofounder of Mr. Nice Guy, is scheduled to be arraigned September 24.

Lester was arrested but decided on the spot to cooperate with the feds. He jumped on the phone and called Harrison, one of the Mr. Nice Guy manufacturers, and arranged a large buy for later that day. At first, Harrison expressed trepidation — word had already spread that police had raided a shop in Boca. But Lester promised all was well.

Mere hours after Lester got popped, a Mr. Nice Guy employee named Michael Bryant met him in a parking lot, completely unaware that a DEA surveillance team was lurking just out of sight. Bryant unloaded three large black trash bags that contained about 15,000 packages of Mr. Nice Guy product, according to court records. In exchange, Lester handed over a business check for $71,250. But the DEA sat tight and held off on arresting Bryant.

Two months later, in May of 2012, Mr. Nice Guy's warehouse exploded, and again, the feds made no arrests. The DEA still had to exercise patience. It wasn't entirely clear whether the analog law and temporary ban on five cannabinoids would be enough to mount a federal case against Mr. Nice Guy. Though politicians in Congress had begun to understand the potential dangers of herbal incense and had even proposed a permanent federal ban, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky kept blocking the bill with libertarian objections. The DEA opted to wait until Congress could push through the legislation.

On July 9, the agency finally got what it was waiting for when President Obama signed the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act. Buried at the bottom of the legislation is a subsection known as the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, which permanently adds a host of synthetic cannabinoids, their analogs, and various chemical compositions to the Controlled Substance Act.

With the legislation signed into law, an undercover buy completed, confidential informants in the wings, and a charred warehouse, the DEA thought it was set to take down the men behind Mr. Nice Guy.


On July 26, two weeks after Obama signed the federal ban, the phones of Siegel Siegel & Wright exploded with calls.

"Everyone was wondering what was going on," Wright recalls. "Word was spreading like a wildfire."

Earlier that morning, dozens of well-armed federal agents, some wearing knit ski masks and sunglasses, scattered through a sprawling parking lot of a West Palm Beach industrial complex, located just ten minutes north of the warehouse that had exploded. The target: a single office at the back of the lot with black plastic garbage bags covering its glass front door — Mr. Nice Guy's new center of operations.

The small army busted into the building and was greeted by the overwhelming stench of acetone and "literally tons" of Mr. Nice Guy product, as a deputy with the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office told TV cameras later that day. The feds finally had the men behind one of the "country's largest distributors" of herbal incense in custody.

Dylan Harrison and John Shealy were arrested and charged with three crimes: unlawful distribution of controlled substance analogs, creating a substance with risk of harm to human life while manufacturing a controlled substance analog, and misbranding drugs with intent to defraud and mislead. Michael Bryant, who delivered the 15,000 packets, was also arrested.

Mr. Nice Guy wasn't the only target that day, though. The DEA was in the midst of Operation Log Jam, a one-day tactical takedown of synthetic-drug manufacturers, distributors, and retailers across more than 30 states.

"I was at home at the time and got a call from a client that Mr. Nice Guy had been raided," Wright says. "It was only an hour or so later that the phones started ringing off the hook from both existing and prospective clients nationwide."

The numbers put out by the feds after the raid are staggering: more than 90 people arrested, nearly $40 million in cash seized, and 5 million packets of finished herbal incense confiscated. In Florida alone, the DEA hauled in 3,346 kilograms of raw synthetic cannabinoids.

Wright sees the raid as an expensive attack on small businesses that were trying to operate legally.

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3 comments
gabeeslinger284
gabeeslinger284

I am a recovering synthetic cannabinoid user. Although I had experienced bad reactions to the substance I continued to abuse it. I have had a seizure and black outs from smoking it. One reaction occurred from smoking Mango Mr. Nice Guy. I think the production and distribution of these substances it seriously out of control. Manufacturers don't realize the harm they are causing to the thousands of consumers that abuse their product. When I first smoked the synthetic cannabis it was a Spice brand. I didn't find the affects to be bad at all, in fact I found them to be euphoric and relaxing, similar to marijuana, but a much shorter high. Keep in mind this was several years ago when JWH-18 was still legal. I refrained from smoking K2 often because I was still leery of the stuff. About a year later after JWH-18 was made an illegal substance, I tried a brand called "Diablo" I noticed how much more intense the effects were, one of my friends was actually freaking out and we had to help her walk. Then after another year passed I tried some Mango Mr. Nice Guy. After one hit of it I started feeling the effects, I started hallucinating and losing conciousness. About fifteen seconds later I blacked out, my friends told me I fell over without trying to catch myself and started convulsing. I told myself I would never smoke k2 again. Another 8 months pass or so, one of my friends talks me into smoking Syn Chill. Not bad, very mellow. I start smoking Devils Advocate brand k2 regularly, I slow down and don't really smoke it much anymore. Then one day I'm at my friends sisters house and she offers a bowl of k2, not knowing what kind it is I take a hit. After about five minutes I feel pretty high, I take one more hit and decide to leave and meet a friend at the local gas station. I feel very hot walking up the stairs, and my vision blurs. I manage to open the front door to leave and I black out. I end up falling right out the door and onto the concrete steps. I come to probably about 10 seconds later to her daughter asking me what happened, I ask if I'm bleeding and feel my face. Seems as if my face has caught my fall. I do believe the manufactuerers are to blame for this monstrosity, but because the drugs used in the earlier generations were outlawed, they started using different, more dangerous substances. I find k2 to be very dangerous these days, and I hope it can soon be controlled so nobody else gets hurt, especially experimental teens, it could ruin their future.

loryder
loryder

If natural marijuana were legal or decriminalized, there would be absolutely no market whatsoever for the fake stuff.

teknik
teknik

one of the problems with the drug war, the drugs just get nastier and nastier!

 
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