At the end of July, a slew of federal agents and local cops stormed across a small industrial complex in West Palm Beach. The target was a small office at the back of the parking lot with black plastic garbage bags hanging over its glass door.
As detailed in this week's cover story
, the raid marked the downfall of Mr. Nice Guy, one of the country's largest manufacturers of herbal incense. Over the past three years, so-called herbal-incense products flooded cities across the country. While head shops and gas stations sold them as potent potpourri, it was well-known that smoking the green leafy substances would result in a high because the products contain synthetic cannabinoids -- man-made chemicals meant to mimic the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in natural marijuana.
After the raid, the feds started down a rabbit hole of weirdness. Here are five of the most notable revelations that surfaced in a recent court hearing:
5. Test Dummies
To make sure finished batches of Mr. Nice Guy were potent enough, part-time employees -- who had taken to wearing ventilation masks to stave off the harmful chemical fumes in the warehouses -- often tested the products. "We have received intelligence that when employes tested this product... they often became ill," a federal prosecutor said in a recent court hearing. "In fact, a number of employees became catatonic. They could not respond to stimuli."
4. Home Arsenal
After raiding the warehouse, investigators moved on to the homes of John Shealy and Dylan Harrison, the cofounders of Mr. Nice Guy. At Shealy's house, which was laced with security cameras, feds found three semiautomatic pistols, a revolver, an AK-47, and a military-grade sniper rifle. "Why anybody needs a military-grade sniper rifle that is almost 50 caliber, I have no idea if they are not intending to use it to protect themselves and protect their money," a prosecutor said.
3. Big Cash
It turns out that the herbal-incense industry was wildly lucrative for Shealy and Harrison. Federal prosecutors claim that Harrison purchased an $850,000 home in cash and stashed $700,000 at a friend's house and $100,000 more at his mom's house. It has been harder to track down Shealy's earnings, but informants have told the feds that Shealy often bragged about "hiding his cash in storage facilities located off the I-95 corridor."
2. Muscle Milk
John Shealy moved to Florida at age 19 to enter rehab for alcoholism. Court records show that he hasn't had a drink for more than ten years. He allegedly has another vice, though: anabolic steroids. When the feds raided his house, they found what appeared to be a "steroid making lab" set up on his kitchen counter. Along with large quantities of what's believed to be anabolic steroids and syringes, there were numerous beakers. "Like straight out of high school chemistry class beakers," a befuddled federal prosecutor said.
1. Corporate Stepdad
John Shealy's biological father split when he was a kid. According to testimony, Shealy was raised by his stepfather, Alex Molinaroli. Molinaroli, who helped Shealy out with his $500,000 bond, is vice president and president of power solutions at Johnson Controls
. The company employs 140,000 people across six continents and is worth $22 billion.