Arrests made in synthetic local marijuana conspiracy
Seven area individuals are facing charges in federal court related to synthetic marijuana conspiracy.
According to a press release from the office of Dana J. Boente, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, those arrested are: Connie Rhoades Bowler, 47, of Gloucester; Melody Rhoades Green, 52, of Topping; John Stacey Rhoades, 41, of Hayes; Brandon Bowler, 22, of Gloucester; Robert Rhoades, 19, of Hayes; Christopher Lowery, 29, of Farnham; and Harrell Kenneth Stockwell Jr., 54, of Gloucester.
They were arrested on February 25 on charges of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute smokeable synthetic cannabinoids (Schedule I controlled substances or analogues of Schedule I controlled substances) with intent for human consumption, and drug paraphernalia.
Federal officials involved in the arrests included Scot R. Rittenberg, acting special agent in charge, with the departments of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Washington; and Thomas J. Kelly, special agent in charge, Washington, D.C., field office of the Internal Revenue Service, criminal investigation division.
Local officials involved in the arrests included Middlesex County Sheriff David P. Bushey; Essex County Sheriff Stanley Clarke; Chief James G. Ashworth of the Tappahannock Police Department; and W. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police.
The officials announced the arrests after the initial appearances of the defendants before U.S. Magistrate Judge David J. Novak in Richmond.
Each of the defendants faces a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment if convicted of the conspiracy charge. Additionally, Connie Bowler, Melody Green and John Rhoades are charged with maintaining drug-involved premises for the Slipknots Trading & Tobacco stores located in Topping and Tappahannock. That charge also carries up to 20 years imprisonment.
According to the indictment, the seven defendants were engaged in a conspiracy to distribute various forms of synthetic cannabinoids from May 14, 2012 until February 18, 2014. In federal court proceedings on February 26 and in documents filed with the court, authorities allege that Connie Bowler, Melody Green and John Rhoades were the owners of Slipknots Trading & Tobacco, LLC, a tobacco store that sold smokeable synthetic cannabinoid (SSC) products, often commonly referred to as Spice, and items ranging from water pipes to rolling papers, used to smoke SSC.
The documents assert that over the course of an 18-month investigation, law enforcement personnel made numerous controlled purchases of SSC from the Slipknots stores in Topping and Tappahannock. It is alleged that although some of the SSC that the stores sold was not yet regulated, much of the SSC purchased was in fact illegal Schedule I controlled substances or Schedule I controlled substance analogues. (In chemistry, an analogue is a compound with a molecular structure closely similar to that of another and produces similar effects.)
The authorities allege that Slipknots Trading & Tobacco sold over $3 million of SSC products over an 18 month period of time. Reportedly, following the search warrant execution, officials seized six bank accounts, two houses and three vehicles.
During the February 25 raid in Topping, several law enforcement officials were seen at a house on Route 3, about one-quarter mile from the Topping Post Office.
Reportedly, police found more than 90 guns at the Guinea, Gloucester County, home of Slipknots co-owner John S. Rhoades.
All of the defendants were released on bond except John Rhoades, who was released on home detention with a third party custodian (his dad), reported Laura H. Taylor, public information officer for the Richmond U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The investigation was conducted by ICE-HSI, IRS, Virginia State Police (VSP) Tri-Rivers Drug Task Force, and special agents with the VSP Bureau of Criminal Investigations (Richmond and Chesapeake field offices), Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office, Essex County Sheriff’s Office, and Tappahannock Police Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Olivia L. Norman is prosecuting the cases on behalf of the United States.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.justice.gov/usao/vae. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.vaed.uscourts.gov or on https://pcl.uscourts.gov.
The Slipknots store in Tappahannock was in the Essex Square Shopping Center but it had closed a few weeks before the raids. Owners planned to move the store near Wal-Mart and re-open in March, said a Tappahannock law enforcement official. A clerk who worked at the Tappahannock store is facing synthetic drug charges.