CONCORD, NH – Tony Aoude, 45, of Derry, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges related to the sales of synthetic cannabinoid products, more commonly known by the generic street name of “spice” or “K2,” according to an announcement Monday by U.S. Attorney Emily Gray Rice.
Aoude pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the travel act; and conspiracy to receive misbranded products in a case dating back to 2013.
According to court documents and statements in court, in 2013 and 2014, Aoude sold synthetic cannabinoid products at stores he operated in both Londonderry and Hooksett. These products contained XLR11 and AB-FUBINACA, which are illegal controlled substances. The products were sold in packages with false and misleading labels that stated that the products were “not for human consumption” or were “legal in 50 states.” Despite being aware that the products were not intended for human consumption, he sold various forms of the product that bore multiple labels, including “Toxic Blue Magic” and “Caution Platinum.”
During the investigation, undercover officers asked to purchase quantities of these products for resale in Florida. Despite being told by a co-conspirator (Robert Costello) that the products were unlawful in Florida, Aoude arranged for the undercover officers to purchase the drugs at his store in Londonderry. He also received payments for facilitating the shipment of additional products to Florida.
Sentencing for Aoude has been scheduled for May 4, 2017.
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This investigation led to the arrest and prosecution of multiple individuals. Costello, who provided synthetic cannabinoids to Aoude, is serving a 60-month federal prison sentence. Kyle Hurley, who arranged to manufacture and distribute these drugs, is serving a 114-month prison sentence.
Synthetic cannabinoids are green leafy materials that have been sprayed with chemicals. These products are often marketed as incense or potpourri. As in this case, the packaging materials often contain attractive logos that are designed to appeal to young people. Although the products are often identified as “not for human consumption,” the products are smoked in order to obtain a high. The chemicals that are sprayed on the products to produce the high are often illegal controlled substances or analogues of illegal controlled substances. The ingestion of these types of illegal products has caused some users to experience a variety of medical side effects and has led to numerous hospitalizations.
“There is a misconception that synthetic cannabinoids, known on the street as synthetic marijuana, K2, and spice, are safe. Synthetic cannabinoids are anything but safe,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Michael J. Ferguson. “They are a toxic cocktail of lethal chemicals with serious health and safety risks. This investigation represents local, state and federal law enforcement’s efforts to combat this emerging public threat.”
U.S. Attorney Rice agreed, saying, “while we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic, some individuals may believe that synthetic cannabinoids are a safe alternative for those looking to get high. These products are far from safe. They are made in highly unsanitary conditions and users have no idea what potentially deadly chemical may be inside these glossy packages. This packaging can give consumers a false sense of security about using a product that could harm or kill them.”
This case was supported by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). The OCDETF program is a federal multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional task force that supplies supplemental federal funding to federal and state agencies involved in the identification, investigation, and prosecution of major drug trafficking organizations. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s Tactical Diversion Squad led the investigation in collaboration with the US Postal Inspection Service and Homeland Security Investigations. The investigators also received the invaluable assistance of DEA-NH/HIDTA and DEA’s Air Wing, the New Hampshire and Massachusetts State Police, the U.S. Marshals Service, Portsmouth Police Department, Somersworth Police Department, Kingston Police Department, the Dover Police Department, the Londonderry, Police Department and the York and Kittery, Maine Police Departments. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys John J. Farley and Charles Rombeau.