JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – The operators of a Columbia retail store pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal charges alleging a $2 million scheme to distribute synthetic marijuana.
Federal prosecutors publicly released a 21-count indictment against Kevin Bay and John Hawkins as they appeared in court for the first time on charges of conspiracy and distributing drugs and drug paraphernalia. Bay owns Bocomo Bay, which he operates with Hawkins.
Bay, 44, also faces several money laundering charges. Hawkins, 51, also was indicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Columbia attorney Dan Viets, who represents Hawkins, said both men pleaded not guilty. Court records show the grand jury indictment was returned under seal on Oct. 2 and that both defendants were released after appearing in court Thursday. The case was placed on a Dec. 2 trial docket.
The indictment accuses Bay and Hawkins of selling synthetic products containing ingredients that are analogous to illegal drugs, meaning they are chemically or pharmacologically similar. The indictment says the items at Bocomo Bay were sold under a variety of names, including “Kind” and “Aromatic Potpourri” and came in scents such as “bubble gum,” “mango,” “cotton candy” and “cherry.”
The U.S. attorney’s office says the products often include plant materials that have been sprayed or mixed with chemical compounds similar to what’s in marijuana and often are marketed as incense, though they are intended to be used as a drug.
Viets said he plans to challenge whether the products actually are prohibited under federal law.
“I think the prosecution is going to have some problems proving all of these charges,” Viets said.
An attorney for Bay did not immediately return a telephone message Thursday.
The U.S. attorney’s office said that while many of the synthetic products are not specifically prohibited, federal law allows them to be treated as controlled substances if they are proven to be chemically or pharmacologically similar.
“That’s going to be the first issue, are these things even illegal?” Viets said.
The indictment seeks to require Bay and Hawkins to forfeit to the government nearly $2.1 million allegedly obtained from the drug-trafficking conspiracies as well as numerous items seized from Bocomo Bay and the home shared by Bay and Hawkins. Those include $638,000; nearly 50 bars of platinum, palladium, gold and silver; more than 2,000 gold and silver coins; and 76 guns.
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