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Feds indict 14 Utahns in nationwide Spice crackdown

Published: Tuesday, July 23 2013 6:20 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal grand jury indicted 14 people Tuesday for allegedly manufacturing and mailing Spice to smoke shops across the nation in a multimillion-dollar operation.

Nine of them are also charged with money laundering in the indictment, which includes one conspiracy count and 10 counts of money laundering. The indictment seeks to seize property in Hurricane, Heber City and Spanish Fork; funds from several bank accounts; money orders and vehicles.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency charged the 11 men and three women as part of a nationwide crackdown called "Project Synergy," an operation that targeted designer drugs such as Spice and bath salts. Authorities arrested more than 90 people in 30-plus states and seized more than $36 million in cash since December.

The Utahns were identified after police in Illinois investigating a chain of smoke shops found 9,644 packets of Spice that appeared to have been shipped from St. George, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The Spice packets were sold under brands called “Gods of Spice” and “Blue Heaven.”

The group is believed to have shipped an estimated 2,650 pounds of Spice, also known as synthetic marijuana, out of Utah since 2011, according to federal charges. They also are accused of depositing about $11.5 million in drug proceeds in various bank accounts from April 2011 through March 2013.

Charged in the indictment are Brian Merrill, 28, of Hurricane; Joshua Davis, 37, of Hurricane; Buck Andersen, 33, of St. George; Joseph Givogre, 42, of Washington; Gary Jolley, 58, of St. George; Alicia Brandom, 31, of Hurricane; Curtis McOsker, 40, of Las Vegas, formerly of Santa Clara; Malin Pavelka, 34, of St. George; Jennifer Barlow, 22, of St. George; Richard Lewis, 61, of St. George; David Flores, 32, of West Jordan; James Hardwick, 27, of South Jordan; David Carter, 33, of Spanish Fork; and Becky Young, 36, of West Jordan.

Davis, Carter, Givogre, and Flores are in custody. Andersen, Hardwick, and Jolley were released after a detention hearing Monday. Merrill, Brandom, Pavelka, Barlow, Lewis, and Young are free on supervised release following their arrest last month. McOsker has not been arrested.

Arraignment in U.S. District Court in St. George is scheduled for Aug. 5.

The potential penalty for the conspiracy count is 20 years in federal prison and a $1 million fine. Each count of money laundering carries a 10-year penalty and a $250,000 fine.

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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