Head of Spice Ring Pleads Guilty To Drugs, Weapons, Money Laundering Charges

By Paul Gaita 11/15/16

Sean Libbert is accused of leading a drug operation that trafficked nearly $12 million in synthetic cannabinoids.

Head of Spice Ring Pleads Guilty To Drugs, Weapons, Money Laundering Charges

Federal prosecutors have announced that a Newport Beach man accused of heading a $12 million international operation that imported and manufactured chemicals to make synthetic drugs, including synthetic marijuana, has pleaded guilty to numerous charges, including money laundering and weapons possession.

According to a statement issued by the Los Angeles Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Sean Libbert, 41, pleaded guilty to four felony offenses: conspiracy to manufacture, possess with intent to distribute, and distribute controlled substance analogues; conspiracy to smuggle controlled substance analogues into the United States using false statements and fraudulent documents; being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition; and money laundering. 

Libbert has agreed to serve at least six years in federal prison as part of a plea agreement with the U.S. government, which in turn has agreed to recommend a sentence of no greater than 20 years. The guilty pleas of Libbert and five other defendants are the culmination of a three-year investigation into the drug ring conducted by a joint effort between agents from the DEA, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and IRS Criminal Investigation. 

According to officials from the U.S. Attorney's office, Libbert and his associates incorporated a string of companies, complete with bank accounts and private mailboxes, and used an array of websites to sell more than $12 million worth of chemicals and substances to distributors and individual buyers across the country.

The chemicals were acquired from a Chinese national, who is among the five other defendants in the case, and who smuggled more than 600 pounds of chemicals for Libbert's operations into the United States. These chemicals were then manufactured by Libbert and his co-conspirators into synthetic cannabinoids that were marketed and sold as "Da Kine Blend."

In 2012, federal investigators issued warrants on locations owned or associated with Libbert which yielded hundreds of pounds of synthetic materials and more than $1 million in assets including luxury vehicles and firearms, which Libbert was prohibited from owning as a result of three prior felony convictions, including a 2002 drug trafficking conviction.

As part of his guilty plea, Libbert admitted that over a period of seven-and-a-half months in 2011, he knowingly distributed at least four kilograms of synthetic cannabinoids that would be used to create at least 100 kilograms of synthetic marijuana—commonly known as "spice" or "K2"—for human use. Libbert will be sentenced by a U.S. District Judge on March 20, 2017.

"The packaging and names associated with analogue drugs might lead some impressionable users to believe these substances are benign, but the reality is they can cause serious health complications and even death," said Joseph Macias, Special Agent in Charge for HSI Los Angeles.

"Couple that with the fact [that] synthetic drugs are often marketed to young people and you have a prescription for disaster. For that reason, HSI is continuing to work closely with its federal and local law enforcement counterparts to target this emerging side of the illicit drug trade."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.