ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Two Mississippi women pleaded guilty today to their involvement in distributing wholesale quantities of synthetic cannabinoids—commonly known as “spice” or “K2”—and laundering millions of dollars in proceeds of the sale of that spice.
According to court documents, from 2017 through November 2019, sisters Kimberly Drumm, 51, Bonnie Turner, 49, of Olive Branch, and their co-defendant, Joseph Ruis, 55, of Los Angeles, were the leaders of a southern-California based wholesale spice manufacturing and distribution operation. The illicit business held itself out as Aroma Superstore, and maintained a professional-looking website through which buyers around the country, including in the Eastern District of Virginia, could order packages of different varieties and flavors of spice. Drumm, Turner, and Ruis concealed the proceeds of their spice distribution by moving their profits through a network of shell corporations.
The spice that Aroma Superstore sold almost uniformly contained chemicals listed as Schedule I controlled substances. The spice was sold in packages bearing the label “Not For Human Consumption” in an attempt to avoid regulatory or law enforcement scrutiny. The products were, in reality, intended to be consumed and induce a “high” similar to other controlled substances. The spice connected to this conspiracy caused an individual from New Hampshire, referred to in court documents as J.S., to fatally overdose.
Drumm’s primary role in the conspiracy was to manage the finances of the operation. She prepared the payroll for the employees, picked up payments from customers, and deposited them into bank accounts used in the conspiracy. For a time, she ordered the chemicals used in the spice. Drumm also rented a storage locker where the chemicals were stored.
Turner had two roles in the conspiracy. First, she opened bank accounts in her name for the various business entities involved in the conspiracy. Second, Turner worked in the spice warehouse. At the warehouse, Turner and her co-conspirators stored thousands of packages of spice, organized by their different flavors and scents, and bearing a wide variety of different images and logos on the labels as well as stickers signifying the weight of each package.
In May 2019, law enforcement searched locations used by Ruis, Drumm, and Turner for their business. In one warehouse location, agents seized approximately 30 kilograms of spice as well as a large volume of packaging material and equipment used in the distribution of the spice. At another warehouse location, law enforcement seized approximately 4,500 pounds of marijuana, approximately 300 kilograms of butane honey oil, lab equipment for the extraction of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and approximately $45,000. Law enforcement also searched the storage locker that Drumm had rented, and recovered approximately one kilogram of 5F-MDMB-PICA, a Schedule I chemical used to manufacture the spice.
Drumm and Turner each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of distribution of Schedule I controlled substances. They are scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 17, 2021. They face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each of the counts. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Raymond Villanueva, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Washington, D.C.; Jesse R. Fong, Special Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Washington Field Division; Peter R. Rendina, Inspector in Charge of the Washington Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and Robert P. Mosier, Fauquier County Sheriff, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Rossie D. Alston, Jr. accepted the plea.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Katherine E. Rumbaugh and Bibeane Metsch are prosecuting the case.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:20-cr-76.