2 men indicted on 169 counts in alleged ‘spice’ enterprise

GOLDEN, Colo. -- A grand jury has brought a 169-count indictment against two men in an alleged synthetic cannabinoid enterprise in the Denver metro area that spread across state lines, the Jefferson and Gilpin counties District Attorney's Office announced Wednesday.

Michael Whitney, 35, and John Swanson, 33, are alleged to have manufactured, distributed and sold laced herbal cigarettes. The charges they face include violations of the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act.

Other counts include money laundering and the distribution of synthetic cannabinoids, also known as spice.

The district attorney's office said in a 120-page indictment that the operation happened between April 2014 and July.

Whitney, who operated Integral Industries, and Swanson, who ran What U Tokin Bout, conspired to make "Next Best Thing," a synthetic cannabinoid cigarette brand, and distribute it to stores across the country.

The district attorney's office said Swanson's company was the primary distributor of the product, and the two conspired and agreed to keep the enterprise working by selling Next Best Thing to the public with knowledge that it contained synthetic cannabinoids.

Money from sales of Next Best Thing was then funneled back to Integral Industries to be used for ongoing manufacturing. Proceeds from the sales of Next Best Thing were used to continue the crime, the district attorney's office said.

Thousands of dollars in transactions were outlined in the indictment. The product traced back to the group was found in Denver, Parker, Sterling and Jefferson County, the district attorney's office said. The synthetic cannabinoids was also traced back to Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

Both men are in custody at the Jefferson County Jail and are being held on $1 million bail each. They have a bond hearing Thursday and are scheduled to be arraigned on Oct. 21.

“This is an unusual situation to find illegal drugs following a legitimate, traditional retail supply route to consumers,” District Attorney Peter Weir said in a statement. “These herbal cigarettes were laced with a drug ‘spice’ which was not named on their ingredients list. In addition to being illegal, this poses a serious risk to public safety.

"The indictment of these two men and their businesses are a significant step in taking dangerous, illegal synthetic cannabinoids out of our community and out of the hands of children and adults."