Case leading to Maine’s largest bath salts seizure may be just ‘tip of the iceberg’

Posted Feb. 20, 2013, at 9:18 p.m.
Leonard Wells
Penobscot County Sheriff's Office
Leonard Wells

SOUTH THOMASTON, Maine — A Greenbush man arrested three times on drug-related charges over a four-week period is in trouble once again.

Leonard D. Wells Jr., 53, found himself in jail yet again on Tuesday after Maine State Police troopers and Knox County Sheriff’s Department deputies arrested him on judicial warrants from Penobscot County for burglary and violation of conditions or release, as well as possession of bath salts.

The investigation in connection with Wells’ arrest reportedly resulted in Maine’s largest seizure of the synthetic hallucinogen bath salts — to date totaling 24½ pounds with an estimated value of $1,713,000.

Wells was arrested by Brewer police for possession of synthetic hallucinogens in early January and for aggravated trafficking in synthetic hallucinogens by Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department deputies on Jan. 18. Deputies conducted a search of his residence at 6 New Boston Road in Hermon as part of his bail conditions from the previous bath salts charge.

Wells also may face charges related to the seizure of a package from China containing 6.5 pounds of bath salts at the Hampden postal processing center on Feb. 6.

“Even before this last seizure in Hampden [Feb. 6], we had 18 pounds between the two amounts seized [last month],” said Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross. “That gives you an idea about the scope of the problem.

“I believe we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg when you consider what’s coming in from other countries and to what other states these are being transported to.”

According to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, troopers and deputies found Wells “hiding out” at a house in South Thomaston while checking the another person’s residence. Wells reportedly first gave agents a false name because he was aware of warrants that were out for his arrest.

After arresting Wells, agents seized about 20 grams of what is believed to be bath salts from him and then took Wells to Knox County Jail, where he remains in custody without bail.

“It all began for us on Jan. 18 when [Penobscot County] Deputy Bobby Pelletier and Detective Andrew Whitehouse walked in on this operation after surveilling the residence for quite some time,” said Ross.

During the Jan. 18 search, agents found bags of bath salts that were field tested and tentatively identified as alpha-PVP, an illegal synthetic hallucinogen selling for about $150 per gram in Maine, according to state police.

“These seizures are important because if these folks are convicted, the sentences they get could have a deterrent on others following suit. And second, it has — at least for this group — removed the profit margin,” said Darrell Crandall, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency’s Division II commander.

All four people at Wells’ residence — Wells, Steven Warren, 29, of Corinth; Elizabeth Fuentes, 31, of Houston, Texas; and Arthur Coy, 49, of Houston, Texas — were arrested on charges of aggravated trafficking of synthetic hallucinogens, which is a Class A felony. The charge became aggravated because Wells’ residence is located within 1,000 feet of a school.

Wells was released from jail after posting $50,000 cash bail. The others are all still at Penobscot County Jail. Coy’s bail is $300,000, Warren’s is $75,000, and Fuentes’ is $50,000 cash. All four are due to make a court appearance at Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor on March. 3.

Agents later obtained search warrants for Wells’ residence, a piece of property he owns on Spring Bridge Road in Greenbush, and a motel room in Bangor. Searches were conducted by deputies, MDEA agents, U.S. Homeland Security investigators, Maine State Police, Bangor police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

According to McCausland’s release, agents seized more than eight pounds of alpha-PVP with an estimated value of $563,000. They also found a table covered in wax paper with white residue on it, digital scales, mixing bowls, and a large tote bag containing packaging materials.

At the Greenbush property, authorities reportedly found digital scales, drug paraphernalia, documents and electronic equipment. At the motel room, they seized electronic equipment and documents.

Based on evidence and information obtained in the warrant searches, MDEA agents contacted investigators for the Texas Department of Public Safety and gave them information about a package Maine law enforcement officials believe Coy shipped from Maine to Texas. Texas agents intercepted the package at a Houston UPS store Jan. 25 and reportedly seized more than 10 pounds of alpha-PVP with an estimated value of more than $700,000.

The investigation has turned up evidence the drugs were being shipped to Maine from China. It suggests that some of those drugs were being distributed in Maine while some were being shipped to other states for distribution.

“It is certainly one of the biggest emerging threats we’re focusing on right now,” said Crandall.

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