SEABROOK – On Wednesday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, local businessman William Walsh pleaded not guilty to charges of distributing fake marijuana resulting in death, and requested a jury trial.
Walsh, 55, is the owner of Seabrook’s Leather and Lace, Smoking Monkey and Up in Smoke establishments. He’s been incarcerated since his June 9 arrest on the charges, being confined in New Hampshire and Oklahoma, prior to arriving in the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court of Eastern Virginia. A detention hearing is scheduled for Aug. 6 to determine if Walsh will be held or released on bail.
Walsh’s charges were brought after a multi-year investigation by federal authorities in Virginia.
According to Walsh’s indictment documents handed down by a federal grand jury, he is accused of selling synthetic cannabinoid, labeled “Mad Hatter Blueberry,” to a person who fatally overdosed after using it.
If convicted of the felony, Walsh faces a sentence ranging from 20 years to life in federal prison and as much as a $1 million fine.
Known commonly as spice and fake marijuana, synthetic cannabinoid is treated with any number of chemicals which cause a high when smoked and can be more dangerous than marijuana. Sold under various names, such as Mad Hatter, K-2 and Bizarro, fake weed is supposedly an herbal incense meant to be burned, with notice on packages that it is not for human consumption. However, according to the indictment, such notice is a ruse and an “attempt to avoid law enforcement scrutiny.”
According to his indictment document, Walsh allegedly was the top spice customer, purchasing $180,000 worth of the product from the California-based website Aroma Superstore operated by Joseph Ruis, Kimberly Drumm and Bonnie Turner. The three are also indicted on multiple counts by the U.S. attorney of Eastern Virginia, including conspiracy to distribute cannabinoids resulting in death, as well as money laundering.
This case began in Virginia in April 2017, following the admittance of several individuals to an emergency room after they’d consumed synthetic cannabinoids. The incident triggered a federal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Eastern Virginia. According to federal documents, the spice was traced to purchases from a convenience store at a gas station in Warrenton, Virginia. A person caught up in that investigation told federal investigators he bought the illegal substance from a website named “Aroma Superstore.”
Since then, federal investigators gathered evidence for their case through spice purchases made by confidential informants via the Internet. They also analyzed the finances of Ruis, Drumm and Turner and a network of 11 websites – including “Aroma Superstore” – authorities allege were under their control.
According to federal documents, federal officials allege that during the three years of the investigation, Walsh bought nearly $200,000 worth of spice from Ruis, Drumm and Turner. Checks traced to Walsh were deposited into the bank accounts the three Californians controlled.
The investigation into Walsh’s activities led to the Nov. 14, 2019 raid by federal authorities of Walsh’s three Seabrook businesses and his home. According to federal documents, during that raid federal agents seized $670,522 in cash from Walsh’s residence, as well as a total of $6,160 at his businesses.
Authorities also discovered and seized 638 packets of spice from the Smoking Monkey and 3,025 packets of spice from Up in Smoke and Leather and Lace.
According to the indictment, Walsh allegedly “instructed employees not to discuss the fact that the spice was smoked or otherwise used as a drug,” and “cautioned his employees not to allow customers to talk about smoking the product.”
Walsh locked up the spice each night, something he did not do with other of his retail products, according to the indictment, and did not put samples out in his stores.
The 22-page indictment also holds forfeiture notices. It states that if convicted, Ruis, Drumm, Turner and Walsh are to forfeit more than a million dollars in cash and items believed derived through their alleged crimes.
Walsh would forfeit all the cash seized at his home and businesses during the 2019 raid.
Ruis, Drumm and Walsh would be expected to forfeit two BMWs, a Mercedes, two trucks and a Ferrari, plus more than $69,000 from the sale of a Bentley Mulsanne, as well as seized cash, money in bank accounts, real property, three Rolex and one Patek Phillipe watches.