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Phoenix man forfeits $5 million, properties for running illegal drug network

Daniel Bowles, 47, has pleaded guilty to running a drug network that distributed illicit cannabinoid products to smoke shops throughout the country.
A judge's gavel. (Photo: Kuzma/Thinkstock)

PHOENIX — A Phoenix man has pleaded guilty in federal court to orchestrating a drug trafficking organization across the Southwest.

Daniel Bowles, 47, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to one count of conspiracy to distribute synthetic cannabis -- a charge that subjects him to a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. 

Bowles was part of a team of people that manufactured, packaged, and sold synthetic cannabinoids known as "spice" to retail shops throughout the country. 

Synthetic cannabinoid is a mind-altering chemical compound that is often smoked or vaporized through electronic cigarettes. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has warned against ingesting synthetic cannabinoids because its side effects can be unpredictable and more potent than regular marijuana.

The Drug Enforcement Administration started their investigation into the trafficking organization in 2015 after a shop in Texas started getting shipments for products with names like "Death Grip" and "Brain Freeze." 

Investigators discovered shops would purchase these synthetic products by wiring money orders to Arizona into accounts that were often managed by Bowles, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. 

Bowles would look over the network's finances and manage the call-takers who took orders for the synthetic cannabinoids, court documents show.

Bowles and his co-conspirators profited nearly $15 million in revenue between 2012 and 2019 through their trafficking network.

The conspirators would attempt to hide their profits by laundering the money into other entities they owned.

"It was further part of the conspiracy that these proceeds were transferred among co-conspirators and their corporations or businesses to create the appearance of legitimate business transactions or to conceal the source of funds," court documents state.

Court documents show the defendant admitted to using profits earned from the drug sales to purchase expensive rental properties, cars, and boats.

According to the defendant's plea agreement, Bowles has agreed to forfeit $5 million and three of his properties. He's scheduled to be sentenced in federal court on Nov. 16. 

Six other defendants, including three from Arizona, have also pleaded guilty to their involvement in the trafficking organization. 

They include Ratchanee McAuley, 50, of Phoenix; Frank Gonzalez, 60, and Ernesto Salazar, 34, both of Mesa; Thirawat Athikulrat, 42, and Chuanphit Srithongrung, 44, both of Downey, California; and Don Jessop, 52, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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