BANGOR — In the largest seizure of its kind in a Maine drug investigation, Penobscot County sheriff’s deputies and state drug agents, working with counterparts in Texas, have seized 18 pounds of the synthetic hallucinogen called bath salts.
The drugs have a street value of up to $1,263,000, Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross said at a news conference Thursday.
Ross said authorities arrested four suspects during a raid two weeks ago at a house in the small town of Hermon, outside Bangor, and seized 8 pounds of bath salts, which had been shipped in bulk from China to Maine to be divided into smaller amounts for resale.
“Bangor was one of the first areas of the state to face what I now call an epidemic,” Ross said, noting that police and health care professionals have worked hard to educate the public about the dangers of the drug.
“Abuse of it had ebbed a little bit. Now it is back on the rise with the chronic user, the person already addicted to hard drugs,” he said.
Acting on a tip, deputies Robert Pelletier and Andrew Whitehouse staked out and raided the house on New Boston Road on Jan. 18. They arrested Leonard Wells, 53, of Hermon; Steven Warren, 29, of Corinth; and Elizabeth Fuentes, 31, and Arthur Coy, 49, both of Houston. All were charged with aggravated trafficking in synthetic hallucinogens. Each faces four to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Police seized 8 pounds of the drug with a street value of $563,000. They also found scales; wax paper, which is often used to package small amounts of illegal drugs; mixing bowls and a large black tote with packaging materials, police said. Police said Wells had been arrested earlier in January and charged with possession of bath salts.
Besides Wells’ home in Hermon, police also searched a property he owns in Greenbush and a motel room in Bangor.
The searches yielded information indicating that Coy had mailed a large quantity of the drug to himself at an address in Houston. Agents with the Texas Department of Public Safety intercepted the package there last week.
It contained another 10 pounds of the drug with a street value of $700,000, police said.
Bath salts sell for $150 per gram — or $30 to $40 for a single dose of a tenth of a gram.
The drug is dangerous and unpredictable and in at least one case has been blamed for a fatal heart attack suffered by a man who had just been brought to Penobscot County Jail, Ross said.
Before being outlawed in 2011, bath salts, or alpha-PVP, could be purchased over the counter. Abuse of the drug also has led to increased health care costs and home burglaries, he said.
Darrell Crandall, supervisor with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, said police and drug agents are seizing more and larger quantities of bath salts throughout the state, while amounts of some other illegal drugs, such as cocaine, have dropped off.
Historically, much of the bath salts seized in Maine originated in Texas, Crandall said. In this case, it appears the drugs were headed in the opposite direction.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration broke up a major bath salts manufacturing facility in Houston last summer, arresting 90 people nationally and seizing $36 million in cash and a large quantity of the drug. That operation may have interrupted supply of the drug there, and Texas authorities continue to investigate.
Crandall said he is unaware of whether Chinese authorities are trying to stop the export of the drug.
“We have not had direct contact with the Chinese authorities. I really can’t comment on what they think of that,” he said.
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: