Two El Paso men plead guilty in New Mexico Spice trafficking case

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - Federal prosecutors said two El Paso men pleaded guilty in connection with a "spice" trafficking case in Dona Ana County, New Mexico.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Juan C. Chavez, 39, of El Paso, Texas, pled guilty today in a Las Cruces federal court to participating in a conspiracy to distribute controlled substance analogues, commonly known as "spice."

Prosecutors said Chavez admitted, that from June 2012 through Sept. 2015, he owned and operated a head shop known as "Station Recreation."  While operating "Station Recreation," Chavez agreed and acted with his co-defendants to distribute "spice."

34-year-old David Molinar, also of El Paso, Texas, entered a guilty plea, in the same case, to the unlawful sale of drug paraphernalia. In his plea agreement, Molinar admitted he was the co-owner of a smoke shop in Sunland Park, and that on May 29, 2014, one of his employees sold drug paraphernalia at the smoke shop.

Under the terms of their plea agreements, Chavez will be sentenced to 18 months in prison and Molinar will be sentenced to 15 months in prison. Each will serve a term of supervised release to be determined by the court after completing his prison sentence.

Chavez, Molinar and co-defendants -- 30-year-old Tasha S. Garcia, of El Paso; and 27-year-old Kenia N. Liberato, Sunland Park, N.M.  -- were charged in an eight-count indictment filed on Sept. 16, 2015.  

The indictment charges all four defendants with conspiring to distribute "spice" from June 2012 through Sept. 2015.  It also charged Molinar and Chavez with maintaining a place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing and using "spice," and three counts of possession of "spice."  

Molinar, Chavez and Garcia also were charged with distributing "spice" and selling drug paraphernalia in May 2014, and distributing "spice" in June 2015.  According to the indictment, the defendants committed the crimes in Doña Ana County, N.M.

Sentencing hearings for Chavez and Molinar have yet to be scheduled.  The charges against Garcia have been dismissed, and Liberato is participating in a pretrial diversion program.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, synthetic cannabinoids, commonly known as "synthetic marijuana," "K2," or "Spice," are often sold in legal retail outlets as "herbal incense" or "potpourri."

Synthetic cathinones are often sold as "bath salts" or "jewelry cleaner." The Office of National Drug Control Policy said they are labeled "not for human consumption" to mask their intended purpose and avoid Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory oversight of the manufacturing process.

The use of synthetic cannabinoids is alarmingly high, especially among young people, federal officials say.

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