PENSACOLA, Fla. (WALA) -
Authorities said an investigation into a synthetic drug enterprise in Louisiana is connected to two homes in the Florida Panhandle.
Jefferson Parish detectives identified Ronald Bentel, Jr. and Robert McPhail as individuals operating a synthetic drug enterprise on the east bank of Jefferson Parish.
Investigators said the pair was distributing synthetic marijuana marketed as 'POW' from two businesses in Metairie, Louisiana. Undercover agents purchased a total of 15 POW potpourri packets from the two locations.
As they dug further into the operation, investigators identified a residence in Milton, Florida on Horizon Road as a lab used by the organization to manufacture, package and ship the finished product.
Sergeant Scott Haines with the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office said they were contacted about the case.
"They gave us the information and we conducted a search warrant on that home which was unoccupied at the time. We did find evidence showing synthetic marijuana was being made in that trailer," said Haines.
On July 18, the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office searched the home and seized 44 pounds of marshmallow leaf, children swimming pools containing residue of the finished product, 147 grams of a white powdery substance and FedEx shipping boxes with labels containing the names of Ronald Bentel, Jr. and Robert McPhail.
"There were also blue plastic swimming pools. They were dumping the herb mixture into that and then they'd spray it with chemicals to mimic marijuana and the THC in marijuana," Haines said.
Authorities in Louisiana said the bust came from months of investigations into synthetic drug distribution which spanned several states.
"These people had no ties to Milton. They'd come from Louisiana, make it and ship it out or take it back and distribute it to places all over the United States. So it was quite a large operation," said Haines.
Haines said a synthetic drug operation crossing state lines doesn't come as a surprise.
"This is something that is plaguing many states, even more so than here in Santa Rosa County. So we are more than willing to cooperate with anyone who has information of this happening around here. We look forward to them having a successful prosecution in Louisiana," Haines said.
Further investigation, identified a residence on Bauer Road in Pensacola as also being involved. Agents say they seized six boxes from the home which were to be shipped to six different distributors in four states. The boxes contained 706 packets of POW.
The following individuals have been arrested as a result of this investigation:
- Ronald Bentel Jr., and Robert McPhail were placed under arrest for conspiracy to distribute an analog of a controlled dangerous substance.
- Shannon Woods and Robert Bentel were placed under arrest for distribution of an analog controlled dangerous substance.
- Ronald Bentel Sr. was placed under arrest for possession of marijuana, hydrocodone and alprazolam.
- Wendy Bentel was placed under arrest for distribution of an analog of a controlled dangerous substance, possession of hydrocodone and Alprazolam.
Warrants have been issued for five others.
The Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office plans to test the items found at the home and charges may be filed against Bentel Jr. and McPhail.
You can read more on the investigation by clicking here .