May 2, 2024

Biloxi City Councilman Pleads Guilty to Drug Conspiracy Involving Vape Shops

Morgan Howard

Photo by Sora Shimazaki: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-photo-of-wooden-gavel-5668473/

A Biloxi City Councilman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a Schedule I controlled substance.

47-year-old Robert Leon Deming, III, pled guilty in U.S. District Court in Gulfport.

According to court documents and information presented to the court, in 2019, Deming founded the Candy Shop, LLC to operate Candy Shop stores in Mississippi and North Carolina. The Candy Shop stores sold CBD and vape products.

In 2020, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and Drug Enforcement Administration began investigating the Candy Shop.  The investigation revealed that some of the vape products sold by the Candy Shops in Mississippi contained Schedule I controlled substances and controlled substance analogues. In 2022, the DEA also received complaints that some of the products at the Candy Shops were making customers ill.

Agents obtained search warrants for the Candy Shops located in Mississippi and North Carolina.  They also obtained a warrant for Deming’s residence.  The warrants were contemporaneously executed on January 26, 2023.  During the execution of the search warrants, law enforcement officers seized over $1.8 million in cash from Deming’s residence and additional cash and controlled substances from his stores.

As the investigation continued, agents learned that Deming was aware that his vape additives did not contain CBD; rather, they contained synthetic cannabinoids. This was evidenced by group chats in which Deming’s employees complained about how the additives were too strong and could hurt their customers.  Despite this fact, Deming misbranded the additives as containing CBD.

In addition, through the course of the investigation, agents were able to determine that in May of 2022, Deming sent an uncharged coconspirator $2,200.00 to purchase 1 kilogram of 5F-AB-PINACA, a Schedule I controlled substance, for use in the Candy Shop’s vape additives and that, at the time Deming sent the money, he knew that 5F-AB-PINACA was a controlled substance.

The Government’s investigation also revealed that Deming’s gross sales of vape additive products containing either Schedule I controlled substances or their analogues totaled over $2 million.

Deming was indicted by a federal grand jury on September 19, 2023.

“A public official’s side job should not be running a business that distributes millions of dollars in illegal controlled substances and endangers the health and safety of its customers,” said U.S. Attorney Todd Gee.  “We appreciate the hard work of investigators with the DEA, FDA, and MBN to put a stop to the distribution of these dangerous vape additives.”

“The DEA is committed to holding all individuals accountable for drug trafficking, regardless of position,” said DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Anessa Daniels-McCaw. “Mr. Deming’s guilty plea is a reminder that no one is above the law. We will continue to work with our state and local partners to investigate and prosecute those who violate the Controlled Substances Act.”

“U.S. consumers are put at risk when labeling is false and misleading,” said Special Agent in Charge Justin Fielder, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations, Miami Field Office. “Labeling is designed to provide information that can help consumers make informed choices about what they purchase and consume.   The FDA is committed to pursuing and bringing to justice those who unlawfully mask controlled substances as known consumer products to be sold to the American public.”

As part of the plea agreement in this case, Deming agreed to forfeit a yellow Monster Truck with oversized tires and a lift kit and over $1.9 million dollars. His sentencing is scheduled for August 13, 2024.

U.S. Attorney Todd W. Gee, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Anessa Daniels McCaw of the Drug Enforcement Administration and Special Agent in Charge Justin Fielder of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations Miami Field Office made the announcement.

The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations and the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan Buckner and Lee Smith.

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