The Department of Justice says 28-year-old Natalia Middleton was part of a multi-million dollar crime ring which trafficked synthetic drugs to 47 states across the country. Federal agents arrested Middleton of Clovis along with three other people who they say worked as a team to traffic, manufacture and sell synthetic marijuana.
The arrests were part of a nationwide crackdown. The Department of Justice has uncovered the group was responsible for at least 11 tons of distribution. "They made about 20 million dollars within about five months," said Karen Escobar with the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Action News Cameras caught a raid at the "Stuffed Pipe" Smoke Shop in Northwest Fresno last year. Now this criminal complaint is revealing Middleton worked as a manager at one of the store's locations, even before the bust. " The people who manufacture this stuff put on the packages not for human consumption. In fact it is. It's sold in smoke shops, some of the stuff is sold in smoke shops all over the valley, sold all over the country," added Escobar.
Synthetic drugs are often marketed as herbal incense and bath salts. The controlled substance is sold under names including, "Spice" and "K2." Federal agents say the drug can cause a spike in blood pressure and even paranoid behavior. "It's just a growing threat. One out of nine high school students has been found to use this stuff. It's very, very harmful," said Escobar.
If found guilty Middleton could face 20 years in prison on drug charges. She's also charged with money laundering. Middleton is scheduled to appear in court on Friday.