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Crime & Courts

Soldotna tobacco shop owner gets 70 months in jail for selling Spice

  • Author: Jerzy Shedlock
  • Updated: September 2, 2017
  • Published September 2, 2017

The operator of a tobacco business in Soldotna was sentenced Friday to nearly six years in prison for selling Spice from his shop Tobacco Distress.

Philip Drake Kneeland, 34, was sentenced to 70 months for "distributing Spice and possessing a firearm in furtherance of Spice trafficking," according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Anchorage.

U.S. District Court Judge Tim Burgess also ordered Kneeland to hand over $75,400, a truck and four guns, prosecutors said.

The Spice sold by Kneeland included at least two chemical compounds banned under federal law, prosecutors said.

Spice is a synthetic drug that is often packaged as potpourri or incense. Manufacturers periodically change its chemical composition, complicating efforts to regulate or ban the designer drug.

Prosecutors allege Kneeland's sales of the Spice triggered an "epidemic" of law enforcement responses on the Kenai Peninsula, including an uptick in emergency room visits, intoxicated driving incidents and suspected suicides.

In fall 2015, Peninsula residents protested Kneeland's Spice sales outside his business, carrying signs saying "SPICE KILLS."

Burgess "heard testimony from a local resident and local law enforcement that the Spice epidemic on the Kenai Peninsula has essentially disappeared since Kneeland's arrest," prosecutors said.

The charges stemmed from a search of Tobacco Distress on Oct. 31, 2015. A co-defendant, 27-year-old William Donald Vincent Dooley, was also charged in the original indictment. Court records show Dooley pleaded guilty to a single Spice conspiracy charge and was sentenced to four months of probation.

Kneeland pleaded guilty to the charges in March, according to court records.

Troopers said at the time of the search that they had seized 518 packets of Spice from the shop and sent them to the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory for testing. Test results showed that 146 of the packets contained chemicals controlled under state statutes, they said.

Packages were labeled Judgment Day, Armageddon, Big Bang and California Dreams. Other brands were marked with flavors like mango, grape and cotton candy.

According to the government's sentencing memorandum, Kneeland has experience as an engineer. He continued to sell Spice in the face of community protest, as well as pleas from family and friends to stop selling it, the document says.

Multiple law enforcement agencies investigated Kneeland's sales: the Drug Enforcement Administration, IRS, Kenai Police Department and Alaska State Troopers.

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