When kids in North Dakota and Minnesota started overdosing and dropping dead from synthetic drugs in a span of a week last year, authorities there knew they had a problem on their hands. It didn't take long for them to trace the drugs -- called 25-I or NBOME -- to a dealer in Grand Forks, North Dakota, who bought them online from a company in Houston.
The company, Motion Research, purported to sell "research chemicals" imported from various countries, and marketed as "not for human consumption."
This caught the eye of investigators of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and when one of the founders of Motion Research decided to snitch his two coworkers out, a tough federal prosecutor in North Dakota had one hell of a case: he painted two Houston men as the ringleaders of a conspiracy that, all told, has embroiled 13 defendants. It is one of the first far-reaching prosecutions of analog drugs sold online.
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The two Houston men, Charles Carlton and John Polinski, could receive life sentences, while their partner, Harry "Scootdog" Mickelis, escaped charges, thanks to his cooperation in a case that shouldn't have needed his help in the first place.
The drugs Carlton and Polinksi allegedly sold are still of course available from a multitude of online vendors; and amateur chemists are constantly tweaking the molecular structures of their drugs in order to stay one step ahead of state and federal laws that can't quite seem to keep up.
Take a look inside the investigation, and the world of analog drugs, in this week's cover story, "Breaking Bad."