Black-market THC-vape operation busted in Wisconsin, police say

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Authorities in Wisconsin say theyve busted an alleged large-scale operation making tens of thousands of bootleg THC-containing vape products. Authorities seized over $1.5 million worth of THC product from a single residence late last week.

In a press conference Wednesday, the Kenosha County Sheriffs Department announced that local authorities made the bust after serving “knock and announce” search warrants at two locations in the county. At one property, police seized approximately 31,200 vape cartridges, each filled with 1 gram of oil containing tetrahydrocannabinol (aka THC, the psycho-active ingredient in cannabis). They also seized 98,000 unfilled vape cartridges, 57 Mason jars filled with approximately 1,616 ounces of refined liquid THC, and approximately eighteen pounds of marijuana.

Police are holding Tyler T. Huffhines, 20, on several charges, including possession with intent to manufacture, distribute, or deliver more than 10,000 grams of cannabis product. Authorities also arrested his brother, Jacob D. Huffhines, 23, for cocaine and firearm possession.

According to a report by local news outlet Kenosha News, Tyler Huffhines had 10 employees who manufactured and processed THC while assembling and packaging vape cartridges.

Kenosha Country Sheriff David Beth told reporters that the employees filled cartridges with syringes loaded from jars labeled as containing THC oil. They filled the cartridges with 1 gram (1,000 milligrams) of THC oil, though they were labeled as containing just 5 milligrams of THC oil.

Huffhines reportedly paid his employees 30¢ per cartridge, which were packaged to look professional, according to Kenosha County assistant district attorney Andrew Burgoyne. The outfit filled 3,000 to 5,000 cartridges a day, each of which sold for $16.

Suspect products

The bust comes as federal agencies and authorities in 33 states—including Wisconsin— investigate an abrupt rash of severe lung illnesses that have been linked to vaping. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tallied 450 possible cases and six deaths nationwide. As of September 5, Wisconsin reports 34 cases, with 12 others under investigation and no deaths.

Sgt. Chris Hannah, Kenosha County Sheriffs Departments Public Information Officer, told Ars Wednesday that the bust of the bootleg operation was not tipped off by any products or information from the lung illness investigation. Its unclear if any of those sickened used the products, but “its still an open investigation at this time,” Sgt. Hannah said. He anticipated being in touch with the states health department and investigators over the issue. He added that the department did not yet know what was in the cartridges besides THC. Toxicology testing is pending, Sgt. Hannah said.

A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services told Ars only that “Our disease detectives are working to gather information about the substances and products used in connection with the cases of lung disease linked to vaping.” They referred other questions back to Kenosha County law enforcement.

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