Since his arrest a year ago, accused international drug dealer Sean Libbert of Newport Coast has gone on a stark losing streak against the U.S. Department of Justice.
Libbert lost, temporarily won and finally lost efforts to obtain pre-trial release on bail from U.S. marshal custody because he's considered a flight risk and has ties to communist China.
He's watched his co-defendant, Kyle Kledzik of Dana Point, cut a quick, guilty plea that, though sealed, likely strengthens the government's case against an operation that allegedly sold synthetic marijuana, hallucinogenic party drug called bath salts as well as guns and ammunition.
And this month a federal judge rejected his efforts to dismiss 14 of the 16 charges on technicalities.
Craig Wilkie, Libbert's defense lawyer, argued the indictment was "fatally defective" because it failed to allege whether the government intends to prove the synthetic drugs have a hallucinogenic effect on a user's central nervous system or whether his client made sales pitches asserting the effect.
"As the court may recall from the earlier bail litigation, Mr. Libbert owned and operated a company (Research Chemical Supplier) that openly sold over the Internet substances which are alleged to be controlled substance analogues, and his company website conspicuously warned consumers that the substances were not for human consumption," Wilkie told U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney. "Mr. Libbert's criminal liability depends on whether the substances are 'controlled substance analogues' within the meaning of [federal law], which in turn depends on whether he represented or intended the substance to have a stimulant, depressant or hallucinogenic effect on the central nervous system [similar to a schedule I or II controlled substance]."
To Wilkie, the grand jury indictment is based on a "legally insufficient theory" that someone other than Mr. Libbert made the central nervous system impact claims to clients across the nation.
But while Carney did not agree charges should be dismissed, he thought Wilkie's argument scored in part.
"Notwithstanding the sufficiency of the indictment, the court is sympathetic to Mr. Libbert's concerns in preparing his defense without notice of whether the alleged controlled substances analogues are so defined because of their physiological effects or because Mr. Libbert represented or intended such effects, or both," Carney declared before ordering DOJ officials "to clarify and identify with precision" its case.
Prosecutors say Libbert faces a potential life in prison punishment if convicted because of his prior criminal history. He sparked a manhunt by becoming a fugitive in a prior drug conviction, violated laws against felons possessing weapons, sold Ecstasy as well as committed burglary, theft, hit and run, and DUI, according to court records.
The case--involving Drug Enforcement Administration, IRS and Department of Homeland Security agents--is the first in Southern California alleging violations of the Controlled Substances Analogue Enforcement Act that makes it illegal to manufacture or possess chemicals intended for human consumption that have similar nervous system impacts to controlled substances like marijuana or Ecstasy.
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Libbert's indictment alleges the defendant lived a life of luxury hauling in about $12 million a year.
Four Chinese nationals were also arrested for their alleged roles in the narcotics operation.