TAMPA - An I-Team investigation has uncovered several local businesses importing thousands of pounds of so-called synthetic marijuana into the bay area and distributing it to stores across the area.
Often known as Spice or K-2, synthetic marijuana is dangerous -- and profitable.
He may only be 13 years old, but he's old enough to be handcuffed and shackled in a Tampa Bay courtroom.
"Those are very serious charges,” says Judge Tracy Sheehan.
"Angel" (we're not using his last name) is in a lot of trouble.
But, his distraught aunt and guardian, says, at least he's alive. "It's the first time he's done something like this,” she tells us as she leaves court.
"The first time he ever tried it he went straight to the hospital. His heart rate was 120 over 102. He could have died,” she says.
Angel's aunt blames synthetic marijuana for both his legal trouble and near death.
"When did you start using Spice?” We ask. “I started using Spice four months ago,” says Angel.
Just after Judge Tracy Sheehan ordered Angel returned to jail, the teenager told us his aunt is absolutely right.
"It made me do stuff where I'm not supposed to do, like acting weird,” said Angel. "And my heart, it felt like it was hurting me because it was beating and made me feel nervous. ”
Angel says he and a friend got the Spice from a local convenience store where it continues to be sold legally behind the counter despite efforts in Tallahassee to ban it.
The I-Team has uncovered not only is Spice readily available, but we've discovered companies right here in Tampa are distributing thousands of pounds of it.
One location is Baba Wholesale at 4402 East 10th Avenue.
The I-Team has obtained Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department intelligence reports showing shipments to the warehouse on different dates of 520, 534, and 1100 pounds of a "green leafy substance" "that smelled like marijuana."
Because it tested negative for THC, the active ingredient in real marijuana, the Sheriff's Department released it for delivery.
We recently followed a delivery truck from the warehouse to a Seffner convenience store where bags were unloaded and delivered.
"I have no problem manufacturing anything that is legal,” says George Challita of Baba Wholesale.
Challita identified himself as the man in charge at the company and he's right. Until any new law goes into affect, his product is legal.
But we showed him several newspaper articles showing while synthetic marijuana is legal; the chemicals used in it are dangerous.
"How many kids get hurt everyday from other stuff?" asked Challita.
"Why would I worry about somebody I have no control of?"
Across town on West Linebaugh we found another warehouse and another company.
After first saying he makes cigars, the man, who wouldn't identify himself, acknowledged he makes synthetic marijuana. He wouldn't invite us in.
But Marty Dehi, the property manager at United Business Center, tells the I-Team he's called the police repeatedly after observing the operation while the bay doors were wide open.
Dehi said he saw “production of K-2, Spice and putting it from bulk into small containers,” he says.
The Sheriff Department confirms it’s responded to the address several times in the last few months.
"I think everyone is winking, grinning and selling this stuff surely knows damn well it's dangerous," says Judge Sheehan.
Sheehan says she sees kids and families almost daily in her court where Spice is cited as a factor in criminal activity.
On this day it was a 13-year-old named Angel.
“I would say this is what happened to me because I smoked Spice," says Angel.
"If that's how you are making your money. Its dirty money," says his Aunt.
There's no way to tell where the Spice Angel smoked came from.
Regardless, George Challita says it doesn't matter to him.
Challita says he's stopped production at his Tampa warehouse in the last few days and plans to move his operation out of state.
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