By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Synthetic marijuana, which was sold in Mankato stores until it became illegal in July, is now a product being traded on the black market, according to a criminal complaint filed in Blue Earth County District Court.
Kenneth Cribbs, 23, of Mankato, who was on probation for cocaine possession, was arrested while arriving for work at Long John Silvers restaurant Wednesday.
His probation officer contacted an investigator with the Minnesota River Valley Drug Task Force and asked if he would assist her with a search when Cribbs arrived for work at the restaurant at about 3 p.m.
Between 20 and 30 packages of synthetic marijuana and a scale coated with a white residue that tested positive for cocaine were found in a backpack, the complaint said. The investigators also reported finding two rolls of cash, estimated to be about $2,000, in a compartment in the car and another $350 on Cribbs.
Synthetic marijuana, sold as an herbal incense, was sold legally in at least two stores in Mankato before a new state law made selling the product illegal as of Aug. 1. Since then several people have received citations in Blue Earth and Nicollet counties for possessing the substances, which are usually dried plant products sprayed with a chemical similar to the THC chemical found in marijuana.
What the complaint didn’t say is task force investigators intercepted a box full of synthetic marijuana, which they believe Cribbs attempted to pick up, at the United Parcel Service building in North Mankato nearly three months ago.
An employee at UPS called a drug investigator Aug. 23 to report she had a suspicious package. The employee said the box had been taken to a Mankato address for delivery, but nobody was home to accept it. The man who attempted to pick up the package at the North Mankato hub wasn’t able to show identification with the name on the box. That man looked nervous when he left and got into a car, the employee reported.
An affidavit requesting a search warrant for the box said the car had a license plate that registered to another man with prior drug convictions. Investigators also checked the address on the box and learned the person living there was an associate of two other convicted drug dealers.
Two UPS employees picked Cribbs out of a photo line-up, saying he was the man who attempted to pick up the box. A drug dog sniffed the package but didn’t give a drug response. So investigators used the incorrect name and address on the box, as well as the man’s nervous behavior, as justification for the search warrant.
The warrant was granted by District Court Judge Bradley Walker. Investigators reported finding 100 sealed 6-gram packages, which is more than a pound in total, of synthetic marijuana inside.
When the substance was legal to sell in Mankato, it cost about $40 for 3 grams. If it’s selling for a similar price on the black market, the packages found would be worth about $8,000.
The box was put into an evidence locker at the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Department before it was searched, the affidavit said. It doesn’t say what was done with the packages when they were found.
Cribbs was arrested in October 2011 after task force investigators did a no-knock search of his Mankato hotel room. He had been under investigation for about a month and investigators reported finding eight small packages of cocaine in his pocket.
Cribbs pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree felony drug possession charge and received a stayed 15-month prison sentence from Walker in January.