Fires caused by drug labs lead to indictments across the state

498 Kinsley went up in flames last March.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Two Rhode Islanders were indicted on a variety of charges connected to an alleged butane hash oil (BHO) fire that gutted an industrial building on Kinsley Avenue last March.

District of Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha released details from those indictments along with charges from three other illegal BHO manufacturing cases that were investigated in 2015. In the four unrelated cases, five men face charges, and three of the four labs caused fires, including one in South Kingstown that was deadly.

“It’s incredibly dangerous to the people who are doing it,” Neronha said. “It’s incredibly dangerous to their neighbors. To people who were walking down the street.”

Christopher White, 50, and Graeme Marshall, 50, are charged with 22 counts each in a federal indictment connected to the Kinsley Avenue fire. The charges include nine counts of endangering human life while illegally manufacturing a controlled substance and four counts of money laundering.

As first reported by Target 12, investigators discovered butane tanks, tubes filled with marijuana and half-burned marijuana on the floor of 498 Kinsley after fire destroyed the 86,000 square-foot brick building. At the time, Rhode Island State Fire Marshal Jack Chartier said the process of turning marijuana into BHO is highly flammable and involves forcing butane through marijuana and then burning the chemical off the thick liquid that is left behind from the process.

White was one of two tenants in the building which was home to his company GROSCA. According to corporate filings, GROSCA designed, produced and sold indoor plant-growing equipment. White is also named in a secretary of state document as the contact for the Cannabis Producer Association of New England and the address for that entity is listed as 498 Kinsley.

Photos: Five-Alarm Fire Destroys Providence Mill >>
Photos: Five-Alarm Fire Destroys Providence Mill »

The other tenant was the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. Executive Director JoAnne Leppanen said RIPAC neither grew nor stored medical marijuana in their Kinsley Avenue office.

According to the indictment, White and Marshall’s operation started in August of 2013, about 18 months before the fire.

Last summer, in South Kingstown, a BHO lab explosion was deadly after a home went up in flames. Dillon Kantlehner, 26, was indicted on two counts involving BHO manufacturing. .

Kantlehner was hospitalized for two months with severe burns, and the indictment states an unidentified man died in October from burns from that July fire.

In Westerly, a November BHO explosion and fire is blamed on Scott Slagel, 41, who has made a plea agreement with the government.

A West Warwick case in July, also detailed during the government’s news conference, is the only one of the four that did not involve a fire. West Warwick’s Police Chief Colonel Richard Silva said one of his officers noticed a detail in an apartment building that indicated a possible effort to hide the odor of a drug lab.

“He noticed there may be some improper ventilation and other issues that he thought may be consistent with a drug operation,” Silva said.

The officer’s suspicions were later confirmed with the arrest of Tyler Crespo, 21, on two counts for running the drug lab. 6000 grams of BHO and $14,000 in cash was confiscated during that investigation.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the draw to BHO has risen dramatically over the past year and the reason is the high concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC

New England DEA regional director Michael Ferguson said marijuana leaves hold about 10 percent of that active ingredient, while BHO is far more concentrated..

“It went from less than seven percent in 2008, to more than 52 percent in 2015,” Ferguson said. “WIth some BHO samples testing upwards of 80 percent.”

Neronha said these four cases were Rhode Island’s first ever indictments involving BHO. Ferguson said the four Rhode Island labs were among 10 in New England that were busted by federal agents last year. But he and others believe those investigations only scratch the surface of the drug’s prevalence in the region.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau

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