Soldotna Spice seller sentenced in milestone federal case
A Soldotna man has been sentenced to nearly six years in prison, in what prosecutors say is Alaska’s first federal felony prosecution for trafficking the designer drug Spice.
Philip Drake Kneeland, 34, received a 70-month prison term on counts of distributing Spice and possessing a firearm in furtherance of Spice trafficking, according to Acting U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder’s office. He had entered a guilty plea to those charges on March 6.
“In addition to his prison sentence, Chief U.S. District Judge Timothy M. Burgess ordered Kneeland to forfeit to the United States approximately $75,400.00, a 2014 GMC truck, and four firearms,” federal prosecutors wrote in a statement on the case.
Spice is typically created by dissolving psychotropic drugs in acetone, then spraying it on plants.
Kneeland and a co-defendant, William Donald Vincent Dooley, were charged in connection with their operation of Spice seller Tobacco Distress from July 2014 through December 2015. The store had outlets in Wasilla and Kenai, but the case focused on the Kenai store, which prosecutors said “triggered an epidemic of Spice-related law enforcement responses on the Kenai Peninsula, including emergency room visits, suspected suicides and DUIs.”
The Kenai store was also targeted by protests from residents in late 2015, carrying signs that said “SPICE KILLS.”
“The Court heard testimony from a local resident and local law enforcement that the Spice epidemic on the Kenai Peninsula has essentially disappeared since Kneeland’s arrest,” federal officials wrote.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Barkeley, who prosecuted the case against Kneeland and Dooley, said most cases involving Spice and other designer drugs involve a cat-and-mouse game between regulators and chemists. When one formulation of a drug is outlawed, chemists respond by slightly altering the compositions of their drugs so they remain legal.
For example, Barkeley said a similar Spice case in Fairbanks about five years ago was only charged as a misdemeanor -- involving the drugs being mislabeled as “potpourri” and not for human consumption -- because the drugs in the seized Spice were legal at the time.
In Kneeland’s case, however, federal agents raiding his store in late 2015 found Spice based on compounds that were declared illegal in 2012 updates to the federal Controlled Substances Act.
“The vintage of this guy’s Spice components, his psychoactive Spice component, was such that it had already been outlawed by statute three years ago,” Barkeley said. “It would appear this was not being made in Alaska; it would appear that it was ordered from vendors who shipped it before it was illegal.”
Barkeley said Dooley ultimately received five years of probation after federal agents first raided the store in late 2015.
“He made the good decision to quit,” Barkeley said. “As a result, the court treated him with greater deference than Kneeland, who was still selling Spice after Spice had been seized from the store -- he didn’t listen to the wake-up call.”
Burgess, the judge in the case, also ordered Kneeland to perform 200 hours of community service upon his release.