Late Wednesday afternoon, hours after IND Monthly broke the story about two additional guilty pleas in the “Mr. Miyagi” conspiracy case, U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley, who has been silent since the indictments were unsealed on Oct. 2, issued a press release confirming that Boyd Barrow and Joshua Espinoza of Georgia had indeed pleaded guilty. Those guilty pleas, entered during a hearing in federal court Tuesday, come on the heels of two similar pleas by Drew T. Green and Thomas William Malone Jr., also both of Georgia, in September.
All four pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled dangerous substance analogue, Mr. Miyagi. Punishable by up to 20 years in prison, it is the most serious offense in the indictment.
Finley's press release that evening contained new information regarding attorneys Daniel Stanford of Lafayette and Barry Domingue of Carencro.
Domingue is the lawyer/business partner of Curious Goods owner Richard Buswell. Curious Goods was the retailer of synthetic marijuana, Mr. Miyagi, which the feds claim is an illegal substance.
Stanford, one of Lafayette’s top criminal defense attorneys, has been cooperating with IND Monthly’s ongoing look into the federal conspiracy case. The most recent plea agreement, however, contains information that doesn't jibe with what Stanford has been saying about how he got pulled into this synthetic marijuana case, why he was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by various parties involved in the case and how he came to be named one of nine alleged co-conspirators by the feds.
So now the big question: Who's telling the truth — Stanford or the defendants seeking favorable sentencing?
Since the indictment was unsealed, Stanford has maintained that his involvement with Curious Goods stems from his representation of Buswell in a federal securities fraud case. The two met through a boxer Stanford trained and Buswell sponsored, Stanford tells IND Montlhy. Stanford does admit to incorporating a Louisiana chapter of the Retail Compliance Association. RCA’s purpose, according to both Stanford and the group’s founder, Dan Francis, another of the alleged conspirators, is to act as a unifier between law enforcement, legislators and the distributors of synthetic drugs.
"Look at the paper trail and you can see my role with Richard Buswell is in the securities fraud matter," says Stanford.
In previous interviews, Stanford stipulated that he started developing his legal interest in synthetic drugs, or as RCA defines them, “research chemicals,” between October and November 2011, culminating with the Louisiana RCA’s incorporation on Nov. 28, 2011.
A week later, on Dec. 7, Stanford says he received an unexpected phone call from Buswell, inviting him to a meeting at his home later that evening.
Stanford attended the meeting and says he addressed the crowd of Curious Goods employees and franchise owners for about five minutes, telling them synthetic cannabinoids represent a new area of the law and to call a lawyer if they are ever contacted by law enforcement officers. The next day, local law enforcement and DEA launch a massive raid, arresting dozens and seizing millions of dollars in “Mr. Miyagi” products from Curious Goods locations throughout Acadiana.
Stanford’s version of events doesn't quite match up with Wednesday’s release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Stanford says all the money he received from Buswell, including the checks he received from Curious Goods, were only for his work in the federal securities fraud case, and never for legal counsel pertaining to the sale of “Mr. Miyagi.” That duty, he argues, belonged to attorney Domingue. Buswell also is recorded making that statement in a wire-tapped conversation taken by federal agents inside the Iberia Parish Jail. IND Monthly was allowed to review the transcripts of Buswell's statements in Stanford's law office.
The new information released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office shows the existence of a paper trail between Stanford and the makers of “Mr. Miyagi,” which appears to contradict Stanford's previous statements that he only worked on Buswell's securities fraud case.
Barrow and Espinoza owned and operated Pinnacle Products. Using chemicals purchased from NutraGenomics — the company owned by Drew Green and Tommy Malone; the first defendants to plea — Barrow and Espinoza manufactured and distributed “Mr. Miyagi,” their line of synthetic marijuana. They advertised it as a "non-consumable” type of air freshener or “Potpourri.” Of the numerous businesses supplied by Barrow and Espinoza, their biggest customer was Curious Goods. In court documents, the feds say that from March 2011 to early December of that year, Pinnacle was paid about $3.3 million from the sale of Mr. Miyagi. They received about half of that amount, $1.5 million, from Curious Goods, according to the feds.
During Tuesday's hearing, Barrow and Espinoza admitted to writing Stanford a series of checks through their company, Pinnacle. The checks, totaling $39,171, are dated between Oct. 28 and Dec. 6, 2011. They testified in court that the checks were for legal services Stanford provided to Pinnacle and for dues to Stanford's RCA. Barrow and Espinoza admitted in court that all of the money they paid to Stanford and attorney Domingue were proceeds from the sale of Mr. Miyagi.
Here are the checks Barrow and Espinoza admit to paying Stanford:
(Oct. 28, 2011) - $12,500 check from Pinnacle to Stanford. “Retainer” written in the memo line of the check.
(Nov. 3, 2011) - $6,250 check from Pinnacle to Stanford. Memo line reads “RCA Dues.”
(Nov. 21, 2011) - $13,000 check from Barrow to Stanford. Memo line reads “Legal.”
(Dec. 6, 2011) - $7,421.69 cashier’s check from Pinnacle to Stanford.
IND Monthly talked with Stanford Thursday morning, and he requested time to review the information included in Wednesday’s release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. As of Friday at 11 a.m. Stanford had yet to respond.
Both Barrow and Espinoza acknowledged in court Tuesday that the packaging of Mr. Miyagi was "designed and placed on the product to be intentionally misleading as to both what was in the product and what the product's intended use was knowing full well that it would be ingested by humans."
The feds have moved to seize more than $20 million in cash the defendants received either directly or indirectly from the drug trafficking ring, a 2006 Mercedes Benz X65 sedan, a 2005 Baja Outlaw speed boat, and 2002 Pontiac Firebird (the owners were not listed), and Stanford's home at 120 Branton Drive in Lafayette. According to the tax assessor's office, the home is valued at $572,000.
Read more of IND Monthly’s conspiracy coverage here.