Rockingham woman named as participant in 'bath salts' conspiracy


BRATTLEBORO >> A Rockingham woman was named on Monday, Dec. 14, as one of five people suspected of distributing "bath salts" in the Greater Falls area.

According to court documents, Christine Spaulding, 36, of Rockingham, "knowingly and willfully conspired with each other and with others ... to distribute (a-PVP) ..."An initial indictment was issued on Sept. 24, without Spaulding's name, followed by an updated indictment on Dec. 10 that included her name.

Three others were charged with distribution were Michael DePalma, 56, of Plainfield, N.H., Louis Turcio, 51, of Springfield, and Andrew Darling, 52, of North Walpole, N.H. Turcio and Darling were also charged with possession of a firearm as convicted felons. As with Spaulding, Michael Kline, 43, of Chester, was not named until the superceding indictment was issued on Dec. 10. Kline was also charged with possession of a firearm as an unlawful user of a controlled substance.

The drug, a-PVP, is also known as "flakka" or "bath salts." According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "Alpha-PVP is chemically similar to other synthetic cathinone drugs popularly called 'bath salts,' and takes the form of a white or pink, foul-smelling crystal that can be eaten, snorted, injected, or vaporized in an e-cigarette or similar device. Vaporizing, which sends the drug very quickly into the bloodstream, may make it particularly easy to overdose. Like other drugs of this type, alpha-PVP can cause a condition called 'excited delirium' that involves hyperstimulation, paranoia, and hallucinations that can lead to violent aggression and self-injury. The drug has been linked to deaths by suicide as well as heart attack. It can also dangerously raise body temperature and lead to kidney damage or kidney failure."

The arrests were a result of a long-term investigation into bath salts distribution in Springfield and neighboring towns. "The alleged conspiracy involved the on-line ordering of substantial amounts of bath salts from a supplier in China, wiring of thousands of dollars overseas to purchase the product, and arranging for delivery of the bath salts to locations in Vermont and New Hampshire," stated a press release issued in September. A simple web search reveals a number of overseas sources of drugs that are illegal in the United States.

Through search warrants, agents obtained email communications between DePalma and his supplier in China. "For example, on September 18, 2014, writes, 'I will send out your samples ... Which samples you like? ... 4f-pvp, a-ppp, blue a-pvp, ethylone, 4-CMC ..." In a response, DePalma wrote "we have west. unioned I500usd to yuling rna, Need I kg alpha and a sample of the blue alpha if possible ..."

The distribution ring came under investigation after law enforcement learned of DePalma in the course of investigating Thomas Arbuckle, of Springfield, Devin Messier, of Newport, and Brett Lawton, of Barton, who were federally prosecuted and were sentenced this past summer in Vermont for bath salts distribution. More suspects were identified after Jesse Emerson, of Springfield, and his wife, Eugenia Emerson, of Bellows Falls, were arrested in February 2015 and charged with conspiracy to distribute a-PVP. The Emersons popped up on the radar of Homeland Special Investigations in 2014 after U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Cincinnati intercepted a package of a-PVP en route from China and addressed to Eugenia Emerson.

The Emersons received the package from China in October 2014, according to court documents, addressed to Eugenia Emerson's Bellows Falls residence. During an interview with local police, Jesse Emerson admitted to sending money via Western Union to China on numerous previous occasions in order to purchase bath salts. He told detectives he had been receiving approximately two kilograms of a-PVP per month since approximately July 2014. He also admitted Eugenia did the ordering while he handled the selling of the drug.

Eugenia Emerson was previously arrested by the Vermont State Police on Feb. 1, 2014, after she was stopped on Interstate 91 and troopers found 690 bags of heroin under a seat cushion. She eventually pleaded guilty to possession of heroin with intent to distribute as part of her pending federal case. In Windham Superior Court, Eugenia Emerson has a pending charge for the possession of 94 bags of heroin, according to court documents.

"In her plea agreement, she and the U.S. Attorney's Office have agreed the appropriate term of imprisonment the Court should impose is not more than 10 years," said Kevin Doyle, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont,. "Sentencing is ultimately up to the court. Jesse Emerson has pleaded to conspiracy to distribute a-PVP but Emerson and the United States did not reach any sentencing agreement with him."

Doyle said a number of agencies worked on the case.

"This case was a cooperative effort by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to stem the flow of a dangerous synthetic drug from China to Springfield and neighboring New Hampshire areas," he said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations was the lead agency and was assisted by the Vermont State Police Drug Task Force, the New Hampshire State Police Drug Task Force, Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Also assisting were police departments from Springfield and Plainfield, N.H.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.


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