Two Wisconsin brothers have been charged for their involvement in a massive operation that manufactured and sold counterfeit THC vaping cartridges — an “empire” that authorities estimate was one of the largest in the U.S. Police described 20-year-old Tyler Huffhines as the ringleader of a complex, multimillion-dollar vaping business that churned out thousands of THC-filled cartridges per day, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.
Tyler Huffhines was charged on Monday with maintaining a drug house, identity theft and intent to manufacture and distribute THC over 10,000 grams. His brother, Jacob Huffhines, 23 — who was on probation for dealing cocaine — was charged with possessing cocaine, THC, and a firearm.
Authorities said the brothers based their vaping headquarters in a rented condo in Bristol, Wisconsin. There, they paid at least 10 individuals to fill vaping cartridges with liquid THC concentrate — which is illegal in the state — and package them to resemble candy, including names like “Chronic Sour Patch.” The packaging suggested the product contained minimal THC content, though authorities say the cartridges housed up to 1,000 mg — over 150 times what the label indicated.
Police arrested the brothers on September 5th after executing search warrants at their family’s home in Paddock Lake and the Bristol condo, which Tyler Huffhines allegedly rented using a false name.
Tyler Huffhines admitted to detectives that he didn’t know the man whose identity he used. He obtained the individual’s information by paying “some guys in California” roughly $2,000.
Investigators seized a stash of THC cartridges exceeding $1.5 million in value, according to the Kenosha Sheriff’s Department.
Items seized from the Paddock Lake residence include $59,000 in cash, eight firearms and ammunition, cocaine, marijuana, Xanax pills, nine cell phones, and assorted drug paraphernalia. At the Bristol condo, authorities recovered approximately 31,200 vape cartridges filled with one gram of THC concentrate each, approximately 98,000 unfilled vape cartridges, 57 mason jars filled with 1,616 ounces of refined liquid THC, roughly 18 pounds of marijuana, three money-counting machines, thousands of empty vape cartridge boxes with packaging, and various drug paraphernalia.
In July, the Waukesha Police Department began their investigation after the parents of an unidentified teen informed authorities about discovering the vaping package in his room. Police learned that THC vaping products were being distributed throughout schools in the local community.
A confidential informant told authorities he’d seen thousands of such cartridges in Tyler Huffhines’ condo, according to a criminal complaint. There, detectives viewed his Snapchat, which included videos and photos showing boxes of the cartridges, marijuana buds, a bill counter and massive amounts of cash. They also discovered videos he posted on August 28th of him flying first-class to California; he’d brought along a suitcase loaded with $300,000 in cash with plans to buy 40 to 50 jars of THC oil.
Jacob Huffhines told police that he traveled with his brother to California to purchase the THC oil, Kenosha News reports. Kenosha County Lt. Eric Klinkhammer told The New York Post that police are investigating Jacob Huffhines’ level of involvement in the operation. “We believe they’re both involved,” he said.
Tyler Huffhines told authorities he began the scheme on January 29th, 2018, attempting to profit on the wide demand for THC vaping cartridges. He initially purchased prepackaged THC cartridges from California at $2.50 apiece and sold them for $15 each in Wisconsin, pocketing him $500 to $800 per 100 cartridges.
Attempting to streamline his process, he hired at least 10 people to work at his Bristol condo, forming an “assembly line” to fill the empty cartridges with liquid THC. While he originally paid them $20 per hour, he later switched to 30 cents to cartridge as a motivational incentive and money-saving measure.
“You invest more, you make more,” Huffhines told authorities, according to the complaint. “No risk, no reward.”
“He prides himself on being a young businessman,” Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said at a news conference, Buzzfeed News reports. “He’s a 20-year-old businessman who is willing to put other people’s lives at risk, including children, for his own benefit.”
Beth added that others involved in the operation are being investigated, with additional arrests and charges possible to follow. He also asked parents to look out for their children using THC vaping devices with misleading packaging. “This was going on under our noses,” he said. “Parents cannot take this lightly.”
During Tyler Huffhines’ initial court appearance on Monday, his attorney, Mark Richards, argued that no evidence connects his client to the vaping-related health crisis that has killed at least six and caused nearly 400 illnesses in 36 states and one U.S. territory. “There have been no deaths in Wisconsin,” he said. According to NBC News, Tyler Huffhines has not yet entered a plea.