Authorities are only beginning to understand the scope of the Huffhines brothers’ massive operation.
A recent bust of an illegal THC vape operation has bewildered authorities, also shedding light on what may be causing severe lung damage among vapers across the country.
So far, over the last several months, health officials have counted about 400 possible cases of severe lung illness related to vaping, and six deaths. The cause is still being investigated, but state and federal officials suspect that contaminants found in products purchased on the black market are what have caused so many to fall ill.
Now, the discovery of a meticulous and extensive illegal THC vape business operating out of Wisconsin has shed light on the lengths that some people will go to profit from this growing industry.
Drugs, Guns & Cash
Jacob and Tyler Huffhines, 23 and 20 respectively, ran the business out of a condo in Bristol and their family’s home in Paddock Lake. Authorities seized $59,000 in cash, eight guns, various illicit drugs, 57 mason jars filled with THC oil, and nearly 130,000 cartridges that were either empty or contained the THC oil.
“When we walked in there, we were like, ‘Oh boy,’” said Capt. Dan Baumann of the Waukesha Police Department. “This is what we were looking for, but we did not know it was this big.”
The Huffhines siblings were arrested on September 5 and remain in custody in Kenosha County Jail. Tyler has been charged with the manufacture, distribution or delivery of marijuana, and Jacob has been charged with cocaine possession and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The massive operation produced close to 3,000 cartridges a day, employing at least 10 people who were paid $20 per hour to fill the cartridges with the THC oil, the New York Times reported. Each cartridge would sell for around $35 to $40.
This bust was a major development as vaping-related illness has become something of a public health crisis in the U.S. as of late. Experts detailed to the Times how counterfeit vapes are assembled piece by piece to produce a convincing product resembling real vapes that are sold in legal marijuana states like California and Colorado.
Making The Counterfeits
Everything from the empty cartridges to packaging made to resemble the real thing, logos and all, are purchased on the internet. Then the cartridges are injected with THC oil purchased in the U.S. The problem, authorities say, lies in producers wanting to reap the most profit by diluting their product. This is where the suspected contaminants come in.
Authorities suspect that black market suppliers are cutting the THC oil with fillers, such as vitamin E acetate, a thickening agent that is one suspected cause of what has been sickening so many people who vape.
Investigators are only beginning to understand the scope of the Huffhines’ operation, and the likelihood of there being more like it.
The Times said, “Wisconsin police say they were stunned by the scope and ambition of the Huffhines operation, and [are] only beginning to understand how far it might have reached.”