The nation's largest prosecution of the illegal synthetic hallucinogens called "bath salts" got a boost Tuesday when two men under indictment since the spring agreed to plead guilty next week in a West Virginia courtroom.
Jeremia Phillips, 30, and Derrick Calip, 40, were charged in April with selling the drugs from two head shops in West Virginia called Hot Stuff and Cool Things.
Both are expected to plead guilty Nov. 5 before a federal judge in Clarksburg, W.Va.
The owner of the two stores in Buckhannon and Clarksburg, Jeff Paglia, 48, is awaiting trial along with his partner, Texas strip club owner John Skruck, 56.
Mr. Phillips and Mr. Calip, both employees of Mr. Skruck in Texas, also worked for Mr. Paglia at his stores, where federal agents and police said customers lined up to buy bath salts sold under such names as "Ivory Wave" and "Vanilla Sky."
The drugs, which can induce psychotic behavior, are an emerging threat across the country, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which in October 2011 issued an emergency one-year ban. DEA listed bath salts in the same category as LSD and heroin.
In July, President Barack Obama signed a new law making the chemicals used in bath salts illegal. In addition, 34 states have enacted their own bans, including Pennsylvania.
The West Virginia case is based on a year-long investigation by DEA and IRS agents working with local police that culminated with an April raid by 70 law officers on Mr. Paglia's head shops.
Agents also seized 11 properties, several vehicles, $750,000 in cash.
U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld in Wheeling said the paranoia-inducing drugs have been causing teens and young adults to act in bizarre ways across the state, such as mutilating themselves while hallucinating, with many ending up in the hospital.
At the time of the arrests, he said West Virginia had the highest number of medical incidents involving bath salts in the U.S. and that Harrison County, where Mr. Paglia's Clarksburg store is located, led the state.
As part of the federal raid, agents seized 17,000 foil packages of the drugs.
Torsten Ove: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1510.