SALISBURY, Ill. (WRSP) — Neighbors were shocked Tuesday after learning an elderly Salisbury woman was arrested on federal drug charges.
According to a criminal complaint filed in federal court, Letha Dean, 71, of Salisbury was arrested Friday for selling an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent 520 packets of what they suspect is synthetic cannabinoids.
The complaint said after her arrest, agents searched Mystic Enchantments, a Springfield store she managed, and seized about 11.8 kilograms of what they suspect to be synthetic cannabinoids.
Dean's neighbors in Salisbury said the news was shocking.
“I'm very flabbergasted,” Dean’s neighbor Beth Leach said. “It's nothing you would ever expect in this sleepy little town.”
"She seemed like a real nice person,” Beth Leach’s husband Paul Leach said. “I met and talked with her several times."
This isn't the first time Dean's been in trouble with the law.
Court records show that in 2009, she pleaded guilty to being involved in facilitating a multi-state prostitution ring and was sentenced to one year probation.
"I just always thought she was a grandmother that went and watched her grandkids," Beth Leach said.
The most recent arrest is part of a larger operation.
According to the Department of Justice, Dean is one of eight people charged following investigations into the distribution of synthetic cannabinoids in central Illinois.
The Drug Enforcement Administration said these synthetic drugs have been pouring into the country at record rates since 2009.
"You're really playing a game of whack-a-mole to keep up with the new substances,” said Robert Bell, associate special agent in charge for the DEA Chicago Field Division. “If one substance becomes controlled, the manufacturers will chemically manipulate the substance and change it slightly, chemically and then it's a new substance that may not be under control."
The investigation is ongoing, so more arrests could be coming.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 138 people, including three deaths, have reported severe bleeding after using synthetic cannabinoid products.