NEW PALESTINE — Two people arrested in connection to the 2013 bust of a large Spice-manufacturing plant in New Palestine have had their charges dropped, with the prosecutor saying he doubts the pair knew about the criminal operation.
Five more defendants have accepted plea deals and face sentencing in the coming weeks, court records show.
Newly elected Hancock County prosecutor Brent Eaton inherited the case from his predecessor, Michael Griffin, who left office in December. Eaton said in reviewing the investigation with fresh eyes, his staff opted not to prosecute two people originally implicated in the criminal case — Indianapolis natives Stacey Jaynes and Sherry Parsons.
Original charging documents state Jaynes and Parsons are the spouses of Robert Jaynes and Kirk Parsons, two Indianapolis men who investigators said operated the drug manufacturing ring and a warehouse in Indianapolis where the drugs were packaged and distributed, although court records show the two men were never formally charged.
Investigators were told the women visited the factory occasionally and had delivered money on the behalf of their husbands. But Eaton said the two women might not have known they were associating with drug dealers.
The case began with a monthlong joint state and federal investigation that led authorities to a home in the 4500 block of South County Road 650W in New Palestine. There, police found one of the largest synthetic marijuana manufacturing operations local law enforcement had ever seen, officials said.
When police raided the property, they found more than 1,300 pounds of Spice, court documents state. In addition, they seized flavoring liquids and bales of dried flowers believed to be used in making the drug. The operation was valued at $3 million.
Of the 12 original defendants, most were charged with either manufacturing the Spice at the New Palestine home or being involved in connected operations at an Indianapolis warehouse, court documents state.
The majority of those defendants still face felony charges, Eaton said.
But not everyone who was charged was directly involved in the drug-making operation or realized criminal activity was taking place, Eaton said.
When police questioned Robert Jaynes in October, he told investigators at the time some of the people who worked for him did not know they were doing anything illegal, and he asked that they not go to jail, court records state.
When investigators said providing immunity might not be an option, Jaynes asked for a lawyer, court documents state.
The defendants whose cases are still outstanding will return to court in the coming weeks, court records show.
They include Jarad Lewis and his wife, Jayme Lewis, who lived in the New Palestine home, as well as their nephew, Hayden Lewis.
Hayden Lewis is one who cooperated with the investigation, court records state. He told investigators that workers at the New Palestine property cut organic material and then blended it with a powdery substance and acetone to create Spice. The substance, when smoked, produces a high similar to marijuana.
Other defendants include James Mills, Katrina Arterberry, Lillian Bledsoe, Ryan Wyneder and Wesley Freeland, who court records show have all accepted plea agreements and are awaiting sentencing.
Defendants Sharon Strong and Chad Tichenor also will return to court this month, according to court records.
None of the suspects is from Hancock County. All three Lewises, Arterberry, Parsons and Tichenor are from Indianapolis. Freeland is from North Salem, and Mills is from New Ross. Court records do not list an address for Wyneder or Strong.