Salt Lake area businesses, homes seized in ‘significant’ federal bath salts investigation

Authorities also seized over $6 million in cash and other assets throughout the investigation, which began in 2020.

(Jordan Miller | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dustin Gillespie, left, Drug Enforcement Administration assistant special agent in charge, U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah Trina Higgins, center, and SLCPD Chief Mike Brown, right, speak during a news conference at the Public Safety Building about a federal bath salts investigation on Jan. 24, 2023.

Authorities across the Salt Lake Valley have seized over $6 million in real estate, including some local businesses, as part of a yearslong federal bath salts investigation, officials announced Tuesday.

Homeland Security officials began investigating the trafficking of bath salts to the Salt Lake City area in 2020, Brandon Crane, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations in Utah, said.

The powdery, flour-like, synthetic stimulant mimics the effects of methamphetamine. Shipments of the drug flowed into various Salt Lake Valley locations from countries around the world, such as China and Mexico, the initial investigation showed.

Homeland Security soon partnered with the Drug Enforcement Agency’s metro task force — which includes officials from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies — to dismantle “several” transnational drug trafficking groups operating in the Salt Lake area, Crane said.

According to DEA agent Dustin Gillespie, 500 grams of the drug — an amount that compares to about 4 cups of baking flour, relatively speaking — has a street value of about $200,000. Since the beginning of the investigation in 2020, the task force has seized over $400,000 in vehicles, $300,000 in jewelry and $300,000 in designer handbags in connection with the case.

Officials did not specify the addresses of the millions in real estate seized throughout the investigation, but said it included houses and licensed businesses across the valley — all purchased with money derived from the sale of bath salts, Gillespie said.

“The people involved in this investigation thought they could avoid accountability and live a lavish lifestyle,” SLCPD police Chief Mike Brown said, noting that there have been 25 arrests in the case.

None of the people arrested were identified Tuesday.

“This is a significant investigation which revealed that bath-salt distributors and the distribution of bath salts is widespread throughout the Salt Lake Valley,” Brown continued, “and has a detrimental effect on all our local communities.”

Officials on Tuesday said they were unsure why Utah has apparently experienced a “very prolific” resurgence of bath salts while other parts of the country continue to focus on the proliferation of fentanyl and other drugs.

“The amount of cash, residences, firearms, automobiles that we’ve seized — we’re making a dent in these organizations,” said Trina Higgins, U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah. “That’s another really important message that we want to get out into the community, is that we will take profitability away from this type of activity.”