Police busted an Upstate illegal synthetic drug ring hiding in plain sight.
Multiple agencies arrested seven people Thursday, executing seven search warrants at the same time. They raided two homes, a used car dealership and four smoke shops owned by the same upstate family: Sky's Tha Limit in Easley, Purple Haze in Clemson, Purple Haze in Seneca and Amnesiac in Anderson.
Those arrested are:
James Tony Pilgrim
Wendy Lee Blanton Pilgrim
Sabrina Dawn Jenkins
Carrie Pilgrim Barbery
Brandi Leigh Childress
James Kyle Barbery
John Thomas Stanfield, Jr.
Law enforcement officials said they also confiscated 300 pounds of synthetic drugs and nearly $3 million in cash and bank accounts.
In addition to the Easley Police Department, agencies involved in the year-long investigation include Pickens, Oconee, Anderson and Greenville County Sheriff's Offices, Clemson, Anderson, Seneca and Greenville Police Departments, the Drug Enforcement Administration and 13th Circuit Solicitors Office.
Police said these raids and undercover buys are crucial to rooting out synthetic drugs in the upstate.
Easley Mayor Larry Bagwell said complaints about Sky's Tha Limit have been rolling in to him for a long time.
"We have known something's going on for a good while. But every time I would talk to our local policemen, they would say something about, 'Hold on, we got something brewing,'" said Bagwell.
Easley Police said they confiscated 58 pounds -- that's 4,000 packets -- of synthetic drugs worth $140,000 from Sky's Tha Limit alone Thursday.
That's the same place a 7 On Your Side crew purchased bubblegum flavored "super flame" in November. Just like the packets confiscated in the raid, it's labeled "potpourri." Investigators told us it was really illegal synthetic marijuana.
Pickens County Sheriff Rick Clark said the chemicals are a lot more dangerous than real pot and the flavors are attracting teenagers in the upstate.
"A mother had two sons that went and got some of this junk -- this trash. And one of them went unconscious and one of them stayed unconscious in a coma for almost two days," said Clark.
Five members of the Pilgrim family, who own the shops, and two employees were arrested.
13th Circuit Solicitor Walt Wilkins said manufacturers and dealers aren't the only ones who need to worry about getting locked up for this. Customers should watch out too.
"Fortunately, in South Carolina, ignorance is not a defense to the law. What's against the law is against the law and you're assumed to know it," said Wilkins.
In addition to the seven arrested Thursday, law enforcement is still looking for Chuck Greer. Wilkins said he imported the dangerous chemicals to make these drugs from China, then sold packets of synthetic drugs to the Pilgrim family and others.
Clark said signs someone has been using these drugs include paranoia, anxiety, panic attacks and vomiting.