By Zachary Fagenson
MIAMI, Sept 21 (Reuters) - A South Florida woman pleaded guilty in a West Palm Beach federal court on Monday to conspiring to import the drug alpha-PVP, also known as "flakka," part of a major law enforcement crackdown against mail-order synthetic drugs from China.
Jamie Nicole Lewis, 22, faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine at a December sentencing.
She and co-defendant Kevin Raphael Bully, who has pleaded not guilty to a four-count indictment, were in April among the first alleged flakka dealers arrested in Florida.
The drug, nicknamed "$5 insanity," is said to give users who overdose a sense of superhuman strength and powerful hallucinations.
Flakka, which has also shown up in Ohio, Houston and Chicago, has made its biggest impact in South Florida, police say.
Agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) apprehended the pair following a tip from London about multiple packages intercepted from a Chinese chemical company en route to South Florida.
Bully was arrested with three cellphones, $60,000 and 28383-15-5(HCL)
an empty shipping bag from the company, according to a DEA agent's affidavit.
There were 44 flakka-related deaths in the last 12 months, according to the Broward County medical examiner's office. The Broward Sheriff's Office has handled 792 cases involving flakka this year.
What concerns officials most is how easily and cheaply dealers obtain synthetic drugs. One kg (2.2 pounds) of flakka, worth $50,000 on the street, can be bought online for as little as $1,500, drug experts say.
Law enforcement agencies face further obstacles because flakka and drugs like it are not illegal in China. Manufacturers there typically classify them as "research chemicals" and offer discreet delivery.
A 26-year-old former Florida International University student now in federal prison said he was able to make $30,000 a week selling a similar drug called methylone, according to the Miami Herald.
He spent the money on Rolex watches, a four-bedroom townhouse and an orange Lamborghini. The Italian sports car eventually became his undoing when law enforcement was able to track him through its registration, according to the Herald. (Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by David Adams and Eric Beech)