Earlier this year, Joel Lester, a Canadian living in Boca Raton, saw a void that needed to be filled. Head shops and corner stores across the country had been raking in big bucks from bath salts and so-called herbal incenses, better-known as fake pot. Then the feds tossed down a blanket ban, launched a nationwide sting operation, and (at least temporarily) dammed the flow of these synthetic drugs. The profits dried up, and shop clerks began clamoring for the next moneymaking legal high.
Lester, who cleared a pretty penny in the synthetic-pot world, knew just the right substance.
"I didn't know who he was," says David, a cofounder of Lucky Kratom, recalling the first time he spoke with Lester. "He said he wanted to start selling kratom in Miami because he had customers who used to sell Spice [a brand of synthetic pot] and were looking for something else."
Lester's pitch impressed David, who asked not to have his last name published. Not only did Lester have ties to local smoke shops but he had proven sales experience in the counterculture market and a desire to expand the Lucky brand in South Florida, a market ripe for a kratom boom.
But Lester left out an important detail: He's a cooperating witness in one of the DEA's largest synthetic-drug cases.