A 20-year-old Wisconsin man has been arrested in connection with a large-scale counterfeit vaping enterprise that allegedly sold THC oil in thousands of vaping cartridges.
Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth says Tyler Huffhines allegedly started the illegal THC vape operation in January 2018, employing 10 people who worked from a condo he rented under a false name in a residential neighborhood.
Huffhines’ brother Jacob, 23, was also taken into custody and is facing firearm and drug possession charges. At a press conference Wednesday, it was alleged that the younger brother appeared to be “the ringleader” in the operation.
Referring to recent deaths potentially linked to vaping nationwide, Sheriff Beth said at the press conference, “Across this nation, we have lost 6 people. Hundreds of people have been hurt.”
“The magnitude of this [particular] operation was scary to me,” Beth tells PEOPLE. “Having children in high school right now, and seeing basically high levels of THC put into packaging that makes it look like harmless kid’s candy, is scary as a parent and infuriating as law enforcement.”
“It is a national epidemic,” he adds. “There isn’t a day that goes by that vaping has not come up in a conversation.”
Huffhines is expected to be charged with the manufacturing, distributing and delivery of marijuana THC of more than 10,000 grams, possession with the intent to manufacture, distribute and deliver marijuana THC of more than 10,000 grams; keeping a drug house and unauthorized use of individual’s personal and identification information.
Beth says investigators confiscated approximately 31,000 THC-filled vape cartridges that were ready to be shipped as well as $59,000 in cash, firearms and ammunition.
According to FOX6, investigators also discovered around 98,000 empty vape cartridges and over 50 mason jars filled with THC oil. The estimated amount of the THC products taken during the raid was $1.5 million, FOX reports.
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The confiscated product packaging allegedly claimed to have 5 milligrams of THC in each cartridge but Beth says the amount was much higher.
“What our suspects were doing were filling these cartridges with 157 times the level that was on the back of the packaging,” he says.
Detectives are still trying to determine how big the counterfeit vaping network is and how many others may be involved.
“We are trying to figure out who all the players are,” he says. “The web keeps getting bigger every single day. This is a priority case and all hands are on deck to bring those involved in to custody.”
The investigation began in early July after worried parents stopped by the police department to report that their high school-aged son was allegedly distributing the vape cartridges, FOX reports.
“It was right underneath our nose in a nice neighborhood,” says Beth.
The arrests come alongside an increased spotlight on the health issues surrounding vaping. Officials are currently investigating six deaths potentially linked to the practice.
Along with the deaths, the Centers for Disease Control are investigating more than 450 reported cases of severe lung illness linked to vaping from U.S. residents of all ages.
Tyler Huffhines’ attorney, Mark Richards, did not return a call for comment.