As the state’s new Cannabis Control Commission debates regulations for legalized marijuana, a black market continues to thrive for high-potency forms of the drug, police say.
On Thursday, four men — including the owner of a Danvers recording studio, two other self-described music producers and a college student — were arrested on marijuana trafficking charges, following a fast-moving investigation that turned up more than 270 pounds of the drug. Police also seized thousands of dollars worth of a concentrated oil used in vaping and $137,000 in cash.
Gary W. Cioffi Jr., 34, of 9 John Road, Peabody, who owns Maximum Sound, a recording studio on Healey Court in Danvers, was using the business as a base to distribute marijuana, edible marijuana products, and cartridges of what is known as “butane honey oil,” a concentrated product that is injected into cartridges for vaping devices.
Prosecutors say Cioffi was using Instagram to sell the products worldwide.
Approximately 200 pounds of marijuana, 50 pounds of cannabis flour used for baking edible products, and several thousand cartridges of butane honey oil mixed with turpentine were seized in a raid on the studio Thursday afternoon, prosecutor Erin Bellavia told a Salem District Court judge.
At Cioffi’s Peabody home, police found another 70 pounds of marijuana, 16 jars of butane honey oil and $137,000 in cash — as well as what Bellavia described as tanks and chemicals used to extract the oil from marijuana plants, a potentially dangerous and volatile process.
“This was clearly a large-scale operation,” said Bellavia, as well as “a very lucrative enterprise.”
Although voters legalized marijuana through a ballot question, the prosecutor said, “this is not a legal business.”
The case came to light earlier this month in upstate New York, where postal workers intercepted a package sent from Danvers to a man named Michael Wolfe, who lives outside Troy. The package — which Wolfe later told investigators was worth $30,000 — contained marijuana, cartridges and a couple of gallons of oil.
Wolfe told investigators that he had been purchasing items from Cioffi, and had even visited the Danvers studio once to make a $25,000 purchase.
Prosecutors in New York learned that the items had come from “Gary in Boston,” who was based out of the recording studio on Healey Court. They shared that information with Danvers police detectives.
Detective Timothy Williamson confirmed that the studio is owned by Cioffi.
After conducting surveillance for several days, Williamson and Beverly police Detective Thomas Nolan retrieved trash from a dumpster outside the business on Thursday. The bags, according to police, smelled heavily of marijuana and chemicals. Inside, there were dozens of empty vacuum seal bags with remnants of marijuana, an empty jar with hardened oil in the lid, an empty box that once contained edibles, dozens of vape cartridges and USPS shipping boxes.
Williamson was in the middle of getting a search warrant for the studio on Thursday when Wolfe showed up with a tractor-trailer. Danvers Detective Robert Sullivan stopped Wolfe, who said the truck had just dropped off 80 pounds of marijuana.
When police went in with the search warrant shortly before 3 p.m., “there was an overwhelming stench of marijuana that required the use of masks until the Fire Department brought heavy-duty fans,” Williamson wrote.
Three other men, Thomas Iannello, 29, and Donald Spongberg, 26, both of Saugus, and Taylor Arellano, 23, of Lynn, were arrested inside the studio.
Cioffi was arrested outside the studio. All are facing the same charges of marijuana trafficking and manufacturing and distributing a class C drug, butane honey oil.
Cioffi’s attorney, Steven Topazio, said his client is a married father of two who makes his living running a recording studio and producing music. He said the seizure of cash from Cioffi’s home has “impoverished” his young family, leaving them unable to post more than $25,000 in bail.
Topazio also questioned the validity of the searches. “There are defenses here,” he told Judge Emily Karstetter, who set Cioffi’s bail at $50,000.
Lawyers for the other three, including producers Ianello and Spongberg and Salem State University student Arellano, say their clients have no connection to any drug distribution and were simply at the studio to produce music.
Karstetter set bail for the three at $5,000.
A probable cause hearing is scheduled for March 15.