EASLEY — Cross-agency cooperation initiated by the Easley Police Department began a year-long investigation that ended with the arrests of seven people, one fugitive on the run, and millions of dollars in assets and property already seized May 1.
Other agencies involved included the sheriff’s offices of Pickens, Anderson, Oconee and Greenville counties, City of Clemson law enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Agency, Seneca Police Department, Greenville City, Clemson University Police, and the 13th Circuit Solicitor’s office.
The target of the operation was what has been misidentified, according to law enforcement, as “synthetic marijuana” and the outlets that distributed the illegal substances. The operation discovered the five stores being investigated were owned by the same family.
“The Pilgrim family has lived in Pickens County all of their lives and had operated mainly in Easley. The Easley community saw it had a problem and we were fortunate enough to help them,” Pickens County Sheriff Rick Clark said. “With events spread out over several counties, it took great relationships to make it happen. The Easley PD started and finished this job and we were glad to be here one hundred percent of the time.”
Those arrested were James Tony Pilgrim, 60; Wendy Lee Pilgrim, 58; Sabrina Dawn Jenkins, 35; James Kyle Barbrey, 27; John Thomas Stanfield, 37; and Carrie Pilgrim Barbrey, 32. All are residents of Easley. Brandi Leigh Childress, 37, of Liberty, was also taken into custody. They face charges that range from drug distribution to drug conspiracy.
Charles “Chuck” Greer of Greenville is still at large and being sought by authorities in connection importing the chemicals from China to manufacture the illegal synthetic drug.
“The leafy substance used in the production of this synthetic drug is legal. It’s grown in Indiana and can be brewed into tea, it’s safe,” Solicitor Walt Wilkins said. “It’s the chemical compound that’s added which makes it illegal, and it’s difficult to keep up because as the drug laws here change to outlaw the newest compound, they just change the chemical makeup enough to get around it.”
Although the packaging and marketing of the “synthetic marijuana” labeled as potpourri seems innocuous, it is a Schedule I narcotic based on the chemical compound involved in producing the “high” users attain.
Five locations owned by the Pilgrim family were the focus of the operation, and are referred to as “head shops” in Pickens, Greenville, and Anderson counties, including Sky’s Tha Limit in Easley. Other locations targeted were Purple Haze locations in Greenville, Clemson and Seneca, along with Amnesiac in Anderson.
As part of the raids, seven warrants executed simultaneously,and assets and cash were seized by law enforcement officials.
“Hundreds of pounds of product worth hundreds of thousands of dollars were seized. $1.4 million dollars in cash from one safe, $500,000 out of another safe, and bank accounts totaling about $700,000 were frozen,” Wilkins said. “In all it’s about $2.7 million in just cash and bank accounts. Plus there were assets including property and automobiles that were related to the sale of this stuff.”
In all there were a reported 15 automobiles seized, various types of guns, including a sawed-off shotgun, and paraphernalia.
The seized assets and money will be distributed among all the departments involved in the operation. The numbers could grow with the expected seizure of assets and any bank accounts and/or cash Greer might have.