Lafayette man pleads guilty in drug, fraud cases

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- United States Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana Stephanie Finley, center, is flanked by Department of Homeland Security Special Agent Erol Catalan, left, and Assistant United States Attorney Rick Willis Wednesday during a press conference at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Lafayette.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- United States Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana Stephanie Finley, center, is flanked by Department of Homeland Security Special Agent Erol Catalan, left, and Assistant United States Attorney Rick Willis Wednesday during a press conference at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Lafayette.

Buswell faces up to 20 years in prison in each case

A Lafayette man has pleaded guilty in two major federal investigations, one involving the sale of $5 million worth of synthetic marijuana and the other in a scheme that cost investors $8 million, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday.

Richard Joseph Buswell, 44, faces up to 20 years in prison in each case, plus fines, restitution and forfeitures that could top $10 million.

U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley said the opportunity for quick money seemed to be the central factor in the unusual pairing of criminal enterprises.

“We believe that’s what he was motivated by in both cases,” Finley said.

In the investment scheme, prosecutors said that about 100 investors in the Lafayette area lost $8 million on promises from Buswell of big returns on investments he knew to be risky.

The investments, though risky, were legitimate, but Buswell made his money through commissions.

Prosecutors said he racked up $1.7 million in commissions during 2008 and 2009, often doing an unnecessary number of big stock transactions to drive up his take.

Finley said any decision on restitution to the victims, who have not been named, will be made at Buswell’s sentencing.

Buswell’s synthetic marijuana business began in 2011, a few years after the investment scheme, according to court filings from prosecutors.

He is accused of helping oversee the distribution and sale of a product marketed as “Mr. Miyagi,” which was labeled as potpourri and was the subject of advertisements that read “keep off the grass, get Mr. Miyagi” and “say nope to dope and word to legal herb.”

Prosecutors allege about $5 million worth of Mr. Miyagi was sold during 10 months in 2011 at Curious Goods, a smoke shop with franchises throughout Acadiana.

Four Georgia men who were involved in the manufacture of Mr. Miyagi have already pleaded guilty, and charges are pending against four others in the case, including two local lawyers: Daniel James Stanford, 54, of Lafayette, and Barry L. Domingue, 52, of Carencro.

The lawyers are accused of working with Buswell and others in offering advice on how not to be caught selling the synthetic marijuana and how to circumvent laws against synthetic drugs.

The attorneys allegedly helped train employees and franchise owners at Curious Goods stores, advising them to not display Mr. Miyagi near bongs, rolling papers and other paraphernalia and to never talk to customers about smoking the product, which was labeled “not for human consumption.”

“They advised that our customers know what they want and how to use it,” according to a outline of the allegations filed by prosecutors.

The remaining defendants in the synthetic marijuana case are set for trial on March 31.

Buswell pleaded guilty Friday in the synthetic marijuana case and Wednesday in the securities fraud case.

As part of his plea in the drug case, Buswell agreed to forfeit more than $682,000 seized from various bank accounts and $177,750 in drug proceeds laundered through others, as well as a 2006 Mercedes Benz sedan, a 2005 Baja Outlaw speed boat and a 2002 Pontiac Firebird.