The mother of two brothers accused of running a massive counterfeit THC vape cartridge operation out of a condominium in Kenosha County was aware of the illicit activity and allowed some of the products to be assembled in a back room in her real estate office, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday.
The complaint filed against Courtney Huffhines alleges that the vape cartridges were made in the offices of Realty Executives for two to four weeks before being moved elsewhere temporarily and eventually to a condo rented by Huffhines' son under a fake name.
The case has drawn national attention as doctors across the country scramble to figure out what may be causing severe lung damage in hundreds of mostly young people who reported vaping before becoming ill. At least a dozen have died.
Working with tips from at least two confidential informants, law enforcement officials uncovered Huffhines' involvement and found a locked cabinet in the back of her office that had equipment to manufacture vaping products, including jars similar to those found in the condo, according to the complaint.
More people are expected to be charged in connection with the operation, according to Lesli Boese, the special prosecutor from Waukesha County handling the case.
„The people who were on top are in custody right now,” Boese said.
A police search of Huffhines' text messages captured an Aug. 10 exchange between Huffhines and her son Tyler, who was charged with manufacturing or delivering more than 10,000 grams of THC — along with other charges — last month. The texts came soon after an employee of the operation was arrested.
Courtney: Okay. I love you. I need you to talk to me when you can. I love you. I’m going to see if I can sleep but not sure that is possible.
Tyler: Love you too and get some sleep I’m okay just have to take precautions.
Courtney: If anyone does get a chance to pop those bags downstairs at the office have that done please.
Courtney: And my thought is get some rubbing alcohol if that’s what we’re gonna need again I don’t mind helping once I break free. But if anyone is (sic) the group is going to a store : )
Tyler: It’s already there
Courtney: Can someone also please sweep up the coffee and put the scales in the garage away. I just had Jamie say. I though (sic) you don’t let your kids sell drugs. I said I don’t He said there are scales just sitting out.
In another text conversation between Huffhines and her other son Jacob a couple of days later, investigators found one more mention of the activity at the real estate office.
Jacob: I’m up gonna get shower have to run to condo and Kenosha what’s plans for day?
Courtney: I have a closing at 4. But I want that stuff at the office finished up and cleaned up because I have meet people there this week.
One confidential informant told law enforcement that Tyler and Jacob said their mom encouraged them „to start investing in real estate but they told her they were making too much money making and selling the vape cartridges,” the complaint says.
And, the informant said, the brothers said they gave their mom money, too, according to the complaint.
Courtney Huffhines' attorney, Robert Keller, could not be immediately reached for an interview.
Law enforcement said the Huffhines' operation was churning out as many as 5,000 THC vape cartridges every day.
That operation was allegedly run out of a Bristol condominium that was managed by Courtney Huffhines, according to the criminal complaint.
„Tyler stated that he told his mother that he was leasing the condo for a friend,” the complaint says.
But investigators say she „knowingly” participated in the operation, the complaint says.
Courtney Huffhines, 43, is facing charges of possession as well as manufacturing or delivering THC in amounts greater than 10,000 grams or 201 plants, as party to a crime, according to the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department. In addition, she is charged with party to a crime of misappropriation of personal identifying information and maintaining a drug trafficking place, according to the criminal complaint.
Bail was set at $100,000.
Huffhines' sons, Tyler, 20, and Jacob, 23, had been living with her and their grandfather in Paddock Lake before being arrested last month.
Tyler Huffhines is accused of manufacturing and selling thousands of vape cartridges filled with THC oil and labeled with fake packaging. Jacob Huffhines had a previous drug-related conviction and was charged with being a felon in possession of a weapon.
At the Paddock Lake home, investigators seized about $59,000, eight guns, nine cellphones, marijuana, cocaine and drug paraphernalia.
In Bristol, at the condo where the operation was run, investigators seized about 31,200 vape cartridges filled with THC, about 98,000 empty vape cartridges, 57 mason jars filled with THC oil, three money counting machines, thousands of empty vape cartridge boxes and packaging, and drug paraphernalia.
The seized THC products have a street value totaling more than $1.5 million, officials say.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requested some of the cartridges as part of its investigation into what could be causing serious lung injuries and deaths
Boese said her office submitted 160 cartridges with THC oil to the FDA.
Courtney Huffhines wrote about the vaping illness outbreak in text messages Aug. 28, the complaint says.
Courtney: And it’s not a joke. They have huge warnings out
Courtney: Btw it is all vape and e Devices. So might need to look into another business
The complaint does not state who she was texting with.
The Huffhines' mega counterfeit THC vape cartridge operation relied heavily on advertising via Snapchat, Boese said.
„They would advertise when they had product,” she said. „It seemed like they had lots of followers.”
The brothers delivered the cartridges to Chicago and Minnesota, an informant told law enforcement officials.
Police credit parents of a Waukesha teen for coming forth after discovering their son had a cartridge filled with THC oil. They wanted to hold him accountable and help others, police said.