Operator of alleged drug lab blamed for fire agrees to plead guilty

Right: Chris White

WPRI Walt Buteau 8/15/17

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — One of the alleged operators of what state and federal authorities said was a drug lab that used a highly flammable liquid to turn marijuana into the derivative butane hash oil (BHO) has agreed to plead guilty to one federal charge, the Target 12 Investigators have learned.

Christopher White signed a plea agreement Monday, stating he would plead guilty to one count of endangering human life while illegally manufacturing a controlled substance.

The government agreed to ask the court to dismiss the other 21 counts of the indictment, which also included money laundering charges.

As first reported by Target 12 about a week after the March 10, 2015 fire, Providence Fire Department and state fire marshal investigators discovered butane tanks, tubes filled with marijuana and half-burned piles of the drug on the floor of 498 Kinsley Avenue after fire destroyed the 86,000 square-foot brick building.

White’s attorney Anthony Traini has not yet responded to a request for comment on the plea agreement.

White’s indoor plant-growing equipment company, Grosca, was one of two tenants in the building which was also home to the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition.

After the fire, RIPAC Executive Director JoAnne Leppanen said her organization neither grew nor stored medical marijuana in their office.

At the time of the fire, corporate filings listed White as the contact for the Cannabis Producer Association of New England which was also based in the Kinsley Ave. mill building. That organization is no longer active according to the Rhode Island Secretary of State database.

Graeme Marshall is scheduled to stand trial in October in connection with the fire according to court documents. In July, the government objected to Marshall’s request to continue the pretrial motions deadline.

Marshall’s attorney John F. Cicilline has not responded to a request for comment.

The indictments, filed in March of 2016, stated White’s and Marshall’s alleged drug operation started in August of 2013, about 18 months before the fire.

The Rhode Island U.S. Attorney’s Office filed charges in three other suspected BHO cases at the time of the White and Marshall indictments.

The government alleges a South Kingstown BHO lab explosion in a Hemlock Roadhome in July of 2015 killed a man who was identified in court documents by the initials B.C.

Dillon Kantlehner is charged with endangering human life while illegally manufacturing a controlled substance.

Kentlehner’s attorney Tara Allen has not responded to a request for comment.

Kantlehner was hospitalized for two months with severe burns, and the indictment states B.C. died in October 2016 from burns.

In Westerly, in November of 2015, a BHO explosion and fire was blamed on Scott Slagel, 41, who was sentenced to three years probation in February after he made a plea agreement with the government.

Slagel’s attorney Kevin Salvaggio has not returned a request for comment.

The fourth case involved an alleged West Warwick BHO operation and prompted the arrest of Tyler Crespo who is also charged with endangering human life while illegally manufacturing a controlled substance. Jury selection in that case is scheduled to begin next month.

Crespo’s attorney John L. Calcagni III said he had no comment.

The cases were Rhode Island’s first four indictments involving BHO, but were said to be among 10 alleged New England BHO labs that were busted by federal agents in 2016. Federal authorities said they believed those investigations only scratched the surface of BHO’s prevalence in the region.