Newspapers are calling it the “Indiana version of Breaking Bad.” That’s not a terribly inaccurate description, and it certainly paints a vivid picture, but it’s not quite right.
You see, Breaking Bad didn’t have bath-salts-fueled group sex, a fundamentalist preacher and thousands of pounds of synthetic marijuana, dealt with the knowledge and cooperation of a pair of (now former) sheriff’s deputies.
And Jared Fogle—yes, the disgraced Subway sandwich-artist pitchman turned child pornography connoisseur Jared Fogle—wasn’t peripherally involved with Breaking Bad.
Not that you could have snuck anything like what Robert Jaynes did past any self-respecting television producer.
By pure weight, the 46-year-old Jaynes, a failed mortgage-broker turned Bible-thumping founder of a fundamentalist church—sentenced to more than 11-and-a-half years in federal prison last week, his penalty for overseeing the manufacture and distribution more than 10 tons of synthetic marijuana, as the Indianapolis Star reported—may have moved more product than Walter White did on TV.
As per the Star:
From April 2011 to October 2013, prosecutors said, Jaynes sold more than 500,000 packages of synthetic marijuana, or “spice,” in a form ready for retail sale. Over a period of nine months in 2013, Jaynes grossed $2.6 million in sales.
He certainly had more help: A total of 23 people have been charged with a crime in connection with Jaynes’s operation.
As a detailed Star investigation revealed, Jaynes’s co-conspirators include the two former sheriff’s deputies—both “Spice” users themselves—his sister, an Indianapolis public-school teacher, and a business owner who once sponsored an entrant in the Indy 500. There’s also a guy who worked as a clown (like a literal clown) and ran as a Libertarian candidate for office (no comment).
Everything started unraveling in 2013, when Homeland Security agents began intercepting packages of chemicals imported from China, headed to the homes of church members. A search warrant served at one home led to a warehouse, where church members were busy loading a truck full of synthetic marijuana.
That led to Jaynes, who initially claimed that he thought the Spice—sold as “potpourri” or “incense” was legal. Either way, for more than two years after he knew authorities were on to him, he continued preaching at the church, driving a pickup truck with a bumper sticker that quoted the Bible: “Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
As it happened, most of the players in the scheme met each other through Jaynes or his church, a small fundamentalist outfit in central Indiana. The church was how one of the ex-sheriff’s deputies, Jason Wood, became involved.
Through Wood, Jaynes had access to police vehicles—once driving an official SUV while going about his illicit business—and also used his connection to the lawman to escape some initial brushes with the law.
When Jaynes moved homes, Wood gave him a police escort, guaranteeing that no other honest lawman could pull the preacher over and discover the enormous stash of Spice-making materials.
Wood and his wife, Teresa Wood—also a former sheriff’s deputy—were busted after Teresa Woods’s mother turned in her daughter for delivering to her house a safe containing $88,000 in cash and 100 grams of bath salts, which the couple apparently used as a, ahem, personal-life enhancer.
The details of the case are too many and too lurid to list here, and require the assistance of a flowchart and David Foster Wallace-level use of footnotes. But because we uttered his name, here’s how Fogle is connected: Wood was friends with Russell Taylor, the former director of the Jared Foundation.
Wood, who knew Jaynes through the church, and Taylor, who used to work with Jaynes, would party together, smoking some of the fake weed. Taylor is in prison on child pornography charges, and is not alleged to have been involved with the Spice ring. Even better! He and his wife were members of a “swingers club” and participated in partner-swapping and orgies. You know. Typical heartland of America stuff.
There is one kinda-sorta Walter White moment: Jaynes claims he became involved with the synthetic drug trade after a series of personal crises, including a bankruptcy and open-heart surgery for his son.
Anyway. You can try to follow the whole thread at the Star. Start here and here, and if your head isn’t spinning off its axis, try here for the coda.