Newport Coast Drug Dealer Tied to Communist China Loses Appeal

House of Carney: Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana (Photo by R. Scott Moxley)

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today affirmed a lower court’s punishment for a colorful Newport Coast man convicted of illegally importing synthetic narcotics from communist China.

In 2017, federal officials overseeing organized crime activities successfully accused Sean Paul Libbert of running a drug trafficking operation that manufactured, marketed and sold synthetic marijuana, known on the streets as “Spice.”

Libbert acknowledged his guilt inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse and U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney sentenced him to a prison term of 10 years.

The defendant filed an appeal claiming Carney improperly added sentencing enhancements by inflating his role in the criminal enterprise.

But a three-judge Ninth Circuit panel didn’t buy it.

“Contrary to Libbert’s contentions, [Carney] clearly articulated that Libbert was an organizer or leader of the conspiracy because he exercised control over other criminal participants,” judges Ronald M. Gould, Mary H. Murguia and Carol Bagley Amon wrote in a five-page ruling. “This conclusion was premised on findings consistent with the facts stipulated to by both parties in Libbert’s plea agreement. Those facts included email communications where: (1) a co-conspirator deferred to Libbert’s direction with respect to the amount of material to purchase to produce synthetic cannabinoids, and (2) Libbert gave explicit instructions with respect to the movement of profits of the conspiracy between bank accounts. . . The district court did not plainly err.”

Libbert won substantial profits of more than $5 million in a short period of time by selling the drugs to an American market, according to law enforcement reports.

Upshot of today’s news: Libbert, 43, must now continue his incarceration until late Feb. 2023.

He’s presently housed at Terminal Island, a low-security federal correctional institution in San Pedro.

Federal agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the criminal division of the Internal Revenue Service participated in the investigation.

R. Scott Moxley’s award-winning investigative journalism has touched nerves for two decades. An angry congressman threatened to break Moxley’s knee caps. A dirty sheriff promised his critical reporting was irrelevant and then landed in prison. The U.S. House of Representatives debated his work. Federal prosecutors credited his stories for the arrest of a doctor who sold fake medicine to dying patients. Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.

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