Brother, sister flee to China in wake of Oklahoma drug probe
Under the cloud of an ongoing drug trafficking investigation, former Ziggyz Smoke Shop chain owners Johnny and Wendy Ren have fled Oklahoma for China, making it harder for prosecutors to pursue criminal charges.
Federal drug charges against Johnny Ren's sister and business partner, Wendy Ren, alleging conspiracy to sell synthetic marijuana at Ziggyz stores, were dismissed in October, court records show, after she was found to be suffering from persistent mental illness, rendering her incompetent to stand trial.
Bob Troester, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Oklahoma City, confirmed the Rens have left the United States, but said it won't stop federal law enforcement from pursuing the case.
"It still is an ongoing criminal investigation — it isn't as if the matter has been dropped," Troester said. "People do flee sometimes — they might not be in the United States, but that does not stop us from pressing charges."
The United States does not have an extradition treaty with China, but the nations can chose to return wanted individuals on a case-by-case basis.
Before leaving, Johnny Ren sold his chain of Ziggyz Smoke Shops in Oklahoma. At one time, he operated as many as 12 Ziggyz stores in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas.
Edward Saheb, an attorney who has represented Johnny and Wendy Ren in various legal matters, said the Ziggyz stores had stopped selling synthetic marijuana completely by November 2014, when state law changed to make many of the chemicals found in the products illegal in Oklahoma.
The Rens returned to Shanghai because of the negative media attention and public scrutiny they endured after the Ziggyz raid, he said.
"It just wasn't worth sticking around, so they left," Saheb said. "It didn't help that everyone was looking at them in a bad light — they made for easy targets."
Johnny Ren also left behind another successful business venture — an Oklahoma City wholesaler that sells vaping products online. The business, now called VP Distributions, also sells the marijuana derivative cannabidiol to be inhaled using e-cigarettes, according to its website.
Law enforcement agencies including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raided Ziggyz stores in Oklahoma in April 2015, seizing more than 100 boxes of products with names like "Sex Monkey," "Black Magic" and "Mad Mayan Air Freshener," that were alleged to be synthetic marijuana, according to court documents. Authorities also seized $992,861 in cash, gold and silver bars, jewelry and other currency from Ziggyz stores, various bank accounts and safe deposit boxes, according to federal charges filed against Wendy Ren.
In court documents, law enforcement agencies claim the Rens distributed large quantities of synthetic marijuana through the Ziggyz stores, and virtually all profits from the business came from the sale of illicit products and drug paraphernalia.
Shortly after the raid, Johnny Ren sold the Ziggyz business and remaining inventory to local coin shop owner Chelsey Davis, who continues to operate several Ziggyz stores. Davis did not respond to an interview request.
The business left behind
Along with the Ziggyz chain, Johnny Ren also operated a vaping wholesale business, formerly called Vapor Products Inc., out of a warehouse at 8201 Glade Ave. in Oklahoma City. The same warehouse was raided by law enforcement in April 2015 as part of the Ziggyz investigation, according to court documents.
By the time of the raid, he had already stepped away from the Ziggyz business and was focused on the vaping business, Saheb said.
"He was not involved with the sales or distribution at Ziggyz. What he did was import and distribute vapor products," Saheb said.
The company is still in operation under a different name, VP Distributions Inc., and uses the trade name VP Distributions on its website. However, the warehouse VP Distributions operates out of in an industrial area off Northwest Expressway is still owned by Johnny Ren, according to property records.
The new company, VP Distributions Inc., was incorporated May 21, 2015, just one month after the Ziggyz raid, according to records filed with the Oklahoma Secretary of State. The entity is registered to "Da Ren Ren," according to state records.
Johnny Ren's previous company, Vapor Products Inc., registered to "Daren Ren" was legally dissolved in June 2015, according to the Secretary of State. However, Vapor Products Inc. was still listed as the parent company on the vpdistributions.com website as of Dec. 31.
Multiple staff members at VP Distributions who declined to be quoted said Johnny Ren no longer owns the company, and refused to make company management available for an interview.
Along with vaping supplies, VP Distributions also sells products containing cannabidiol, or CBD, a nonintoxicating marijuana derivative. Using the brand name CBDfx, it is derived from industrial hemp plants, according to its website.
It is not currently legal to sell cannabidiol in Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
"This is the concentrated CBD rich additive for your favorite e-liquid," a product description on the VP Distributions website reads. "It is the second level offering from CBDfx, with a smooth, almost satin like texture with the rich taste natural to the hemp plant. Add it to any dessert or fruity vapes or simply vape it by itself."
Cannabidiol is one of more than 100 cannabinoids that have been identified in marijuana and is believed to have uses to treat many illnesses. It is believed to be nonintoxicating or at least less intoxicating than other cannabinoids.
Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill into law in 2015 authorizing a medical pilot program using cannabidiol to treat children in Oklahoma with seizure disorders. The program was expanded to a few other illnesses earlier this year, said Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
However, cannabidiol still cannot legally be sold in Oklahoma, according to the Bureau of Narcotics' interpretation of the law.
"It can only be shipped here as part of a medical trial or under the supervision of a licensed physician," Woodward said.
The case dismissed
In the aftermath of the Ziggyz raid, Wendy Ren was arrested in September 2015 at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on federal conspiracy charges involving the sale and possession of synthetic marijuana.
Susan M. Otto, a federal public defender assigned to Wendy Ren's case, noted in a court brief from September 2015 that she had immediate concerns about her client's mental competency.
A psychological evaluation completed by a government psychologist in the case is confidential, but Wendy Ren has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to testimony from a court hearing in May 2016.
Hayley Blackwood, a forensic psychologist, testified at the hearing that Wendy Ren demonstrated "psychotic symptoms," including "fixated, long-held delusional beliefs."
After a psychological examination and four months of treatment at a federal detention center that included a new medication regimen, Wendy Ren was found incompetent to stand trial and all charges against her were dismissed, according to court documents.
She received several months of treatment at Federal Medical Center Carswell, a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, that has treatment facilities for female inmates with special medical and mental health issues. However, she was not able to recover sufficiently to stand trial, her attorney wrote in a court brief in September.
"Her ability to interact appropriately in her environment has improved on the medication. She has not been involved in any disciplinary incidents and is not expressing thoughts of violence or self-harm," Otto wrote. "However, she continues to exhibit symptoms of a mental illness that impairs her ability to understand the proceedings against her and to participate appropriately in her defense. Ms. Ren remains incompetent to stand trial and it is unlikely she will become competent in the foreseeable future."
In September 2016, Wendy Ren's mental state had not improved enough for her to assist her public defender with her case, Magistrate Judge Charles Goodwin ruled.
In October, all charges against her were dismissed.
"The court finds that defendant is incompetent to the extent she is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against her," Goodwin ruled.
Wendy Ren left the country as soon as the criminal charges were dismissed, said Edmond attorney Mark Cox.
"She got on a plane immediately and left for China — basically the case is closed," Cox said.
Cox represents Del City residents Victor and Tricia Ordaz, who have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Johnny and Wendy Ren after their son, 23-year-old Dylan Ordaz, died after smoking synthetic marijuana reportedly purchased at Ziggyz in January 2015.
Saheb, who is representing Wendy Ren in the civil suit, said Ziggyz had stopped selling synthetic marijuana by the time Dylan Ordaz died.
"I think the Ordazes saw something about the raid on Ziggyz in the media and they thought that this must be the target," Saheb said. "My suspicion is that their son bought it at some other location."
With the Rens in China and no pending criminal charges, the Ordaz family is now attempting to subpoena the federal government to obtain information seized in the 2015 Ziggyz raid.
Cox said the Ordaz family hopes to get information from shipping labels and invoices seized in the raid that would show what suppliers Ziggyz used to obtain its stock of synthetic marijuana.
The information could be used to help the Ordaz family sue the companies that distributed the synthetic marijuana, which was most likely manufactured in China, Cox said.
"As far as the Rens go, they are out of the country," he said, "and I don't think they're ever coming back."
Brianna Bailey joined The Oklahoman in January 2013 as a business writer. During her time at The Oklahoman, she has walked across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to-south down Western Avenue, and once east-to-west, tracing the old U.S. Route 66.... Read more ›