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A Fairfax man has pleaded guilty to leading a drug-trafficking ring with at least eight members that purchased large amounts of an illegal designer drug from Shanghai, China, and distributed it throughout Northern Virginia.

Matthew Scott Baker, 19, pleaded guilty Oct. 10 to conspiring to distribute methylone, more commonly known as MDMA or “Molly,” as well as possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offense. He faces up to 20 years in prison on the drug charge and a minimum of five years in prison on the firearm charge when he is sentenced on Jan. 25, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Prosecutors say the penalty for the firearm charge would run consecutive to any penalty imposed on the drug charge.

Methylone is a derivative of the drug ecstasy that has been classified a scheduled drug since October 2011, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.A scheduled drug is one whose use and distribution is tightly controlled because of its abuse potential or risk, according to the DEA.

The DEA says methylone is often sold under the guise of “bath salts” or “plant food” and marketed under names such as “Ivory Wave,” “Purple Wave,” “Vanilla Sky,” or “Bliss.” On its website, the DEA says it is getting increasingly popular — particularly among teens and young adults — and is often mixed with other drugs, including hallucinogens, and put into capsule form.

According to an FBI affidavit filed in U.S. District Court, Baker would import methylone from his Chinese supplier, wiring money to Shanghai from Western Union locations in a Giant supermarket located in Herndon’s Franklin Farm and a Safeway supermarket on Braddock Road.

Baker would then receive large shipments of the drug at a post office box located in the Ravensworth Shopping Center in Springfield. Prosecutors say he did this from the summer of 2011 through May 2012.

Federal court documents say Baker then used his network of other young adults in Fairfax County to distribute the drug locally. Court documents say the group used Facebook and AOL Instant Messenger to set up buy locations in local hotels, such as the Comfort Inn on Metrotech Drive in Chantilly where an undercover Fairfax County Police Detective purchased $2,000 worth of the drug from one of the group’s members.

According to Baker’s guilty plea agreement, he has agreed to forfeit a money judgment in the amount of $400,000, estimated to be the cumulative profit made from the sale of methylone.

Baker is the last of eight charged in the case to plead guilty, and has admitted to being the leader of the group, according to United States Attorney Neil H. MacBride’s office spokesman Peter Carr.

Baker’s attorney, Juan Ever Milanes, declined to comment on the case.

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com