South Florida Joint Federal/State Synthetic Marijuana Round Up Nets a Dozen Arrests
Five Defendants Charged Federally for Alleged Manufacture and Distribution of
Synthetic Marijuana in West Palm Beach and Ft. Pierce
Seven Defendants Charged Locally on State Drug Charges>
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Bruce Colton, State Attorney, 19th Judicial Circuit of Florida, Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Miami Field Division, Alysa D. Erichs, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), Miami Field Office, José A. Gonzalez, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI), David W. Bourne, Special Agent in Charge, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Jeff Atwater, State Fire Marshal, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, Ken J. Mascara, Sheriff, St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, Robert L. Crowder, Sheriff, Martin County Sheriff’s Office, Deryl Loar, Sheriff, Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, Paul C. May, Sheriff, Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office, Ric L. Bradshaw, Sheriff, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, and Mary Santos-Olsen, Assistant Chief, West Palm Beach Police Department, announced the arrests of twelve defendants on a myriad of separate federal and state charges dealing with the manufacture and distribution of synthetic marijuana in the West Palm Beach and Ft. Pierce areas. The South Florida arrests and charges announced today were part of the first-ever nationwide coordinated take-down against the synthetic designer drug industry responsible for the production and sale of dangerous and deadly drugs that are often marketed as bath salts, Spice, incense, or plant food. DEA and its partners pursued cases in 109 U.S. cities that targeted every level of the synthetic designer drug industry, including retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers. Operation Log Jam, as the nationwide law enforcement action is called, resulted in approximately 90 arrests and the seizure of more than five million packets of finished designer synthetic drugs. More than $36 million in cash was also seized.
In South Florida, Operation Log Jam resulted in federal charges against five major distributors of synthetic marijuana and synthetic controlled substance analogues. The federal indictment and a separate criminal complaint were unsealed today. In addition, seven employees of retail shops in St. Lucie, Indian River, and Okeechobee Counties that sold the designer drug were previously arrested by members of the St. Lucie, Indian River, and Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Offices as part of the joint federal/state task force and are currently being prosecuted by the State Attorney’s Office of the 19th Judicial Circuit.
U.S. v. Ahmed, et. al.
On July 12, 2012, Sabir Ahmed, 29, and Mohammad Abu Sayem, 32, both of Fort Pierce, were charged in a four-count federal indictment with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute JWH-018, a Schedule I controlled substance, possession with intent to manufacture and distribute JWH-018, maintaining a premise for the purpose of manufacturing a controlled substance, and endangering human life while manufacturing or attempting to manufacture a controlled substance. The defendants made their initial appearances in federal court in Fort Pierce earlier today.
According to the indictment, Ahmed and Abu Sayem rented a warehouse in Ft. Pierce, where they manufactured and distributed synthetic cannabinoid products under brand names such as “Relaxinol,” “Black Cat,” “Fairly Legal,” and “Marley Boy.” Count 4 of the indictment alleges that these defendants, while manufacturing and attempting to manufacture the “Spice” products, created a substantial risk to human life. According to the charges, on a November 12, 2011, the St. Lucie County Fire Department responded to an explosion and fire at the warehouse rented by Sabir Ahmed and Mohammad Abu Sayem. Subsequent investigation revealed the presence of materials, including acetone, scented oils, plant material, packets of “Spice” products and a large amount of the synthetic cannabinoid JWH-018 inside the warehouse.
If convicted, Ahmed and Sayem face a maximum possible statutory penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
U.S. v. Harrison, et. al.
In a separate criminal complaint filed on July 24, 2012 and unsealed today, three West Palm Beach residents were also charged with the unlawful distribution of controlled substance analogues (synthetic cannabinoids). The defendants are expected to make their initial appearances in federal court in West Palm Beach on July 26, 2012.
Charged in the complaint are defendants Dylan Harrison, 31, John Shealy, 39, and Michael Bryant, 29, all of West Palm Beach. According to the affidavit filed in support of the complaint, the defendants were involved in the manufacture of synthetic cannabinoids under the brand name “Mr. Nice Guy.” The product was distributed throughout the United States. The defendants allegedly operated from several different warehouses in West Palm Beach, including one which exploded on May 21, 2012. No one was injured in the blast.
During this investigation, a total of 12 federal and state search warrants were executed, resulting in the seizure of approximately 600,000 packets of synthetic cannabinoid, 20 kilograms of raw synthetic cannabinoid, approximately 4,000 kilograms of untreated plant material, $185,000 in cash, 12 firearms (including a 50 caliber rifle), and approximately 6,000 rounds of ammo. In addition, law enforcement also seized 9 vehicles, valued at approximately $280,000, 23 luxury watches, 6 cement mixers and 32 Mylar packaging sealers.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum possible statutory penalty of up to 30 years in prison.
Defendants Masud Karim, Deepak Shah, Martin Hu, Kiritbhai Patel, Natalie Bedon, Mohammad Salam, and Marienella Tortora were charged with State law violations for the sale and/or possession with intent to sell synthetic cannabinoids. If convicted of the state charges, these defendants face possible statutory maximum terms of between 5 and 20 years in prison.
“Synthetic cannabinoid products, commonly known as “Spice,” or packaged as purported incense or potpourri, are the latest dangerous designer drugs to reach our neighborhoods. These products have proven to be a public health hazard with serious, and sometimes deadly consequences,” said U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer. “The joint federal and state multi-agency investigation that culminated in today’s charges demonstrates the seriousness and scope of the problem and the strength of our resolve to eradicate the threat posed by these synthetic drugs. Synthetic marijuana, its producers, distributors and sellers have been added to our list of targets on our continuing war on drugs.”
Bruce Colton, State Attorney, 19th Judicial Circuit of Florida, stated, “The designer drug “Spice” is dangerous and often lethal, and has spread across the nation. The arrests today target not only those who are selling the illegal substance, but also the manufacturers and distributors. This is the most recent example of the success we can achieve when cooperation exists not only between the state and federal law enforcement agencies, but also between the State Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
Special Agent in Charge Mark R. Trouville for DEA Miami stated, “Although we are encountering a new dangerous and volatile drug trend with the production and sale of these synthetic drugs, we at DEA are committed to invest any necessary enforcement efforts with our federal, state and local counterparts in order to dismantle the operation of these drug trafficking organizations, and to eliminate the presence of these harmful products from our communities.”
Alysa D. Erichs, Special Agent in Charge for ICE-HSI, stated, “HSI will continue to work with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to address this threat to public safety and our communities.”
IRS Special Agent in Charge José A. Gonzalez stated, “The role of IRS-CI in narcotics investigations is to follow the money so we can financially disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations. One of the government’s most powerful weapons is the ability to seize and forfeit all gains associated with a criminal activity. IRS Criminal Investigation is proud to provide its financial expertise as we work alongside our law enforcement partners to bring criminals to justice.”
“The St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office and other agencies investigated the explosion and fire on Nov. 12, 2011, at the Fort Pierce warehouse where two of the defendants were using highly volatile chemicals to manufacture these drugs,” said St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken J. Mascara. “This drug manufacturing operation posed a serious threat to the safety of the public. Our agency is dedicating significant resources to investigating the manufacture and sale of these illegal substances in our county. These indictments are an important step in ridding this community of these drugs.”
Assistant Chief Mary Santos-Olsen, West Palm Beach Police Department, stated, “The corroborative effort of our partner agencies and the dedication of their members has brought a successful conclusion to the investigation of these designer drugs, which have negatively affected our community.”
Over the past several years, there has been a growing use of, and interest in, synthetic cathinones (stimulants/hallucinogens) sold under the guise of “bath salts” or “plant food.” Marketed under names such as “Ivory Wave,” “Purple Wave,” “Vanilla Sky,” or “Bliss,” these products are comprised of a class of dangerous substances perceived to mimic cocaine, LSD, MDMA, and/or methamphetamine. Users have reported impaired perception, reduced motor control, disorientation, extreme paranoia, and violent episodes. The long-term physical and psychological effects of use are unknown but potentially severe.
These products have become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults and those who mistakenly believe they can bypass the drug testing protocols that have been set up by employers and government agencies to protect public safety. They are sold at a variety of retail outlets, in head shops, and over the Internet. However, they have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human consumption or for medical use, and there is no oversight of the manufacturing process.
Smokable herbal blends marketed as being “legal” and providing a marijuana-like high have also become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults, because they are easily available and, in many cases, they are more potent and dangerous than marijuana. These products consist of plant material that has been coated with dangerous psychoactive compounds that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Just as with the synthetic cathinones, synthetic cannabinoids are sold at a variety of retail outlets, in head shops and over the Internet. Brands such as “Spice,” “K2,” “Blaze,” and “Red X Dawn” are labeled as incense to mask their intended purpose.
For more information about this operation and synthetic designer drugs, visit www.dea.gov.
The South Florida cases announced today in Operation Log Jam were the result of Operations No More Mr. Nice Guy and Huff and Puff, conducted by a multi-agency task force through the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations, and those primarily responsible for the nation’s illegal drug supply. Agencies involved in this OCDETF operation included the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, the State Attorney’s Office, DEA, ICE-HSI, IRS-CI, FDA, Division of State Fire Marshal, St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, Martin County Sheriff’s Office, Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, and West Palm Beach Police Department.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of DEA, and all partner agencies involved in this OCDETF take-down. Mr. Ferrer also thanked the Boynton Beach and Jupiter Police Departments for their assistance. The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Russell R. Killinger, Stephanie Evans and Senior Litigation Counsel Roger Stefin.
An indictment and criminal complaint are only accusations and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.