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FRESNO, Calif. — The U.S. Attorney’s Office has distributed to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office $1,813,575 of forfeited drug proceeds seized in connection with the investigation of a synthetic drug trafficking organization, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
On May 15, 2014, Victor Anthony Nottoli, 51, of Hillsborough, pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States by interfering with the lawful governmental regulatory and enforcement functions of the FDA and DEA. He also pleaded guilty to causing at least 24 tons of misbranded smokable synthetic cannabinoids (SSC) to be introduced into interstate commerce. In pleading guilty, Nottoli specifically agreed to forfeit more than $6.5 million of drug proceeds: $6,488,000 in cash and $191,000 in other assets, including a 2013 Ford F350 pickup truck and a 2014 Airstream travel trailer. He is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd on March 26, 2018.
“The Asset Forfeiture Program literally takes the profits out of crime and distributes them fairly, effectively, and with tremendous benefit to the American people,” stated U.S. Attorney Talbert. “On behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice, I am pleased to return a portion of the forfeited funds in this case to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office for their outstanding cooperation and investigative work in this synthetic marijuana trafficking case.”
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims stated: “This case is a great example of the results that can be achieved when local and Federal law enforcement agencies partner to impact organized crime. The proceeds will be used in accordance with equitable sharing guidelines to combat illegal drug activity in our region.”
“Buyer beware,” said Michael T. Batdorf, Special Agent in Charge, IRS-CI. “Victor Nottoli sold harmful smokable synthetic cannabinoids throughout the country and profited tremendously from the illegal sales of these synthetic drugs. Working with our law enforcement partners we were able to dismantle this sizable drug organization and share the forfeited assets with several local agencies. We are honored that the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office can put this money to good use for their department.”
Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge John J. Martin stated: “Strong partnerships build stronger communities. This investigation exemplifies how the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program successfully takes the profit out of crime and benefits public safety. The proceeds seized from this criminal organization and distributed to law enforcement will help insure Fresno County is a safer place to live.”
“Local law enforcement partnerships are critical to achieving the overall public safety mission,” said Ryan L. Spradlin, special agent in charge of HSI San Francisco. “Today’s presentation is clear evidence of how our partnerships are impacting public safety around the country. Together, we will continue our unwavering commitment to keep Americans safe.”
According to court documents, between April 1, 2011, and June 26, 2013, Nottoli and his co-conspirators generated at least $33 million by manufacturing and distributing the SSC products, commonly known as K2 or spice, to distributors and retail outlets throughout the U.S. and from his six smoke shops in Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield. The misbranded drugs were intended for human consumption and were fraudulently packaged as herbal incense or potpourri. They were sold without the labeling necessary to protect the user and required by law including: the place of business of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor; an accurate statement of the contents; adequate directions for use; warnings against use by children or where its use may be dangerous to health; warning against unsafe dosage; or methods or duration of administration or application.
These funds were made available through the U.S. Department of Treasury - Executive Office for Asset Forfeiture and the U.S. Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program.
The Treasury Executive Office for Asset Forfeiture (TEOAF) administers the Treasury Forfeiture Fund (TFF). The mission of the TFF is to affirmatively influence the consistent and strategic use of asset forfeiture by participating agencies to disrupt and dismantle criminal enterprises. TEOAF, through the provision of leadership, guidance, and stewardship, works to maximize the impact of forfeitures performed by the participating federal agencies.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program is designed to enhance cooperation among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies through the sharing of proceeds resulting from federal forfeitures. State and local law enforcement agencies generally receive equitable sharing revenues by participating directly with DOJ agencies in joint investigations leading to the seizure or forfeiture of property. The amount shared with state and local law enforcement agencies is based on the degree of the agencies’ participation in the case.
This case is the product of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation by the DEA, IRS-CI, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with assistance from the Office of Criminal Investigations of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, which initiated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Spivak is handling the forfeiture of assets.