Albuquerque Man Sentenced to Eleven Years for Synthetic Cannabinoid Trafficking Conviction
ALBUQUERQUE – U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson and Special Agent in Charge Kyle W. Williamson of the DEA’s El Paso Division announced today that Fidal Abdeljawad, 51, of Albuquerque, N.M., was sentenced late yesterday afternoon in federal court to 132 months of imprisonment for his conviction on synthetic cannabinoids trafficking charges. Abdeljawad will be on supervised release for three years after completing his prison sentence.
Abdeljawad and co-defendant Ashley Watson, 31, also an Albuquerque resident, were charged with trafficking in synthetic cannabinoids in an indictment that was filed in Sept. 2015, and was superseded in Dec. 2015. The four-count superseding indictment charged Abdeljawad and Watson with participating in a synthetic cannabinoids trafficking conspiracy from March 2014 through Feb. 2015. The superseding indictment also charged the defendants with possessing synthetic cannabinoids with intent to distribute on May 8, 2014, and Feb. 19, 2015, and Abdeljawad with possessing synthetic cannabinoids with intent to distribute on May 7, 2014. Abdeljawad and Watson committed the crimes in Bernalillo County, N.M.
The controlled substances charged in the indictment are commonly referred to as synthetic cannabinoids or “spice.” According to the DEA, over the past several years, there has been a growing use of synthetic cannabinoids. Smoke-able herbal blends marketed as being “legal” and providing a marijuana-like high have become increasingly popular because they are easily available and, in many cases, 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. These substances, however, have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for human consumption, and there is no oversight of the manufacturing process. Synthetic cannabinoids often are labeled as incense to mask their intended purpose.
Abdeljawad and Watson proceeded to trial on May 1, 2017. The jury returned a guilty verdict against Abdeljawad on all four counts of the superseding indictment on May 5, 2017. The jury also returned a guilty verdict against Watson on three counts of the superseding indictment charging her with conspiracy, possession of synthetic cannabinoids with intent to distribute and attempt to possess synthetic cannabinoids with intent to distribute.
Testimony at trial established that the DEA initiated an investigation into synthetic cannabinoids trafficking in Albuquerque in 2014, after receiving information that Abdeljawad, the owner of “Sean’s Smoke Shop” on Central Avenue SE in Albuquerque, and others were distributing synthetic cannabinoids. Law enforcement officers testified that on May 7, 2014, they executed searches of “Sean’s Smoke Shop” and Abdeljawad’s van, and seized 97 packets of synthetic cannabinoids and bundles of cash totaling more than $10,000. Abdeljawad was arrested that day on state charges and later was released on bond. The next day, the DEA learned that Abdeljawad had a storage unit near “Sean’s Smoke Shop,” which was leased in Watson’s name. During a search of the storage unit, the DEA seized 549 additional packets of synthetic cannabinoids.
Other evidence at trial, including telephone conversations and text messages captured through court-authorized wire-taps, established that despite his arrest on state charges, Abdeljawad continued to distribute synthetic cannabinoids in collaboration with Watson. Abdeljawad would order shipments of synthetic cannabinoids from suppliers, who delivered the synthetic cannabinoids to Watson and she distributed the synthetic cannabinoids to others in exchange for money. On Feb. 19, 2015, the DEA intercepted a package that had been shipped to Watson. The DEA opened the package pursuant to a search warrant, and found that it contained 100 packets of synthetic cannabinoids. The DEA arrested Abdeljawad and Watson in Sept. 2015, after they were indicted.
Watson was sentenced on Sept. 7, 2017, to 48 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release.
The Albuquerque office of the DEA investigated this case as part of the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program, a nationwide Department of Justice program that combines the resources and unique expertise of federal agencies, along with their local counterparts, in a coordinated effort to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy S. Vasquez and Kristopher N. Houghton prosecuted the case.