ALBUQUERQUE – A federal jury sitting in Albuquerque, N.M., returned a verdict on Friday night finding Albuquerque residents Fidal Abdeljawad, 49, and Ashley Watson, 31, guilty on synthetic cannabinoids trafficking charges after a five-day trial. Acting U.S. Attorney James D. Tierney and Special Agent in Charge Will R. Glaspy of the DEA’s El Paso Division announced the guilty verdict.
Abdeljawad and Watson were charged with trafficking in synthetic cannabinoids, more commonly known as “spice,” in an indictment that was filed in Sept. 22, 2015, and superseded in Dec. 2015. The four-count superseding indictment charged Abdeljawad and Watson with participating in a “spice” trafficking conspiracy from March 2014 through Feb. 2015. It also charged the defendants with possessing “spice” with intent to distribute on May 8, 2014, and Feb. 19, 2015, and Abdeljawad alone with possessing “spice” with intent to distribute on May 7, 2014. According to the superseding indictment, Abdeljawad and Watson committed the crimes in Bernalillo County, N.M.
The trial of Abdeljawad and Watson began on May 1, 2017, and concluded at approximately 8:00 p.m. on May 5, 2017, when the jury returned a guilty verdict against Abdeljawad and Watson on all four counts of the superseding indictment.
Testimony at trial established that the DEA initiated an investigation into “spice” 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 “spice.” Law enforcement officers testified that on May 7, 2014, they executed a search at “Sean’s Smoke Shop” and Abdeljawad’s van, and seized more than 100 packets of “spice” 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 out in Watson’s name. During a search of the storage unit, the DEA seized more than 500 additional packets of “spice.”
Other evidence at trial, including the testimony of witnesses and telephone conversations and text messages captured through court-authorized wire-taps, established that despite his arrest on state charges, Abdeljawad continued to distribute “spice” in collaboration with Watson. Abdeljawad would order shipments of “spice” from suppliers, who delivered the “spice” to Watson and she coordinated the distribution of “spice” to others in exchange for money. On Feb. 19, 2015, the DEA intercepted a package that was in the process of being shipped to Watson. The DEA opened the package after obtaining a search warrant for it, and found that it contained 100 packets of “spice.” Abdeljawad and Watson were arrested in Sept. 2015, after they were indicted.
The jury deliberated approximately four hours before returning its guilty verdict.
Abdeljawad and Watson were remanded into custody after the verdict was returned and will remain detained pending their sentencing hearings, which have yet to be scheduled. At sentencing, Abdeljawad and Watson each face a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.
This case, which was investigated by the Albuquerque office of DEA, was designated 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 are prosecuting the case.
The controlled substance analogues 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.