ALBUQUERQUE – Firas Abuzuhrieh, 40, an Israeli national who is legal permanent resident residing in Albuquerque, N.M., was sentenced today in Santa Fe, N.M., to 30 months of imprisonment for his conviction on federal synthetic drug trafficking charges. Abuzuhrieh will be deported after completing his prison sentence.
Abuzuhrieh was the owner of the Ace Smoke Shop & Hookah Lounge (Smoke Shop) located on Juan Tabo Blvd. NE in Albuquerque, when he and his employee Islam Kandil, 42, an Egyptian national residing in Albuquerque, were arrested on Sept. 23, 2014, on a criminal complaint with trafficking in synthetic cannabinoids, more commonly known as “spice.” Abruzuhrieh and Kandil subsequently were charged in a three-count indictment with conspiracy to distribute “spice” and with distributing “spice.”
According to the indictment, the two men conspired to sell “spice” in Bernalillo County from Aug. 14, 2014 to Aug. 18, 2014. It also charged Kandil with selling “spice” to an undercover DEA agent at the Smoke Shop on Aug. 14, 2014, and that Abuzuhrieh sold “spice” to an undercover DEA agent at the Smoke Shop on Aug. 18, 2014.
The indictment was superseded in July 2015 to expand the time frame of the conspiracy to cover the period between Aug. 14, 2014 and Sept. 22, 2014. The superseding indictment also added three counts of possession of “spice” with intent to distribute against Abuzuhrieh.
Kandil pled guilty on Sept. 22, 2015, to an information charging him with delivery of misbranded food, drugs, or tobacco products into interstate commerce. Kandil was also sentenced on Sept. 22, 2015, to time served to be followed by a year of supervised release.
Abuzuhrieh elected to proceed to trial on the five-count superseding indictment, which concluded on Aug. 27, 2015, when the jury returned a verdict finding him guilty on all five counts. The evidence at trial established that Abuzuhrieh sold “spice” to an undercover DEA agent on Aug. 18, 2014. It also established that on Sept. 22, 2014, when DEA agents arrested Abuzuhrieh, he was in possession of a key that opened a suite located in the same complex as the Smoke Shop. When the agents searched the Smoke Shop and the suite, they found approximately 62 kilograms of “spice,” inclusive of packaging.
This case was investigated by the Albuquerque office of the DEA and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer M. Rozzoni and Shana B. Long.
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.