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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Two Queens Men Charged For Large-Scale Distribution Of Synthetic Cannabinoids Through Multiple Websites

The Defendants Allegedly Continued To Distribute Synthetic Cannabinoids After Four Co-Conspirators Were Arrested

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Ricky Patel, the Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), Philip R. Bartlett, Inspector-in-Charge of the New York Office of the United States Postal Inspection Service (“USPIS”), Frank Russo, Director, Field Operations, New York, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), and Dermot Shea, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), announced the unsealing of a Superseding Indictment charging VICTOR ALMONTE and MICHAEL ESPOSITO with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute synthetic cannabinoids and to distribute controlled substances using the internet.  The case, in which four other individuals previously were charged and arrested, is assigned to United States District Judge J. Paul Oetken.

ALMONTE and ESPOSITO were arrested this morning and will be presented later today in Manhattan federal court before United States Magistrate Judge Katharine H. Parker.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Trafficking of synthetic cannabinoids – sometimes called K2 or Spice – poses a serious threat to public health and safety.  Packaged attractively to appeal to teenagers and young adults, synthetic cannabinoids are in reality toxic concoctions that can be very dangerous to consume.  As alleged, the defendants used websites they operated to distribute massive quantities of synthetic cannabinoids throughout the United States.  Thanks to our law enforcement partners, the defendants have been arrested and their dangerous business has been dismantled.”

HSI Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Ricky Patel said: “As alleged in the indictment, the defendants purported to sell potpourri and herbs but were instead peddling mass amounts of dangerous synthetic cannabinoids to the public. What made these offenses even more egregious were that the defendants allegedly continued to engage in these illegal activities after the arrest of four co-conspirators involved in the scheme, which displayed a blatant disregard for the rule of law – that will not be tolerated.  HSI, in conjunction with its partners, will stand together and bring to justice malicious actors that use the internet to poison the public and put the health and safety of their customers at risk, just to turn a profit.”

USPIS Inspector-in-Charge Philip R. Bartlett said: “Today’s indictment of Almonte and Esposito is an example of the commitment of Postal Inspectors and their law enforcement partners to keep the streets safe from illegal drugs, while preventing criminal misuse of the mail.”

CBP New York Field Operations Director Frank Russo said: “U.S. Customs and Border Protection is proud of the expertise we provide in support of investigations that result in the takedown of criminal enterprises. Today’s arrest is an example of CBP’s interagency partnerships and collaborative efforts to detect, disrupt, and deter transnational criminal organizations.”

According to the allegations in the Indictment and the Superseding Indictment,[1] and other court filings:

From February 2019 until May 2021, Niaz Khan, Noel Sanabria, Andre Gomes, Patrick Patterson, VICTOR ALMONTE, and MICHAEL ESPOSITO (the “Defendants”) operated a scheme to distribute massive quantities of smokeable synthetic cannabinoids (“SSC”), colloquially referred to as “K2” or “Spice,” containing controlled substances and/or a controlled substance analogue, throughout the United States.

The Defendants sold SSC through at least four different websites that they operated, namely K2HerbStore.com, HerbalPlug.com, LegalAromaTherapy.com, and LegalHerbalSmack.com (collectively, the “Websites”).  The SSC the defendants sold through the Websites included dried, shredded plant material onto which synthetic cannabinoid chemicals had been sprayed.  The SSC distributed by the scheme was branded with colorful graphics and distinctive names, including “Train Wrecked,” “Scooby Snax Kush,” “Bizarro,” “AK 47,” “Hi5 Triple X,” “Evil Santa,” “Krazy Turkey,” “Sexy Monkey,” “W.T.F.,” and “COVID-19 Coronavirus Limited Edition.” 

In an effort to conceal their criminal activity and advertise their illegal products, the Defendants used names for certain of the Websites that falsely represented that their SSC products were “legal.”  The defendants also sometimes misleadingly described their SSC products publicly as “not for human consumption,” “potpourri,” “herbal incense,” and “legal aroma therapy,” when, in fact, the defendants intended that the SSC would be consumed by drug users and they knew that their conduct was unlawful.

On May 20, 2021, Khan, Sanabria, Gomes, and Patterson were arrested in connection with the charges contained in the Indictment.  Notwithstanding those arrests and the unsealing of the Indictment, ALMONTE and ESPOSITO continued to perpetrate the SSC distribution scheme until in or about December 2021.

Over the course of the scheme, the Defendants shipped thousands of packages of SSC through the United States mail from the Bronx, New York, to customers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, which contained a total of hundreds of kilograms of SSC.  The defendants earned more than approximately $1 million from their illegal marketing and sale of SSC during the course of the scheme.

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ALMONTE, 42, and ESPOSITO, 29, both of Queens, New York, are each charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances and a controlled substance analogue, and to distribute controlled substances using the internet, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.  The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.  

Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the NYPD, HSI, USPIS, and the New York Office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  The long-term investigation of this case was partially funded by the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (“HIDTA”), a federal grant program that invests in law enforcement partnerships to build safe and healthy communities.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Narcotics Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Rebecca T. Dell and Robert B. Sobelman are in charge of the prosecution. 

The charges contained in the Indictment and the Superseding Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

 


[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Indictment and the Superseding Indictment, and the description of the Indictment and the Superseding Indictment set forth herein, constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Contact: 
Nicholas Biase, James Margolin (212) 637-2600
Press Release Number: 
21-363
Updated December 27, 2021