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Press Release

Jury Convicts Third Man in Synthetic Cannabinoid Conspiracy

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas

VICTORIA, Texas - A federal jury has returned a guilty verdict related to a large-scale synthetic narcotic manufacturing operation, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick. The jury deliberated for just under two hours before reaching its verdict, convicting Mohamed Ebrahim Salim Moton, 49, a citizen of India lawfully residing in Houston, of two counts of possession with intent to distribute a synthetic cannabinoid.

Two others charged in the indictment had previously pleaded guilty. Ataru Rahman Malik, 39, of Houston, and Thomas Edward Peplinski, 73, of Robstown, each pleaded guilty April 3, 2018, to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a synthetic cannabinoid before Senior U.S. District Judge John Rainey. Malik and Peplinski are both set the sentencing for July 3, 2018. Moton’s sentencing is set for Aug. 7, 2018.

During the trial, the jury heard the testimony of several law enforcement officers who stated that in September 2016, the Houston Police Department received a tip concerning the discovery of a package of synthetic cannabinoids at a storage facility in the 10000 block of the Southwest Freeway. During the follow-up investigation, officers conducted surveillance at the location and were able to identify Moton dropping off large trash bags full of synthetic cannabinoids at several local storage units. The officers then observed Malik arriving at the storage units and removing the trash bags of synthetic cannabinoids at a later time.

One of the officers testified that on Feb. 10, 2017, they observed Moton leave his residence and retrieve two large trash bags of synthetic cannabinoids from one of the storage units and deliver them to Malik’s vehicle which was parked at an apartment complex in the 11000 block of Bissonnet in southwest Houston. Malik was then observed moving the trash bags into another vehicle that Peplinski was driving. After leaving the location, authorities conducted a traffic stop on Peplinski’s vehicle as he drove southbound on US-59 in Fort Bend County.  During the traffic stop, the officers seized 899 packets of synthetic cannabinoids weighing approximately 30 pounds.          

The officers testified that based on the investigation, they obtained felony arrest warrants for Moton and Malik through the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. On April 18, 2017, the Houston Police Department (HPD Narcotics Division executed arrest warrants for Malik and Moton related to the February incident. At the time of the arrests, the officers searched a residence in a southwest neighborhood and discovered approximately 580 pounds of synthetic cannabinoids and equipment used to manufacture and package the illegal substance. Officers also searched several area storage units and recovered additional packages ready to be sold. At the time of the arrests, it was the largest seizure of a synthetic cannabinoids manufacturing operation HPD discovered to date. In addition, officers seized approximately $108,000 in U.S. currency related to the criminal activity.

The evidence showed that laboratory analysis confirmed the presence of the synthetic cannabinoid FUB-AMB. In addition, the jury heard the testimony of two expert witnesses from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Chemical and Drug Evaluation Section related to the chemical structure and the pharmacological effects of FUB-AMB, which is controlled under the Controlled Substance Analog Act. The testimony also included how the DEA handles newly emerging synthetic narcotics, the adverse effects of those substance and imminent hazard they present to the public safety.

Synthetic cannabinoids are chemical compounds that mimic THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.  These chemical compounds are applied to carrier mediums such as plant material and ingested using rolling papers, pipes, vaporizers or otherwise taken orally.  Synthetic cannabinoids are usually sold in small, foil or plastic bags containing dried leaves (resembling potpourri) and is marketed as incense that can be smoked.  It is commonly sold and known on the street as: “synthetic marijuana,” “fake weed,” “legal” and by its popular brand names such as: Kush, Spice, K2, Klimaxx and many other names.

In custody since his arrest, Moton was transferred to federal custody after the indictment and will remain in custody pending his sentencing. Malik and Peplinski were released on bond after their arrests and were allowed to remain on bond pending their sentencing.

All three men face a maximum punishment of up to 20 years of imprisonment and a possible $1 million maximum fine.

The Houston Police Department conducted the investigation with the assistance of the Drug Enforcement Adminisration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lance Watt is prosecuting the case.

Updated May 10, 2018

Drug Trafficking