LOS ANGELES– Investigations led by the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations in the Los Angeles area have resulted in the arrest of a dozen defendants allegedly involved in the large-scale manufacture and distribution of synthetic narcotics that are commonly called “spice.”
The arrests on Wednesday and this morning were part of a larger, nationwide crackdown on synthetic drug distribution that the DEA labeled “Project Synergy III” (see:http://www.dea.gov/divisions/hq/2015/hq101515.shtml). The law enforcement operation in Los Angeles targeted three organizations that allegedly manufactured and distributed thousands of kilograms of synthetic cannabinoids, which are designed to mimic the effects of THC, the psychoactive agent in marijuana.
Over the past several years, DEA has identified more than 400 new designer drugs in the United States – most of which are manufactured in rogue labs in China and sold on the Internet or in retail outlets such as smoke shops, gas station convenience stores and bodegas. These substances are generally sold in brightly colored packaging, marketed to young people, and billed as “safe” alternatives to marijuana or dangerous party drugs such as MDMA (ecstasy). The synthetic drugs are commonly marked with the disclaimer “not for human consumption” or “DEA approved,” which is an attempt to shield distributors from prosecution. Abuse of these psychoactive substances has resulted in increasing numbers of overdose incidents, emergency room visits and even deaths.
In the three cases in Los Angeles announced today, a total of 16 defendants are charged with manufacturing and distributing synthetic cannabinoids. The chemicals are mixed with agents – often acetone – to create a mixture that is sprayed onto plant material – typically marshmallow leaf or damania leaf – to create synthetic marijuana, which is commonly referred to as “spice” or “herbal incense.” Such synthetic cannabinoids are smoked or orally ingested, and are referred to in three indictments as smokable synthetic cannabinoids (SSCs). The SSCs discussed in the indictment were sold under brand names that included “Sexy Monkey,” “Crazy Monkey,” “Scooby Snax,” “Bizarro” and “Mad Hatter.”
“This effort highlights DEA's commitment to toppling the reign drug traffickers hold over too many of our children,” said Anthony D. Williams, the DEA Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles Field Division. “Synthetic drugs are extremely dangerous substances and pose a serious threat to the health and well-being of our youth. We will continue to target and dismantle any and all drug trafficking organizations victimizing our society.”
United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker said: “These are extremely dangerous drugs, despite being falsely marketed to youth as being a ‘safe' alternative and having innocent names like ‘spice' and ‘K2.' The often unknown and constantly changing chemicals in these drugs can have unpredictable and devastating effects on users. The Department of Justice takes this threat to public health and safety seriously and will prosecute purveyors of synthetic drugs as the drug traffickers that they are.”
The first case, which was the result of an investigation by the DEA, focused on companies in the “Skid Row” district in downtown Los Angeles. The indictment in this case charges seven defendants:
• Faisal Iqbal, 34, of Glendale, who was arrested yesterday;
• Sana Faisal, 32, of Glendale, Faisal Iqbal's wife and who was arrested yesterday;
• Mohammad Iqbal, 65, of Glendale, Faisal Iqbal's father, who is a fugitive believed to be in Pakistan;
• Fidencio Garcia Jr, 25, of North Hollywood, who was arrested yesterday;
• Ahmad Abu Farie, 54, of Huntington Beach, who was arrested yesterday;
• Mohammad Abu Farie, 25, of Huntington Beach, Ahmad Abu Farie's son, who surrendered to authorities this morning; and
• Ehab Abu Farie, 24, of Chandler, Arizona, another son of Ahmad Abu Farie, who was arrested yesterday.
The second case investigated by the DEA focused on two individuals who had ties to the other two organizations discussed in the other indictments. The two charged in this second indictment are:
• Samia Amaninawabi, 39, of Ontario, who has agreed to surrender to authorities tomorrow; and
• Aziz Maali, 51, of Clifton, New Jersey (formerly of Monterey Park), who was arrested yesterday.
The case investigated by HSI focused on Orange County-based businesses and led to an indictment charging seven defendants. Those charged in the third indictment are:
• Adnan Bahhur, 55, of Anaheim, who has not yet been taken into custody;
• Islam Bahhur, 29, of Anaheim, Adnan Bahhur's son, who was arrested yesterday;
• Hakeem Bahhur, 24, of Anaheim, another son of Adnan Bahhur, who has not yet been taken into custody;
• Maesa Bahhur, 44, of Greenville, South Carolina, Adnan Bahhur's daughter, who surrendered to authorities in Los Angeles this morning;
• Mohamad Hamade, 31, of Irvine, who was arrested yesterday;
• Oun Alrzouq, 49, of Anaheim, who was arrested yesterday; and
• Yasir Harb, 55, of Romoland, California, who was arrested yesterday.
Those arrested in Southern California yesterday were arraigned Wednesday afternoon in United States District Court. All of those defendants pleaded not guilty and were ordered to stand trial later this year. Mohammad Abu Farie and Maesa Bahhur are expected to be arraigned this afternoon in Los Angeles federal court.
“Many of the precursor chemicals used to manufacture these substances are shipped from overseas and HSI is committed to working with its law enforcement partners to stop the flow into the U.S.,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. “But beyond targeting the manufacturers and importers, it's also imperative we get the word out – especially to young people – about the dangers, and potentially deadly consequences, of using these substances.”
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
Most of the defendants are charged with conspiracy to manufacture, possess with intent to distribute, and distribute controlled substance analogues, a charge that carries a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison.
More information about synthetic designer drugs can be found on the Drug Fact Sheets athttp://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/index.html.
USAO – California, Central Updated October 15, 2015
Central District of California DOJ / 15-106 / October 15, 2015