11 arrested in Terrebonne in nationwide synth bust - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

11 arrested in Terrebonne in nationwide synth bust

Updated:
Terrebonne Parish authorities discussing Wednesday's arrests Terrebonne Parish authorities discussing Wednesday's arrests
Some of the items seized in the bust Some of the items seized in the bust

FOX 8 received this news release from the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office Wednesday afternoon:

The Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office headed a massive narcotics operation Wednesday targeting local convenience stores and employees who sell synthetic marijuana, Sheriff Jerry Larpenter said.

During a 6 month long investigation, the TPSO Narcotics Task Force, along with the Louisiana State Police Narcotics Unit and DEA, identified three major sources of synthetic marijuana in Terrebonne parish.

Wednesday's operation was in connection with a nationwide effort that included 300 search warrants and 150 arrest warrants in connection with businesses and suspects involved in the manufacturing and sale of synthetic marijuana. Agencies in 33 states in the United States organized similar operations, all under the direction of the DEA.

At approximately 8:00 a.m., search warrants were served at three stores in Terrebonne Parish. The stores were subsequently closed to the public and agents searched the premises for any evidence, contraband and proceeds directly related to the sale of the illegal narcotics. Search warrants were also served simultaneously at five residences where the stores' owners and employees lived.

A total of 11 suspects were arrested. Two suspects remain at large.

A total of approximately $500,000.00 was seized by agents at the stores, residences and through bank accounts belonging to the suspects. Also, approximately $250,000 worth of synthetic marijuana was seized.

The following is a list of the suspects arrested, their charges and the locations they are connected to:

1) Fast Stop-n-Go, 4174 West Main Street, Gray

Owner- Karen Yost, 1xx Beham Court in Thibodaux

Racketeering, Money Laundering, Transactions involving Drug Proceeds, Failure to Possess Tax Stamp, Violation of CDS Drug Free Zone, Distribution of CDS I, Possession with Intent to Distribute CDS I; her bond has been set at $2,350,000.00.

David Yost, 1xx Beham Court in Thibodaux(son of Karen)

Racketeering, Money Laundering, Transactions involving Drug Proceeds, Failure to Possess Tax Stamp, Violation of CDS Drug Free Zone, Distribution of CDS I; his bond has been set at $1,900,000.00.

Albert Vo, 64xx Shrimper's Row, Dulac (supplier to Karen)

Possession with Intent to Distribute CDS I; no bond set at this time.

2) Alma Street Discount, 69xx Alma Street, Houma

Owner: Fuad Hamed, 35xx Lake Lynn Drive, Gretna

NOT IN CUSTODY- OUTSTANDING WARRANTS FOR: Racketeering, Money Laundering, Transactions involving Drug Proceeds, Failure to Possess Tax Stamp, Violation of CDS Drug Free Zone, Distribution of CDS I.

Khalad Hamad, 2xx Monarch Drive, Apt. B-10, Houma

Racketeering, Money Laundering, Transactions involving Drug Proceeds, Failure to Possess Tax Stamp, Violation of CDS Drug Free Zone, Distribution of CDS I; his bond has been set at $1,800,000.00.

Fuad Towfik, 2xx Alice Court, Thibodaux

Racketeering, Money Laundering, Transactions involving Drug Proceeds, Failure to Possess Tax Stamp, Violation of CDS Drug Free Zone, Distribution of CDS I; his bond has been set at $1,800,000.00.

3) Kee Foods, 69xx West Park Avenue, Houma

Tawfiq Almansoob, 2xx Monarch Drive, Apt. B, Houma

Racketeering, Money Laundering, Transactions involving Drug Proceeds, Failure to Possess Tax Stamp, Violation of CDS Drug Free Zone, Distribution of CDS I; his bond was set at $1,800,000.00.

Pepper Manuel Jr., 2xx Monarch Drive, Apt. H-23, Houma

Racketeering, Money Laundering, Transactions involving Drug Proceeds, Failure to Possess Tax Stamp, Violation of CDS Drug Free Zone, Distribution of CDS I; Two counts of principle to Distribute CDS I; Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; his bond has been set at $1,900,000.00.

Lawanda Deville, 1xx Al's Trailer Park, Gray

Racketeering, Money Laundering, Transactions involving Drug Proceeds, Failure to Possess Tax Stamp, Violation of CDS Drug Free Zone, Two counts of Distribution of CDS I; her bond was set at $2,150,000.00.

Stacey Ann Verdin, 2xx Lake Long Drive, Houma

Racketeering, Money Laundering, Transactions involving Drug Proceeds, Failure to Possess Tax Stamp, Violation of CDS Drug Free Zone, Four Counts of Distribution of CDS I; her bond has not been set at this time.

Abdulqawi Nagi, 69xx West Park Avenue, Houma

Possession with Intent to Distribute CDS I; bond has not been set at this time.

Mohamed Nagi, 69xx West Park Avenue, Houma

NOT IN CUSTODY- OUTSTANDING WARRANTS FOR:

Racketeering, Money Laundering, Transactions involving Drug Proceeds, Failure to Possess Tax Stamp, Violation of CDS Drug Free Zone, Distribution of CDS I; his bond was set at $1,900,000.00.

Kassim Nagi, 2xx Monarch Drive, Apt. C, Houma

Racketeering, Money Laundering, Transactions involving Drug Proceeds, Failure to Possess Tax Stamp, Violation of CDS Drug Free Zone, Distribution of CDS I, Possession with Intent to Distribute CDS I, and Principle to Distribute CDS I; his bond has not been set at this time.

All arrested suspects are being held at the Terrebonne Parish Criminal Justice Complex.

Additional agencies involved in today's operation included: ATC, Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office and Office of Homeland Security.

This investigation is on-going.

We encourage anyone has been effected by or has a loved one effected by these dangerous drugs to contact TPSO agents. As the investigation continues, we are attempting to identify other sources of supply and suspects involved in this illegal activity.

Please contact the TPSO Narcotics Task Force at 985-879-4964 or TPSO at 985-876-2500.

Synthetic marijuana is illegal to possess and sell and is violation of Louisiana law.

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FOX 8 received this related news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Orleans Wednesday afternoon:

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and its law enforcement partners today announced enforcement operations in 35 states targeting the upper echelon of dangerous designer synthetic drug trafficking organizations that have operated without regard for the law or public safety.

These series of enforcement actions included retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers. In addition, these investigations have uncovered the massive flow of drug-related proceeds back to countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Since Project Synergy began in December of 2012, more than 75 arrests have been made and nearly $15 million in cash and assets have been seized--all leading up to today's global takedown. Today, law enforcement executed over 150 arrest warrant and nearly 375 search warrants in 35 states, 49 cities and five countries. During the past three days prior to today, over 550 kilograms of synthetic drugs were seized in a joint operation with Customs and Border Protection aimed at international shipments of synthetic drugs at express consignment facilities. Since February, over 1,000 kilograms of synthetic drugs have been seized at express consignment facilities.

Project Synergy was coordinated by DEA's Special Operations Division, working with the DEA Office of Diversion Control, and included cases led by DEA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), FBI, and IRS. In addition, law enforcement in Australia, Barbados, Panama, and Canada participated, as well as countless state and local law enforcement members.

"Shutting down businesses that traffic in these drugs and attacking their operations worldwide is a priority for DEA and our law enforcement partners," said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. "These designer drugs are destructive, dangerous, and are destroying lives. DEA has been at the forefront of the battle against this trend and is targeting these new and emerging drugs with every scientific, legislative, and investigative tool at our disposal."

"CBP and DEA enjoy a close working relationship that was further enhanced through the collaboration of the National Targeting Center and CBP officers in the field at express consignment hubs during this operation to target, test and detain shipments of synthetic drugs, as well as precursor herbs used to manufacture synthetic marijuana," said CBP David Murphy, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Field Operations.

"The criminals behind the importation, distribution and selling of these drugs have scant regard for human life in their reckless pursuit of illicit profits," said Traci Lembke, HSI Deputy Assistant Director of Investigative Programs. "For criminal groups seeking to profit through the sale of illegal narcotics, the message is clear: we know how you operate; we know where you hide; and we will not stop until we bring you to justice."

"The harm inflicted by these designer drugs is matched only by the profit potential for those who sell them," said Richard Weber, Chief, IRS-Criminal Investigation. "Today's enforcement actions are the culmination of a multi-year effort in which IRS-CI worked with its domestic and global law enforcement partners to disrupt the flow of money - the lifeblood that allows these multi-million dollar organizations to proliferate."

"On behalf of the Australian Government, I congratulate the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Project Synergy. This is a significant seizure of synthetic drugs and is a terrific result for our respective law enforcement agencies. Australia remains committed to sharing intelligence with its U.S. partners to combat transnational crime across international borders. This is a win for our collective communities," Australia's Acting Ambassador to the United States, Graham Fletcher, said.

 

Background on designer synthetic drugs

Designer synthetic drugs are often marketed as herbal incense, bath salts, jewelry cleaner, or plant food, and have caused significant abuse, addiction, overdoses, and emergency room visits. Those who have abused synthetic drugs have suffered vomiting, anxiety, agitation, irritability, seizures, hallucinations, tachycardia, elevated blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. They have caused significant organ damage as well as overdose deaths.

Smokable herbal blends marketed as being "legal" and providing a marijuana-like high have become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults, because they are easily available and, in many cases, they are more potent and dangerous than marijuana. These products consist of plant material that has been impregnated with dangerous psychoactive compounds that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Synthetic cannabinoids are sold at a variety of retail outlets, in head shops and over the Internet. Brands such as "Spice," "K2," "Blaze," and "Red X Dawn" are labeled as incense to mask their intended purpose. In 2012, a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported 11,406 emergency department visits involving a synthetic cannabinoid product during 2010. In a 2013 report, SAMHSA reported the number of emergency department visits in 2011 involving a synthetic cannabinoid product had increased 2.5 times to 28,531. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 5,205 calls related to human exposure of synthetic cannabinoids.

For the past several years, there has also been a growing use of, and interest in, synthetic cathinones (stimulants/hallucinogens) sold under the guise of "bath salts" or "plant food." Marketed under names such as "Ivory Wave," "Purple Wave," "Vanilla Sky," or "Bliss," these products are comprised of a class of dangerous substances perceived to mimic cocaine, LSD, MDMA, and/or methamphetamine. Users have reported impaired perception, reduced motor control, disorientation, extreme paranoia, and violent episodes. The long-term physical and psychological effects of use are unknown but potentially severe. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 2,656 calls related to synthetic cathinone ("bath salts") exposures in 2012 and overdose deaths have been reported as well.

These products have become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults and those who mistakenly believe they can bypass the drug testing protocols of employers and government agencies to protect public safety. They are sold at a variety of retail outlets, in head shops, and over the Internet. However, they have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human consumption or for medical use, and there is no oversight of the manufacturing process.

Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act

While many of the designer drugs being marketed today that were seized as part of Project Synergy are not specifically prohibited in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986 (AEA) allows many of these drugs to be treated as controlled substances if they are proven to be chemically and/or pharmacologically similar to a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance. A number of cases that are part of Project Synergy will be prosecuted federally under this analogue provision, which is being utilized to combat these new and emerging designer drugs.

DEA has used its emergency scheduling authority to combat both synthetic cathinones (the so-called "bath salts" with names like Ivory Wave, etc.) and synthetic cannabinoids (the so-called incense products like K2, Spice, etc.), temporarily placing several of these dangerous chemicals into Schedule I of the CSA. Congress has also acted, permanently placing 26 substances into Schedule I of the CSA in 2012.

For more information about this operation and synthetic designer drugs, visit www.dea.gov.

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