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Federal Jury Finds Former Owner of Albuquerque Smoke Shop Guilty on Synthetic Drug Trafficking Charges

AUG 27 (ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.) – This afternoon a federal jury sitting in Santa Fe, N.M., found Firas Abuzuhrieh, 38, of Albuquerque, N.M., guilty on federal synthetic drug trafficking charges after a four-day trial.  The guilty verdict was announced by U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez and Special Agent in Charge Will R. Glaspy of the DEA’s El Paso Division.

Abuzuhrieh, then the owner of the Ace Smoke Shop & Hookah Lounge (Smoke Shop) located on Juan Tabo Blvd. NE in Albuquerque, and his employee Islam Kandil, 40, were arrested on Sept. 23, 2014, and charged by criminal complaint with trafficking in synthetic cannabinoids, more commonly known as “spice.”  The two men were subsequently charged in a three-count indictment with conspiracy to distribute “spice.”  The indictment also charged each man 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 alleged that Kandil sold “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The indictment was superseded in July 2015 to expand the time frame of the conspiracy to cover the period between Aug. 14, 2014 and Sept. 22, 2014.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 pleaded guilty on Aug. 19, 2015, to a misdemeanor information charging him with simple possession of “spice,” and admitted possessing 2.3 grams of “spice” on Aug. 14, 2014. 

Abuzuhrieh elected to proceed to trial on the five-count superseding indictment.  The trial began on Aug. 24, 2015, and concluded this afternoon 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.”

Abuzuhrieh is in federal custody and will remain detained pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.  At sentencing, he faces a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Under the terms of his plea agreement, Kandil will be sentenced to 360 days in prison followed by up to one year of supervised release.  He remains in custody pending a sentencing hearing which is scheduled for Sept. 17, 2015.

This case was investigated by the Albuquerque office of the DEA and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer M. Rozzoni and Shana B. Long. 

The controlled substance analogues charged in the complaints and indictment are commonly referred to as synthetic marijuana 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.


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