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August 12, 2015
Contact: Public Information Officer
Number: 954-660-4602

Three Tampa Residents Plead Guilty for Their Involvement in a Conspiracy to Import a Synthetic Cannabinoid, XLR-11, a/k/a "Spice", and Drug Paraphernalia

AUG 12 (MIAMI) – This week three Tampa residents pleaded guilty to their involvement in a conspiracy to import a synthetic cannabinoid, XLR-11, a/k/a “Spice,” and paraphernalia to the United States from China, before United States Chief Magistrate Judge Frank J. Lynch, Jr., in Ft. Pierce, Florida.

A.D. Wright, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Miami Field Division, Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Alysa D. Erichs, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), and Ronald J. Verrochio, Inspector in Charge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Miami Division, made the announcement.  

On Tuesday, August 11, 2015, Ahmed Yehia Khalifa, 28, and Ahmed Maher Elhelw, 25, both from Tampa, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import a Schedule 1 controlled substance (XLR-11) and conspiracy to manufacture, possess with intent to manufacture and distribute a Schedule 1 controlled substance (XLR-11).  The defendants agreed to the forfeiture of assets totaling $472,780.00.   Each offense carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

On Wednesday, August 12, 2015, Tanjina Islam Piya, 24, of Tampa, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import drug paraphernalia.  The defendant also agreed to the forfeiture of assets totaling $157,158.80 and real property in St. Petersberg, Florida.  The offense carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison. 

A fourth co-defendant, Saiful Hossain, is scheduled for trial August 24, 2015, in Ft. Pierce, Florida, before U.S. District Court Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks.  Hossain is presumed innocent of the charges contained in the indictment until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

According to court records, law enforcement agencies, in the Southern and Middle Districts of Florida, have been investigating individuals who are importing illegal “smokable synthetic cannabinoids” (“SSC”) containing Schedule I controlled substances and drug paraphernalia. 

On November 7, 2014, agents arrested Elhelw in Vero Beach and recovered a three kilogram package of the controlled substance XLR-11, a chemical used in the manufacture of SSC.  Further investigation revealed that as a result of the conspiracy, at least seven parcels, containing three kilograms each of XLR-11, were imported into the Southern District of Florida, with a street value of approximately $5,460,000.00.

On May 19, 2015, federal search warrants were executed at various locations, including residences, a storage facility, and safe deposit boxes.  At the home shared by Hossain and Piya, agents recovered documentary evidence of the importation of “Spice” and drug paraphernalia. After having received consent from Hossain, law enforcement searched a storage facility and found drug paraphernalia and approximately 6.27 pounds of green leafy product (containing a mixture of Schedule I controlled substances XLR-11 and PB-22 and 5-fluoro AB-PINACA, an analogue intended for human consumption).   Agents seized ledgers listing “Spice” brands and amounts, as well as jars, containing a mixture of containing 5-fluoro ABICA, an analogue intended for human consumption, from Khalifa’s residence.  At the homes of Piya/Hossain, Elhelw and Khalifa, agents also seized money. 

On June 12, 2015, agents executed a federal search warrant at a residence connected to Khalifa and Hossain.  Therein, agents seized numerous kilograms of leafy product, containing a mixture of XLR-11 and PB-22; bottles of FUB-PB-22, an analogue intended for human consumption; and drug paraphernalia.  The investigation revealed that the controlled substances had been shipped from China.
 
The court records further allege that SSC products, commonly known as “Spice,” are a mixture of an organic “carrier” medium, such as the herb-like substance damiana leaf and/or marshmallow leaf, which is then typically sprayed or mixed with a synthetic cannabinoid chemical compound which mimics the pharmacological effect of a Schedule I or II controlled substance.  This organic “carrier” is then commonly sprayed with a tobacco flavoring such as strawberry, blueberry, or pineapple, in order to mask the harsh chemical taste upon ingestion.  Currently, there are hundreds of synthetic cannabinoid compounds. 

This investigation was conducted by the DEA Port Saint Lucie Resident Office, HSI, USPIS, United States Customs and Border Protection, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Tampa Police Department, and the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office.  This case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.

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