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DEA-Led Synthetic Designer Drug Takedown Project Synergy III Results in Guilty Plea, Forfeiture of Millions

MAY 22 (FRESNO, Calif.) –Ramsey Jeries Farraj, 42, of Bakersfield, pled guilty today to conspiring with his former business partner, Majed Bashir “Mike” Akroush, 49, to structure $4,204,965 obtained from the sale of smokable synthetic drugs, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

Smokable synthetic cannabinoids are commonly known as K-2 or spice. They are sometimes marketed as incense or potpourri but contain powerful hallucinogenic chemicals. Consumption of smokable synthetic cannabinoids can lead to illness or even death.

In pleading guilty, Farraj acknowledged that he and co-defendant Akroush sold synthetic cannabinoids through their online businesses Blue Whale and World of Incense. They deposited over $4.2 million in proceeds in amounts under $10,000 into various bank accounts they maintained in order to avoid filing a currency transaction report, or CTR, that is required for amounts over $10,000. In pleading guilty, Farraj agreed to forfeit more than $5 million seized from various bank accounts, seven properties, a 1962 Chevrolet Impala, one Rolex watch, and the domain name and websites used to conduct the illicit drug sales.

The case is part of a nationwide synthetic drug takedown in connection with Project Synergy Phase III that targeted the synthetic designer drug industry, including wholesalers, money launderers, and other criminal facilitators. In connection with this case, federal law enforcement officers arrested and charged Farraj, along with Akroush, Haitham Eid Habash, aka Eddie Habash, 54, of Hawthorne, and Zaid Elodat, 30, of Lawndale, and executed 12 search warrants in Bakersfield and the Los Angeles area.

Farraj is scheduled for sentencing on August 14, 2017, before U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd. Farraj faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to twice the gross gain obtained by him. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

Elodat previously pled guilty and is scheduled for sentencing later this year. The charges against Akroush and Habash are pending. The charges against them are only allegations; they are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

This case is the product of an investigation by the DEA, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, and the California Highway Patrol, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the Kern County Probation Department, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, the Bakersfield Police Department, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorneys Karen A. Escobar, Grant B. Rabenn, and Jeffrey A. Spivak are prosecuting the case.

This case was also designated an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) case. The OCDETF program was established in 1982 to conduct comprehensive, multi-level attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.

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