October 16, 2015
Contact: Casey Rettig
Phone Number: (415) 436-7900
U.S. Attorney Announces Takedown Of Major Synthetic Drug Distribution Ring As Part Of Nationally Coordinated Action
Two Bakersfield men and two Los Angeles men charged with synthetic drug distribution and structuring cash transactions
FRESNO, Calif. - A seven-count indictment has been unsealed, following the arrests of Haitham Eid Habash, aka Eddie Habash, 52, of Hawthorne; Zaid Elodat, 28, of Gardena; and Bakersfield residents Ramsey Jeries Farraj, 48, and Majed Bashir Akroush, aka Mike Akroush, 48, charging them with conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute AB-Chminaca, AB-Pinaca, and XLR11, smokeable synthetic drugs that are Schedule I controlled substances, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
Farraj is also charged with four separate counts of distributing the drugs. Akroush is charged with two counts of distributing AB-Chminaca, and Farraj and Elodat are charged with possessing AB-Chminaca and AB-Pinaca with intent to distribute. In addition, Farraj and Akroush are charged with conspiring to structure more than $3 million in proceeds derived from their Internet-based drug distribution businesses. The indictment also seeks to forfeit property and bank accounts owned by Habash, Akroush, and Farraj and the domain names of their drug distribution businesses, Blue Whale Store and World of Incense.
“Synthetic drugs are a serious public health threat and are endangering young people across the country,” said U.S. Attorney Wagner. “The chemicals in these drugs, usually manufactured in unsupervised factories in China, are not tested or approved for human consumption, and have led to psychotic episodes, seizures and deaths, even in small quantities. Stores should not sell them, and young people should not play Russian roulette by consuming them.”
DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge Bruce C. Balzano stated, “Synthetic drugs are dangerous, deadly poisons often marketed to attract teen and young adult use. These drugs are manufactured without quality controls and have unpredictable effects that can lead to grave consequences for the unsuspecting user. These arrests have dismantled a criminal network responsible for the manufacture and distribution of some very toxic drugs.”
The charges are 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 the four defendants and executed 12 search warrants in Bakersfield and the Los Angeles area. Over 1,000 pounds of synthetic drugs, nearly a half a million dollars in cash and four firearms were seized.
The Drug Enforcement (DEA), Immigration and Customs (ICE) Homeland Security (HSI), Customs and Border (CBP), along with other federal, state, and local law enforcement concluded a 15-month, nationwide drug interdiction effort that resulted in 151 arrests in 16 states. In addition to curbing the flow of synthetic drugs into the country, Project Synergy III continues to reveal the flow of millions of dollars in U.S. synthetic drug proceeds to countries of concern in the Middle East.
In May 2013, DEA placed XLR11 in Schedule I after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that acute kidney injury is associated with its ingestion. AB-Pinaca and AB-Chminaca were placed into Schedule I at the beginning of this year based on a finding that these drugs pose an imminent hazard to the public.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 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’(ICE) Homeland Security (HSI); the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the Kern County Probation, 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 part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task (OCDETF). 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.
If convicted of the drug charges, the defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The structuring conspiracy carries a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Any sentence, however, would 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. The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Habash is in custody, Farraj was released on bond. A detention hearing has been ordered for Elodat and Akroush. The next court date for all defendants is January 11, 2016, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara A. McAuliffe in Fresno.