August 14, 2017
Contact: Casey Rettig
Phone Number: (415) 436-7994
Bakersfield Man Sentenced For Structuring Over $4.2 M In Proceeds Of Synthetic Drug Sales
FRESNO, Calif. - Ramsey Jeries Farraj, 41, of Bakersfield, was sentenced today to 18 months in prison for conspiring with his former business partner, Majed Bashir “Mike” Akroush, 49, also of Bakersfield, to structure $4,204,965 obtained from the sale of smokeable 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.
Farraj’s sentence follows his guilty plea in May. According to court documents, Farraj and Akroush obtained synthetic cannabinoids from Haitham Eid Habash, aka Eddie Habash, 54, of Hawthorne, and Zaid Elodat, 30, of Lawndale, and sold the drugs over the internet 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 sentencing Farraj, U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd ordered the forfeiture of over $5 million seized from various bank accounts, seven properties, a 1962 Chevrolet Impala, one Rolex watch, and the domain names and websites utilized 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, Habash, and Elodat, 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.
Elodat previously pleaded guilty and is scheduled for sentencing later this year. The charges against Akroush and Habash are pending; they are scheduled to appear in federal court in Fresno for a status conference on September 25. If convicted, they face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million 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. As to Akroush and Habash, the charges 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 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 U.S. 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 (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.