151 Arrested in Investigation of Synthetic Drug Rings

October 15, 2015
Contact: DEA Public Affairs
(202) 307-7977

151 Arrested in DEA-Led Investigation of Synthetic Drug Rings

Rogue Chinese labs producing for U.S. and global consumption; proceeds flow to Middle East countries

OCT 15 (WASHINGTON) – The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), along with other federal, state, and local law enforcement today concluded a 15-month, nationwide drug interdiction effort that resulted in 151 arrests in 16 states. The enforcement action, known as Project Synergy III, targeted the synthetic designer drug industry, including wholesalers, money launderers and other criminal facilitators. 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.

Total cash and assets seized (approximately): $15,013,522.25
Synthetic Cathinones seized: 316 kilograms
Synthetic Cannabinoids: 3,058 kilograms
Treated plant material: 98 kilograms
Synthetic Cannabinoid Packs (filled): 7,314 kilograms
Weapons: 39
Arrests: 151
Search Warrants: 69

“This poison ruins and takes too many lives; this is incredibly dangerous stuff,” said DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg. “Project Synergy III demonstrates our collective commitment to pursue those who produce and distribute this garbage to our children and I am grateful for the partnership of HSI and CBP on this operation.”

“The availability and illicit marketing of synthetic drugs creates the impression that they are safe and legal, when in fact they are neither,” said ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña. “ICE is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to stop the flow of these highly dangerous drugs into our country. At the same time, we are equally concerned about getting the word out – especially to young people — about the dangers, and potentially deadly consequences, of using these substances.”

“With the alarming growth of these synthetic drugs, CBP’s National Targeting Center, Laboratory and Scientific Services and Office of Field Operations bring expertise and innovative contributions to the U.S. government’s effort to keep these dangerous narcotics off the streets,” said CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske. “CBP personnel continue to serve on the frontline, protecting the American public from designer drugs, a highly dangerous and deceptive group of psychoactive substances, specifically designed to skirt around existing drug laws.”

As in previous phases of Project Synergy, CBP’s National Targeting Center played a significant role in the success of this operation. CBP was responsible for identifying and targeting high-risk express consignment shipments coming into the United States and suspected of containing synthetic drugs.

For the past several years, DEA has identified over 400 new designer drugs in the United States – the vast majority of which are manufactured in rogue labs in China and sold on the Internet and in retail outlets such as smoke shops, gas station convenience stores, and bodegas. Abuse of these psychoactive substances has resulted in ever-increasing numbers of overdose incidents and deaths.

Other related interdiction operations preceded this operation. Most recently in September, federal law enforcement teamed up with HSI, the New York City Police Department, and other law enforcement agencies to target nearly 90 bodegas in New York City who were selling designer synthetic drugs.

Communities, families, and individuals, across the country have experienced the scourge of designer synthetic drugs, which are often marketed as herbal incense, potpourri, bath salts, jewelry cleaner, or plant food. Synthetic cannabinoids represent the most significant class of designer synthetic drugs. According to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS), substances identified as synthetic cannabinoids by federal, state, and local forensic laboratories increased from 23 reports in 2009 to 32,784 reports in 2013; to 37,500 reports in 2014.

These dangerous drugs have caused significant abuse, addiction, overdoses, and emergency room visits. Those who have abused synthetic drugs have suffered vomiting, anxiety, agitation, irritability, seizures, hallucinations, tachycardia, elevated blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. They have caused significant organ damage as well as overdose deaths.

The contents and effects of synthetic drugs are unpredictable due to a constantly changing variety of chemicals used in manufacturing processes devoid of quality controls and government regulatory oversight.

Judge Bars Des Moines Convenience Store Owners from Selling Synthetic Drugs, Orders $50,000 Penalty

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General
CONTACT: Geoff Greenwood • Communications Director • 515-281-6699 • geoff.greenwood@iowa.gov

January 22, 2015

Judge Bars DM Convenience Store Owners from Selling Synthetic Drugs, Orders $50,000 Penalty
Settlement resolves consumer protection lawsuit over synthetic drug sales

(DES MOINES, Iowa) A Polk County judge has ordered a Des Moines convenience store and the couple who own it to pay the state $50,000 and barred them from selling synthetic substances, in a settlement that resolves a synthetic drug sales lawsuit filed last year by Attorney General Tom Miller.

Polk County District Court Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger, through a consent judgment, issued a permanent injunction Wednesday against Shop N Save, located at 4685 NW 2nd Street, its owners, Sarbpreet M. Singh and Sandeep C. Kaur, both of Waukee, and their corporation, 3s Venture LLC.

“This is the result we had hoped for,” Attorney General Tom Miller said.  “We took these poisonous products off this store’s shelves, they won’t ever return, and the hefty penalty sends a strong message about selling synthetic drugs.”
Settlement Resolves Consumer Protection Lawsuit over Synthetic Drug Sales

In a first of its kind consumer protection lawsuit in Iowa filed last April, Miller alleged the defendants violated the Iowa Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act, and the Iowa Consumer Fraud Act over the sales of synthetic drugs.  The lawsuit alleged that the synthetic drug sales attempted to evade laws that ban the substances.

In the lawsuit, Miller alleged that in 2012 an undercover Des Moines narcotics officer purchased a package of a synthetic substance labeled as “7H,” which was labeled as an “aromatic potpourri,” from the Shop N Save.  The lawsuit further alleged that at the time of the purchase, the store clerk provided the officer with a glass smoking pipe for purposes of inhaling the package’s contents.

Miller also alleged that test results from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Criminalistics Laboratory showed the package contained plant material coated with synthetic cannabinoids, which are structurally related to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana.
Through a consent search of the business, police obtained nearly 1,000 packages of synthetic substances labeled with such names as “Caution,” “Kush,” “OMG,” “7H,” “Scooby Snax,” and “Stardust, ” which the Consumer Protection Division impounded.

The products, which were marketed as potpourri or incense, “bath salts,” “plant food,” and even “metal polish,” bear statements such as “natural,” “not FDA approved,” and “not fit for human consumption.”  Despite the labels, Miller alleged, the substances were marketed and sold to consumers for the specific purpose of being used as a drug.

Under terms of the consent judgment, the state will retain and destroy the seized products.

“This case began with hard work by the Des Moines Police Department, follow-up work by our Consumer Protection Division, the Iowa DCI lab and the Iowa Poison Control Center, and consultations with the Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy,” Miller said.  “It was a real team effort with a great outcome.”

“Communities across Iowa have asked us to try another approach in going after those who try to skirt laws forbidding synthetic drug sales, and this was our first case using a consumer protection approach,” Miller added, noting that the defendants have also faced other legal trouble, including criminal charges filed against store employees, a $200,000 civil forfeiture by the Polk County Attorney, and the one-year suspension of Shop N Save’s liquor license by the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division.

“We sincerely hope that holding these sellers accountable will send a strong message to other retailers who think it’s worth the risk to sell synthetic drugs here in Iowa.”

Woman Has ‘Psychotic’ Reaction After Smoking Spice

Using synthetic cannabis sometimes called “spice” can pose serious health risks, and in a recent case, the drug even caused one teen to become catatonic, which is a state of severely impaired movement and thinking ability.

The 19-year-old woman in Spain experienced “catatonic psychosis” after smoking synthetic cannabis regularly for a year, according to the report of her case.

View the story here on Fox News.

National Youth Synthetic Drug Awareness Week

The U.S. Senate has passed a resolution co-sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa designating this week as National Youth Synthetic Drug Awareness Week.

“Congress and law enforcement work to get synthetic drugs off the streets but cynical manufacturers work all the time to put out new varieties,” Grassley said.  “Public awareness is a large part of prevention.  A product sold in a store or online isn’t necessarily safe and might be far from it.  These drugs have had tragic consequences in Iowa.  People should know the consequences and stay away from these products.”

Grassley co-sponsored the resolution with Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. These states, like Iowa, have had problems with synthetic drugs.  Grassley, Klobuchar and other senators worked toward the enactment of the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, banning many iterations of synthetic drugs, including one associated with the death of an 18-year-old Iowan named David Rozga.

New versions of the drug emerge regularly, leaving the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to ban the new compounds using its administrative authority. Included among these drugs is a compound called “5F-PB-22,” which was blamed for the deaths of three young Iowans last year.  5F-PB-22 is officially banned, or scheduled, under DEA procedures.  The final rule went into effect earlier this month.

Grassley is Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and co-chairman of the Caucus on International Narcotics Control.

The text of the resolution is available here.  Grassley’s floor statement on the resolution can be found here.