A 2014 traffic stop may have tipped authorities off to a major synthetic pot ring busted this month—and one of the men implicated allegedly kept operating the business even after he knew he was on the DEA’s radar.
Court filings show that Abdullah Deiban, named as one of the principals in the September 16 indictment of 10 men allegedly affiliated with a faux-pot business, was arrested with a large sum of money in cash during a traffic stop in 2014. Last week, authorities seized 2 million packets of “spice”—worth as much as $10 million—from a Bronx warehouse linked to the recent indictment.
Spice, or K2, as it is sometimes known, gives users a cheap, potent high. That makes it popular among the homeless and low-income teens. It’s also hard to detect in drug tests. But despite sharing a name with marijuana, the synthetic variety is stronger: A small dose can leave users high for the better part of a day, or send them to the hospital. Severe side effects include seizures and psychotic episodes.
Government press releases put out in conjunction with the recent indictment say the drug’s growing hold on the state resulted in 2,300 synthetic pot-related hospitalizations in New York during a recent two-month period. Unlike the real deal, synthetic pot is most typically found in bodegas—“where they sell milk and candy,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.
Six of the 10 indicted this month in connection with the major synthetic pot ring have been arrested. Alleged principals Deiban and Faris Nasser Kassim, as well as alleged transporters Mohamed Almatheel and Hamid Moshref, remain at a large.
But it may have been Deiban who tipped cops off to the whole operation.
According to court documents filed in July 2014, the U.S. government claimed $795,000 found in Deiban’s car during a traffic stop and in a subsequent search through civil forfeiture.
In a legal complaint filed when Deiban tried to recoup the money, the government claimed he was stopped for using a cellphone while driving.
The complaint states that Deiban consented to a search of his car after he was stopped. During that search, Drug Enforcement Administration agents found $644,338 in cash. They say Deiban then consented to a search of his Queens home, where they found an additional $150,935 packaged “in a manner consistent with drug trafficking proceeds.”
The agents say they then read Deiban his Miranda rights but that he nonetheless told them the greater sum came from the sale of synthetic narcotics and was bound for a store in the Bronx. They also say Deiban said the smaller sum came from Bronx and Queens stores that sell his synthetic pot.
Not only that, but the DEA agents say Deiban boasted about providing the substance to consumers over eBay.
“When DEA agents questioned Deiban about numerous keys he had on his person, he stated that some of the keys belonged to a warehouse in which he stored his synthetic marijuana, but he was not willing to give the DEA agents the address and would no longer cooperate unless the DEA agents could promise that he would not go to jail,” the complaint alleges.
Initial court filings in the case against the 10 men do not specify whether the warehouse raided last week was the one mentioned in the 2014 filings. The garage containing $10 million in contraband was in the Bronx.
In a claim submitted to the court, Deiban claimed in 2014 that the seized money was “neither derived from nor attributable to” drugs. He also claimed that he did not give law enforcement permission to seize the money in question.
The case was settled in November 2014. Under the terms, Deiban did not admit to any of the allegations levied against him. The U.S. Marshals Service repaid him $477,163.80 from the greater sum contested.
In return, Deiban forfeited the remainder of that sum, and the whole of the additional $150,935 seized to the U.S. government.
An attorney who represented Deiban in 2014 did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast. None of the other nine men indicted alongside Deiban appeared in the other court filings.
Instead of counting his blessings, Deiban allegedly sought to make more dough. The September 2015 complaint says that in the past year, Deiban and his cronies imported at least 220 pounds of banned powdered substances used to make K2 or “spice”—enough to manufacture at least 260,000 packets.
The complaint alleges that Deiban’s organization “imported, manufactured, and distributed” smokable synthetic cannabinoids, in part by mixing the illegal compounds with acetone to contaminate tea leaves.
Abdullah Deiban, Faris Nasser Kassim, and Morad Nasser Kassim allegedly ran the shop, while Nageab Saeed, Walide Saeed, and Mohomed Saeed allegedly made sure the contraband made its way to 70 New York City retail locations. Authorities accuse Hamid Moshref, Mohamed Salem, and Mohamed Almatheel of transporting the drug to retail locations and Fikri Nagi of being one of the retail sellers.
As much as $30 million worth of product has been seized in the case so far.
New York banned the sale of these substances in 2012, but consumption is not illegal. Law enforcement has also lamented that manufacturers sometimes alter chemical makeups to get around the law. “It’s laced with chemicals, and as fast as we are able to identify the chemicals and get that particular chemical—make it against the law—they change the makeup of it,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has said.
“This is a scourge on our society, affecting the most disadvantaged neighborhoods and our most challenged citizens. It affects teenagers in public housing, homeless in the city shelter system, and it’s quite literally flooding our streets,” Bratton said in a statement after the arrests. “This is marketed as synthetic marijuana, some call it K2. It is sold by the names of Galaxy, Diamond, Rush, and Matrix. But its real name is poison.”
All of the men are charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.