Four Men Charged For Large-Scale Distribution Of Synthetic Cannabinoids Through Multiple Websites
The Defendants Shipped Drugs To All 50 States And Made More Than $1 Million
(STL.News) Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Dermot Shea, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), Peter C. Fitzhugh, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), and Philip R. Bartlett, Inspector-in-Charge of the New York Office of the United States Postal Inspection Service (“USPIS”), announced the unsealing of an Indictment charging NIAZ KHAN, NOEL SANABRIA, ANDRE GOMES, and PATRICK PATTERSON with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute synthetic cannabinoids and to distribute controlled substances using the internet. The case has been assigned to United States District Judge J. Paul Oetken.
KHAN, SANABRIA, GOMES, and PATTERSON were arrested this morning. KHAN, SANABRIA, and GOMES will be presented later today in Manhattan federal court before United States Magistrate Judge Robert W. Lehrburger. PATTERSON will be presented tomorrow in San Francisco federal court before United States Magistrate Judge Thomas S. Hixson.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “Trafficking of synthetic cannabinoids – sometimes called K2 or Spice – poses a serious threat to public health and safety. Packaged attractively to appeal to teenagers and young adults, synthetic cannabinoids are in reality toxic concoctions that can be very dangerous to consume. As alleged, the defendants used websites they operated to distribute massive quantities of synthetic cannabinoids throughout the United States. Thanks to our law enforcement partners, the defendants have been arrested and their dangerous business has been dismantled.”
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said: “Whether synthetic cannabinoids are trafficked on the street or through the internet, the NYPD and our law enforcement partners will work to stop the source of these dangerous substances and hold accountable those responsible for the sales. I thank and commend the detectives of the NYPD’s Intelligence Bureau, members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District, the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations, and the United States Postal Inspection Service whose dedication resulted in these charges and ended this national trafficking operation.”
HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Peter C. Fitzhugh said: “Smokable synthetic cannabinoids (SSCs) are unlawful and their usage has caused serious medical issues to include overdose deaths. As alleged, the defendants blatantly disregarded public safety while hiding behind a website in an effort to make a quick profit. HSI will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to protect the American public, arrest these individuals, seize their assets, and take down websites that advertise the sale of narcotics.”
USPIS Inspector-in-Charge Philip R. Bartlett said: “Synthetic cannabinoids contain psychoactive chemicals that can result in hallucinations and pose other dangers. The accused in this case may have thought their alleged criminal drug enterprise would go undetected by law enforcement. Today’s arrests should send a strong message to drug traffickers that Postal Inspectors and their law enforcement partners will vigorously investigate and bring them to justice.”
According to the allegations in the Indictment:
From February 2019 until May 2021, KHAN, SANABRIA, GOMES, and PATTERSON operated a scheme to distribute massive quantities of smokeable synthetic cannabinoids (“SSC”), colloquially referred to as “K2” or “Spice,” containing controlled substances and/or a controlled substance analogue, throughout the United States.
KHAN, SANABRIA, GOMES, and PATTERSON sold SSC through at least four different websites that they operated, namely K2HerbStore.com, HerbalPlug.com, LegalAromaTherapy.com, and LegalHerbalSmack.com (collectively, the “Websites”). The SSC the defendants sold through the Websites included dried, shredded plant material onto which synthetic cannabinoid chemicals had been sprayed. The SSC distributed by the scheme was branded with colorful graphics and distinctive names, including “Train Wrecked,” “Scooby Snax Kush,” “Bizarro,” “AK 47,” “Hi5 Triple X,” “Evil Santa,” “Krazy Turkey,” “Sexy Monkey,” “W.T.F.,” and “COVID-19 Coronavirus Limited Edition.”
In an effort to conceal their criminal activity and advertise their illegal products, KHAN, SANABRIA, GOMES, and PATTERSON used names for certain of the Websites that falsely represented that their SSC products were “legal.” The defendants also sometimes misleadingly described their SSC products publicly as “not for human consumption,” “potpourri,” “herbal incense,” and “legal aroma therapy,” when, in fact, the defendants intended that the SSC would be consumed by drug users and they knew that their conduct was unlawful.
Over the course of the scheme, KHAN, SANABRIA, GOMES, and PATTERSON shipped thousands of packages of SSC through the United States mail from the Bronx, New York, to customers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, which contained a total of hundreds of kilograms of SSC. The defendants earned more than approximately $1 million from their illegal marketing and sale of SSC during the course of the scheme.
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KHAN, 34, of Queens, New York, SANABRIA, 57, of the Bronx, New York, GOMES, 38, of Queens, New York, and PATTERSON, 32, of the Bronx, New York, are each charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances and a controlled substance analogue, and to distribute controlled substances using the internet, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding investigative work of the NYPD, HSI, and the USPIS. The long-term investigation of this case was partially funded by the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (“HIDTA”), a federal grant program that invests in law enforcement partnerships to build safe and healthy communities.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Narcotics Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Rebecca T. Dell and Robert B. Sobelman are in charge of the prosecution.
The charge contained in the Indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.