Six indicted in federal smoke shop raids

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by JESSICA HOLLOWAY / KVUE News and KVUE.com

kvue.com

Posted on June 26, 2013 at 10:53 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 26 at 6:11 PM

AUSTIN -- Federal agents executed more than a dozen search warrants Wednesday morning on smoke shops across Austin amid indictments for six people in Central Texas.

A grand jury indicted six Austin residents with a count each of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute synthetic cannabinoids.

Those indicted include Ziker R. Ali, 45, the operator of three Kash Tobacco & Novelty stores in Austin; Mehdi Rahim Ali, 43; Karim Rahim Ali, 41 and Syed Ali, 36.

Round Rock residents Aziz Velani, 40, and Azeem Choudhary, 20, were also indicted.

Mehdi, Karim, and Syed Ali and Zikar Ali each face two counts of possession with the intent to distrbute synthetic cannabinoids. Valani and Choudhary each face one count of possession with intent to distribute synthetic cannabinoids.

Search warrants were also issued in San Antonio in connection with these raids.

The IRS, DEA and Austin Police Department are assisting with the raids.

A 2 p.m. news conference was held Wednesday afternoon with United States Attorney Robert Pitman and representatives from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Agents provided information regarding local efforts relating to Operation Synergy, a nationwide initiative to combat the distribution of synthetic marijuana.

In Houston and San Antonio, agents raided warehouses and storage units where the fake, but potent substances commonly referred to as “Spice” or “K2” were stored for distribution in Texas and elsewhere, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Agents seized money and chemicals related to synthetic marijuana. A well-known brand is "Spice."

Law enforcement agents say Spice carries high potential for abuse and no medical benefit. The DEA has designated the five active chemicals most frequently found in Spice as Schedule I controlled substances, making them illegal to buy, sell or possess.

Drug manufacturers continue to substitute new chemicals into their formulas, in an effort to curb the laws. The DEA responds by adding new chemical compounds to the list of banned substances.

The drugs are regularly labeled as incense, tobacco, bath salts and potpourri. They're touted as being hard to detect on drug tests. Doctors say the chemicals are dangerous and have led to extreme illness in some people, causing irregular heart rates, hallucinations and even seizures.

According to data from the South Texas Poison Control Center, more than 1,600 cases of synthetic cannabinoid use have been reported in Texas from January 2011 to March 2013. Travis County made up 2.2 percent, Dallas County made up 14.8 percent and Bexar County made up nine percent.

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