SALT LAKE CITY – Officers have seized about 2,000 pounds of the synthetic drug, “Spice,” and now have a handful of people in custody after a two-month investigation.
Authorities also seized numerous firearms, vehicles and an undisclosed amount of cash.
According to federal documents unsealed Thursday afternoon, eight suspects have been indicted for conspiracy to distribute XLR-11, a synthetic cannabinoid commonly known as “spice.”
Some of the suspects are also charged for possession with intent to distribute and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The indictment charges:
- Issa Haig Babikyan, age 51, of Carlsbad, Calif.
- Michael Suliman Haig Babikyan, age 25, of Murray
- Fahad Ali Khalil, age 24, of Murray
- Ammar Ibrahim Alobaidi, age 35, of Midvale
- Yaser Saeed Majeed Al-Najjar, age 46, of Murray
- Joseph Lara Paez, age 39, of Fresno, Calif.
- Tiffany Nicole Velo, age 32, of Fresno, Calif.
- Hanan Saeed, age 43, of Salt Lake City
Authorities arrested Issa Haig Babikyan and Michael Suliman Haig Babikyan Thursday in California where Paez remains a fugitive.
Khalil, Alobaidi, Al-Najjar, Velo and Seed were arrested in Utah and will have initial appearances Friday at 1 p.m. in U.S. Magistrate Judge Brooke C. Wells’ courtroom.
The potential maximum penalty for each of the nine drug counts alleged in the indictment is 20 years and a $1 million fine.
Conspiracy to commit money laundering carries a potential 20 year prison sentence.
The fine for the money laundering count is up to $500,000 or two times the dollar amount of the property involved in the alleged money laundering transaction.
The first count of the indictment charges seven of the defendants with conspiracy to distribute Spice from at least Jan. 31, 2015, through April 29, 2015.
Counts two through nine charge various defendants with possession of Spice with intent to distribute.
Count 10 of the indictment charges Khalil and Saeed with conspiracy to commit money laundering, alleging they conducted transactions involving the proceeds of a specified unlawful activity and that the transactions were designed to conceal and disguise the nature, location, source, ownership and control of the proceeds of the unlawful activity.
Spice is a mixture of herbs and spices that is typically sprayed with a synthetic compound similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, according to a DEA Drug Fact Sheet.
Drug agents said spice is commonly more potent than organic marijuana and the dose can be irregular due to a lack of quality control in the manufacturing process.
Officials said it is often marketed as incense or “fake weed.”
Authorities warn purchasing over the Internet or from a smoke shop can be dangerous because it is not usually known where the products come from or what amount of chemical is on the organic material.