Ten-Count Indictment Unsealed Charging Eight Individuals with Conspiracy to Distribute, Possession of Synthetic Cannabinoids
SALT LAKE CITY—A federal indictment unsealed Thursday afternoon charges eight individuals with conspiracy to distribute XLR-11, a synthetic cannabinoid commonly known as spice; possession of spice with intent to distribute; and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The indictment was returned by a grand jury Wednesday afternoon.
Charged in the indictment are 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; and Hanan Saeed, age 43, of Salt Lake City.
The case is being investigated by two FBI task forces, the Safe Streets Task Force and the Wasatch Range Task Force. Member agencies involved in the task forces are the FBI, Salt Lake City, West Valley City, West Jordan and Sandy City police departments; the Utah Highway Patrol, the Utah Department of Public Safety, the Utah Department of Corrections; and the Unified Police Department.
The first count of the indictment charges seven defendants with conspiracy to distribute spice from at least Jan. 31, 2015, through April 29, 2015. Counts two through nine charge various defendants in the case 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 ingredients in marijuana, according to a DEA Drug Fact Sheet. However, 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. Spice is commonly purchased in; tobacco shops, various retail outlets, and over the Internet. It is often marketed as incense or “fake weed.” 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.
Issa Haig Babikyan and Michael Suliman Haig Babikyan were arrested Thursday in California and had initial appearances in federal court. 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. Paez remains a fugitive in California.
Several firearms, vehicles, and cash were seized during the execution of the arrest warrants Thursday. Approximately 2,000 pounds of spice were seized during a two-month period of the investigation.
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.
Indictments are not findings of guilt. Individuals charged in indictments are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in court.