U.S. Attorney's Office
Western District of Texas
(210) 384-7100
December 4, 2015

Two Austinites Sentenced to 10 Years in Federal Prison for Role in Synthetic Marijuana Distribution Scheme

In Austin, two brothers were both sentenced to ten years in federal prison for their roles in an Austin-based synthetic cannabinoid distribution operation announced United States Attorney Richard L. Durbin, Jr., Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Arabit and FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher H. Combs.

During yesterday’s sentencing hearing, United States District Judge Lee Yeakel also ordered that 48–year-old Hussain Sohani and 40-year-old Hasan Sohani be placed on supervised release for a period of three years after completing their prison terms.

The Sohani brothers were among 21 defendants convicted as part of Operation Synergy. The defendants all entered guilty pleas to federal charges related to the distribution of synthetic cannabinoids. During this investigation, authorities seized over 1,000 pounds of synthetic cannabinoids. Evidence gathered during the investigation revealed that they distributed at least that amount of synthetic cannabinoids from 2011 until June 2013.

Synthetic cannabinoids, also known as synthetic marijuana, “Spice,” “K2,” or “Kush,” comprise a large family of chemically unrelated structures functionally similar to THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in organic marijuana. When ingested, synthetic cannabinoids produce psychoactive effects that are similar to the effects of THC, but often with pronounced and dangerous side-effects.

Synthetic cannabinoid products consist of organic plant matter that is sprayed with a mixture of acetone and synthetic cannabinoid chemical compounds. These chemicals are unregulated, often produced in China, and imported to the United States where they are then applied to organic plant matter to render them ingestible by smoking. Generally, the product is packaged in foil baggies which falsely state that the product is “herbal incense” and “not for human consumption” in an attempt to avoid prosecution. The product may be sold in brick and mortar “smoke shops,” convenience stores, adult book stores, as well as, over the Internet. Synthetic cannabinoid products are marketed under many different brand names, including those mentioned above, as well as, “Scooby Snax,” “Paradise,” “Mad Monkey,” “Sexy Monkey,” and “Devil Eye,” These are chemical substances that are, to the user, completely unknown and that pose potentially serious health risks.

“The use and devastating effects of synthetic cannabinoids is a growing problem. It is draining medical resources; occupying the police departments; and having devastating physical and psychological effects on those who use the drugs,” stated United States Attorney Richard Durbin.

Zikar R. Ali, owner of three locations of Kash Tobacco & Novelties in Austin, and 15 co-defendants have been sentenced for their roles in this synthetic cannabinoid distribution operation. Those sentences handed down range from five years’ imprisonment to probation. Two co-defendants—Syed Ali and Ram Sapkota—are awaiting sentencing dates.

This case resulted from an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation together with the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement—Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Border Patrol, Austin Police Department, the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Attorney General’s Office, Travis County District Attorney’s Office, Travis County Sheriff’s Office, Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, Williamson County Constables Office-Precinct 2, Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Assistant United States Attorneys Mark Marshall and Daniel Castillo prosecuted this case on behalf of the Government.

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