Bondi, Nocco announce spice arrests in Pasco
NEW PORT RICHEY -
Earlier this year, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was at her hair dresser's shop in Sarasota when she was told about the neighboring business selling synthetic drugs. Armed with her white iPhone, Bondi marched over – hair in a ponytail, wearing jeans and flip flops – to the Sarasota store. She began photographing the evidence, which included synthetic marijuana, or spice, and pipes. “The guy said to me, 'Are you trying to decide what to buy?' I took a picture of him and said, 'No, I'm trying to decide when I'm going to have you arrested,' ” Bondi said. She made good on that promise, having the store busted for selling the drug. At a Pasco County gas station Tuesday morning, Bondi watched as deputies made arrests for sales of synthetic marijuana, commonly referred to as spice. Four people were arrested as deputies went to three different locations during simultaneous raids dubbed Operation Consequence. Authorities raided a Mobil gas station, 7011 Massachusetts Ave. in New Port Richey, Super K, 12838 U.S. 19 in Hudson, and Boost Mobile, 3448 Grand Blvd. in Holiday. All three stores were raided about 11 a.m. Tuesday. Deputies seized 30 packets of synthetic marijuana from the Mobil gas station and more than 60 packets at the other two locations. “Parents, go on the Internet and start learning about these things because there is so much out there,” Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said following the raid on the Mobil station. “In China, right now, they're starting to produce synthetic heroin and synthetic meth. We have to get ahead of it.” Those arrested will be charged with drug possession and distribution charges as well as violating Pasco County's ordinance against the sale of synthetic drugs. The ordinance allows law enforcement to fine a business $500 per packet. Arrested were: Mohammed Kamaluadin, 38, 11985 Hudson Ridge Drive, Apartment 304 in Port Richey (Super K); Noor Jehan Merchant, 58, 8841 Cameron Crest Drive in Tampa (Mobil); Sikander Noorani, 57, 8841 Cameron Crest Drive in Tampa (Mobil); and Ahmad Rabei, 19, 3915 Berwick Drive in New Port Richey (Boost Mobile). As deputies began to question Noorani, a clerk at the Mobil station, he slumped to the floor and said he was having issues with his heart, deputies said. He was placed on a stretcher and loaded in an ambulance where he was taken to a hospital for evaluation. The three businesses had been investigated since late January. Undercover detectives and confidential sources bought synthetic drugs on several occasions, according to the sheriff's office. A conviction will give local authorities the power to take away a store's ability to sell lottery tickets, alcohol and tobacco. “Your luck ran out here and at the other two locations,” Sgt. Bill Davis of the sheriff's office said. “And if you keep selling it, we're going to keep coming back until you get the message. Bottom line.” Nocco urged citizens to add another wrinkle in the fight by filing civil lawsuits against stores that have sold synthetic drugs to family members who have either died or been injured. He said he'd do it if it happened to one of his kids. State Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, was in attendance at a press conference before the raid as well as at the Mobil station during the operation. He praised the efforts of everyone involved attempting to curb the use of synthetic drugs in the county and state. “It took us years, as you know, to finally get the prescription drug monitoring bill passed because Florida was years behind every other state in the nation,” Fasano said. “Now Florida takes the lead, but most importantly, Pasco County takes the lead in fighting (synthetic drugs) and saving lives.” Bondi pointed to 30 packages of synthetic marijuana on the hood of a deputy's cruiser. She was infuriated at the graphics on the packaging. “Look at Scooby-Doo,” she said. “That's marketed to young children.” She said that's part of the reason she has taken a hard push against synthetic drugs since taking office in January 2011. She implemented an emergency scheduling that banned 22 chemicals in December 2012 and helped work on the Controlled Substances Bill, which bans 27 other chemicals. Bondi said they are “in the hundreds now of compounds” that have been banned. “But if these drug dealers keep changing the compounds, I will continue to sign emergency orders that will be valid – they're temporary – through next session,” she said. Synthetic marijuana is typically doused with those substances to create the drug-like high when smoked. Studies have shown those chemicals produce hallucinations, fits of rage, seizures and other side effects. “I'm obsessed with it because they're targeting our children,” Bondi said.