Synthetic pot costs shop owner $23,500 fine
NEW PORT RICHEY - Six months after enacting an ordinance banning the sale of synthetic drugs in Pasco County, the first case before a judge resulted in fines of $23,500 for a Holiday shop owner. During a May 30 hearing, Fouad Abuasfour, 35, of 825 Cypress St., Tarpon Springs, was fined $500 for each of the 47 packets of synthetic marijuana, or Spice, found in his store. In addition, County Judge Paul Firmani said Abuasfour must also pay $58 in court costs. The fine must be paid in 45 days. “I think the judge was very fair, and because of his actions, it’s going to enforce the fact that the sheriff’s office, working with the county commission, was correct in going after these individuals with the ordinance,” Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said. “It also sends a clear message to those who are possibly still involved in this criminal activity that they will be charged and the judge will convict them on these types of cases.” The ordinance, which was unanimously approved by county commissioners in November, made selling, possessing, distributing or providing synthetic drugs illegal in Pasco County. The drugs are known by a variety of names, including K2, Spice, Dead Man Walking and Scooby Snax. A fine of up to $500 per packet of synthetic drugs found can be levied against a person or store owner in possession of the substance.Additionally, drug paraphernalia such as pipes are illegal to sell or display to those under 18 without a guardian present. The ordinance targets the packaging of synthetic marijuana, allowing law enforcement members to determine if the item is intended to be used as a synthetic drug. The substance is sent to a lab to be tested for any of the chemicals on a list banned by the state. County Commissioner Henry Wilson said although the fines are a tremendous financial impact to a business owner, the main concern is the county’s citizens. “The reason behind the ordinance is really safety,” Wilson said. “But a benefit of the ordinance, in keeping safety, is to hit them where it hurts. The reason why they’re doing it is to them, it’s good money, but the reason behind the ordinance was public safety. A benefit of it is being able to fully enforce it to the fullest extent of the law.” In December, Pasco County Sheriff’s Office deputies and detectives visited each business that was known to sell synthetic drugs. Shop owners or employees were handed a copy of the ordinance and were given explanations of the penalties for breaking the law. “The first case in court is probably the most important,” Nocco said. “If the charges were dropped, then that would have set a precedent. Now we’ve shown that it is effective, it works and because it is a judge’s decision we know we’re on the right path.” Since the ordinance was adopted, a number of undercover investigations have taken place. On March 5, deputies went to Foodland Mini-mart, 3444 Grand Blvd. in Holiday, and arrested co-owner Yasser Ahmed Hussin Elkalazani, 41, and store clerk Nashat Shehata, 59, of Trinity for selling synthetic drugs, according to the sheriff’s office. The following week, Elkalazani’s wife and co-owner, Maha Hanna, 42, was charged with selling synthetic marijuana. On May 14, three separate locations were raided, including a Mobil gas station just 21/2 miles from the Pasco Sheriff’s Office. Attorney General Pam Bondi was present as deputies entered the Mobil station, confiscated 30 packets of synthetic marijuana and arrested two of the station’s employees. More than 60 packages of Spice were seized at two other locations raided the same day. The sheriff’s office arrested: 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). Wilson is not surprised that store owners continue to sell the substance even after it has been banned. “Society is driven around the need and want and desire to have money instead of what it should be — (focusing) on our spiritual and family issues,” Wilson said.