VENTURA (Ventura County Star) — A lab used to make marijuana-based products in a small Ventura County community had been operating for approximately eight months before authorities searched it last week, Undersheriff Gary Pentis said Tuesday.
The lab, found in a residence in the 5500 block of Heatherton Drive in the unincorporated community of Somis, held between $750,000 and $800,000 worth of equipment in addition to approximately $750,000 worth of marijuana and marijuana products, according to Pentis.
About 209 pounds of marijuana and 26 pounds of concentrated cannabis were seized from the home that had been converted into a butane honey oil lab, according to sheriff’s officials.[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-tag” curated_ids=””]“A butane honey oil lab is a process used to extract high levels of THC from marijuana and convert it into concentrated cannabis using highly combustible solvents such as butane, propane and ethanol in a pressurized system,” sheriff’s officials said Saturday in a news release.
The lab was likely supplying dispensaries and providing products for illegal street sales, Pentis said.
“We weren’t prepared for the extent of the lab’s activities,” he said, noting that authorities had suspected that narcotics activities were taking place at the house on Heatherton Drive. The area includes multimillion dollar houses interspersed between avocado and citrus orchards.
Three men were arrested at the time of the search.
Investigators spent several hours dismantling the lab, laying out thousands of dollars worth of equipment on Heatherton Drive.
The undersheriff described the operation as “very professional,” with at least seven full-time employees working at the lab.
Keyan Shokraei, 38, who was arrested Friday, was described by Pentis as the “boss” of the operation.
Shokraei had been under investigation for narcotics activity for approximately six months prior to Friday’s discovery, he said.
One of the employees, Bryan Sommers, 23, was arrested during Friday’s bust, with six others being interviewed, Pentis said.
According to California business records, Shokraei was listed as the CEO, chief financial officer and secretary of DTS Lab Services, Inc., which listed the Heatherton address as its headquarters.
Attempts to reach Shokraei were not successful. Those who answered the phone at another cannabis-based product business he appeared to be associated with refused to comment Tuesday. No attorney was listed in his case yet.
Kooshawn Shokraei, 30, was also arrested Friday though only in connection with a felony theft warrant out of Los Angeles, not in connection with the lab, officials said.
Authorities said it was the service of the warrant on Friday evening at the Heatherton address that led to the discovery of the lab.
A tentative court date of July 11 has been set for Keyan Shokraei and Sommers to appear in court. Both were released on $50,000 bail.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A supervisor screener who used to work at San Francisco International Airport pleaded guilty to receiving a bribe and turning a blind eye as 50 pounds of cocaine went through his X-ray machine.
KPIX-TV reports Joseph Scott pleaded guilty Tuesday to receiving a bribe as a public official.
According to court documents, Scott accepted a bribe of up to $4,500. Bobby Napier, the man who bribed Scott, was sentenced last week to four years.
According to the U.S. attorney, Napier admitted he agreed to smuggling cocaine and marijuana through security at San Francisco International Airport for several years by paying Scott.
A total of seven Bay Area airport screeners face similar charges.
In 2015, according to the Mercury News, Kiana Clark, a TSA screener at Oakland International Airport, was indicted and charged with defrauding the government by obstructing, impeding, and interfering with aviation security functions and conspiring to distribute controlled substances, for allowing about 24 pounds of weed contained in carry-on bags to pass through her x-ray screener between 2013 and 2015.
Clark pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to defraud the United States and one count of conspiring to distribute a controlled substance. In a few days, she starts a 21-month sentence.
DENVER (The Denver Post) — A Denver grand jury has indicted 62 people accused in a marijuana trafficking organization that reaped millions of dollars by illegally growing pot and then selling it out of state over a period of four years.
Group members also allegedly engaged in financial crimes, luring former Denver Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen and other investors by telling them their operation was legal.
It was the largest marijuana bust in Colorado since recreational marijuana was legalized in 2014, and it reflected an increased law enforcement focus on gray market marijuana growers who export their product beyond state lines.
A series of large-scale busts have targeted gangs growing without state sanction and selling the product in states where marijuana remains illegal.
The most recent took place when Michael Stonehouse, a Castle Rock resident, and 15 others were arrested in March, accused of illegally growing, packaging and distributing millions of dollars’ worth of marijuana across state lines.
Andrew Freedman, a cannabis regulation consultant for states and cities, said he is hopeful that state legislation passed this year will make it more difficult for criminals to grow quantities of weed bound for the gray market while pretending to have a legal interest in the business.
One of the bills would make it illegal to grow more than 12 plants in a residential neighborhood, even if the grower has approval given to some medical marijuana patients, or caretakers, to grow 99 or more.
To grow more than 12 plants, the patients must now register with their local municipality to grow the excess in an agricultural or commercial space, Freedman said.
Colorado’s marijuana industry is threatened by association with black market sales in the mind of the public, Freedman said.
“I do think the experiment is under the microscope,” he said. “Anything negative that happens will be a national story. This was a weakness in our system, and I’m hopeful the legislation shores up that weakness, but it is something the story will be judged on.”
Wednesday’s indictment was triggered by a tip to Denver police in 2014.
The subsequent investigation involving local, state and federal law enforcement led to the execution of nearly 150 search warrants over 11 months in homes and warehouses throughout the metro area.
So far, 43 people are in custody; the rest are at large.
“We stand here today to send a message. … We will not tolerate the illegal marijuana market in Colorado,” said David Schiller, an assistant special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The indictment, filed June 9, resulted in the seizure of nearly 2,500 illegally cultivated marijuana plants and 4,000 pounds of marijuana.
“This case is a prime example that the black market for marijuana has not gone away since recreational marijuana was legalized in our state,” said Cynthia Coffman, Colorado Attorney General, who announced the bust Wednesday.
The ring was mostly made up of Coloradans, some of whom went to high school together and played poker together. The conditions of their acquaintance led to the operation being dubbed “Toker Poker.”
Toker Poker is also the name of a “all purpose” pot smoker’s tool, which includes a stainless steel tamper.
A dozen businesses operated by the ring, including a marijuana grow supply store and purported property management companies, are also named in the indictment.
Members did not get licensing needed to grow and sell legally in Colorado, and then they sold the marijuana in states where pot is illegal, including Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and Ohio, the indictment said.
Group members also allegedly engaged in financial crimes, luring investors, including former Colorado State University football teammates Dreessen and Erik Pears.
A statement by Dreessen’s attorney said he “was an innocent lender to a business he was told was both lawful and properly licensed. Joel has been repaid all funds he provided and is glad to have this matter behind him.”
A number of those indicted are related to one another.
Norrahong Phannudet, the wife of co-conspirator Jin Tien Wu, allegedly used her family’s restaurant to launder money, the indictment said.
Phannudet duped employees of her family’s restaurant into exchanging cash reaped from marijuana sales for money orders, disguising “the nature, location, source, ownership or control of the proceeds of her husband’s criminal offenses while avoiding transaction reporting requirements under federal law,” according to the indictment.
Other members of the Phannudet family were also allegedly involved.
Aaron Baca, owner of Put on Developments, used the business to help Wu and others to engage in mortgage fraud and money laundering, the indictment said.
“His participation in the enterprise and his production of forged documents allowed co-conspirators to purchase homes through mortgage fraud,” the indictment said.
Law enforcement agencies across the metro area participated in the investigation, along with the North Metro and West Metro drug task forces, Colorado Department of Revenue, DEA and the district attorneys’ offices from Denver, Jefferson County and the 18th Judicial District.
CHICAGO (AP) — A U.S. Postal Service mail carrier is in jail after authorities discovered he was allegedly delivering a lot more than letters and magazines on his Chicago route.
The Chicago Tribune reports that Christopher Baxter was formally charged Saturday with one felony count of manufacturing or delivering cannabis. A Cook County judge ordered Baxter held on $100,000 bail and on Sunday he remained in custody.
Prosecutors say that postal service inspectors were conducting surveillance on Baxter when they saw the 36-year-old mail carrier make a number of hand-to-hand drug deals while he was on duty. They alerted Chicago police and after Baxter admitted to police that he had a “pound of weed,” officers found marijuana, a digital scale, plastic bags and a heat sealer inside his postal bag.
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