FARMINGTON — A Farmington man who police arrested this summer on suspicion of operating smoke shops that sold synthetic marijuana may be sentenced to probation as part of a plea agreement.
But the state of Colorado has filed a petition to revoke Mohammed Assi's probation for prior convictions in the state, which could possibly expose him to prison time if he is convicted of a probation violation, said Justin Fay, a deputy district attorney for the La Plata County District Attorney's Office.
According to court documents, Assi, who operated two Rollet smoke shops in San Juan County, pleaded guilty in federal court in Albuquerque to selling spice, which is a synthetic form of marijuana.
A judge will decide whether or not to accept the plea agreement during a hearing in Albuquerque on Thursday, according to a federal court website.
The plea agreement states Assi will be sentenced to three months of imprisonment and three years of supervised release.
When Assi was arrested, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District Of New Mexico said in a prepared statement that Assi was facing a possible 20-year prison sentence. A spokesperson for the office could not be reached for comment Monday.
Assi and three other men were arrested in June during a statewide law enforcement project that targeted synthetic marijuana dealers. A local anti-narcotics agency comprised of police officers and sheriff's deputies, as well as Drug Enforcement Administration agents, were part of the operation and raided four San Juan County smoke shops in June.
Douglas Couleur, Assi's attorney, said his client has been incarcerated since his arrest during the raid.
In his plea agreement, Assi admitted to selling spice while knowing it was illegal.
Assi, at the time of his arrest in San Juan County, was on probation in Colorado, Fay said.
Assi pleaded guilty to a felony drug charge and a misdemeanor theft charge in La Plata County on Sept. 28, 2012. He was sentenced to two years of probation for the convictions. He also pleaded guilty in October 2012 to misdemeanor harassment and was sentenced to probation.
If Assi is convicted of a probation violation for his felony drug conviction in Colorado, he could possibly be sentenced to a maximum of 16 years in prison, Fay said.
"He could also be resentenced to probation, (16 years) is the maximum," he said.
Assi has a hearing at the La Plata County Courthouse on Dec. 20 concerning his alleged probation violations.
Lt. Neal Haws, the director of the Region II Narcotics Task Force, said the smoke shop raids in June temporarily decreased the prevalence of synthetic marijuana in the area. Other businesses have since started selling the banned substances, he said.
Though illegal, Haws said prosecuting people for selling synthetic drugs is difficult.
Spice is sold with a label that reads "not for human consumption." The suppliers of the drug often tweak its chemical properties to try to avoid ordinances and laws. And local law enforcement officers don't have a quick and readily available test to determine if there are illegal chemicals in the drug, Haws said.
"We haven't seen a strong decrease. Initially we did, but people are still selling it," Haws said. "As long as somebody wants to buy it, somebody will sell it."