FARMINGTON — The Farmington man arrested this summer as part of a nationwide crackdown on synthetic marijuana dealers was incarcerated for three months and is now on supervised release as part of a plea agreement.
Local law enforcement officers and federal agents arrested Mohammed Assi, who managed several smoke shops in San Juan County, in June as part of a federal Drug Enforcement Agency project aimed at "spice," or synthetic marijuana.
Mohammed Assi, then 26, was charged with conspiracy for managing smoke shops where undercover agents allegedly purchased synthetic marijuana, according to the criminal complaint against him.
Khaled Assi and Nael Assi, both of Gallup, and Amro Assi, of Grants, were also arrested in June and charged with conspiracy for allegedly selling synthetic marijuana at New Mexico smoke shops. Amro Assi was also charged with distribution.
Synthetic marijuana is often marketed as potpourri and consists of any type of plant that is sprayed with psychoactive compounds intended to mimic THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana.
The drugs are addictive, dangerous and unregulated, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's website. In 2011, synthetic marijuana resulted in more than 28,000 emergency room visits, according to the department.
Khaled Assi, Nael Assi and Amro Assi all have sentencing hearings Jan. 10.
In a press release after the arrests, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Mexico said the men could face up to 20 years in prison.
"Individuals, retailers and organizations that continue to circumvent the law and engage in the trafficking of these dangerous drugs should be on notice that law enforcement agencies will utilize all available resources to hold them accountable for their actions," DEA Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Arabit said in a prepared statement in June announcing the Assis' arrests.
Mohammed Assi pleaded guilty in September, and a judge accepted the plea agreement last month. Nael Assi pleaded guilty in October and will be sentenced to probation if the judge accepts the agreements.
Both men forfeited any assets seized during the investigation, including four bank accounts with more than $13,000, $73,000 in cash, three vehicles, 12 firearms and synthetic marijuana, Elizabeth Martinez, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Mexico, said in an email.
Douglas Couleur, Mohammed Assi's attorney, said his client is no longer incarcerated and is serving his probation.
"He's home with his family," he said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said although 20 years in prison was the maximum punishment the men could have received, the drugs involved in the case and the men's prior criminal histories will result in shorter sentences. The sentences will be based on federal sentencing guidelines for marijuana convictions, which carry a lesser sentence than trafficking and conspiracy convictions for other drugs, Martinez said.
Khaled Assi, Nael Assi and Amro Assi are not U.S. citizens, and the Department of Justice has said in prepared statements that convictions may affect their immigration status. Mohammed Assi is a U.S. citizen, according to federal agents.Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.