Accused “spice” distributor foiled by fake Newport packaging, but charges dropped.
Published: January 9, 2013
On May 3, 2011, federal, state, and local law enforcers jumped at reports of suspicious parcels, all of similar size and shape, arriving from China at Baltimore-area UPS stores. After two women attempted to pick up one of the packages that day in Howard County, court documents say, police learned they had been hired by a man named “Moe” to take delivery of the packages at different UPS stores and give them to a man named “Raul” at a warehouse in New Market, just off I-70 near Frederick. Inside the package were five bags of off-white powder.
Before the day was over, the New Market warehouse was raided by agents. They “found the premises to operate as a manufacturer, packager and distributor of various designer drug products including bath salts and spice,” according to court documents. In fall 2011, after the warehouse raid, the federal government banned bath salts, a synthetic stimulant akin to amphetamines or cocaine. In March 2011, two months before the raid, spice—which contains chemical compounds that mimic the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana—was outlawed federally.
Yet even before the New Market warehouse raid, the man suspected to be at the center of the operation—“Moe,” who was later identified as Mohd Nazzal Abu-Jamous, a Jordanian-American who is also known as Mohammad Abujamous—was already in legal trouble in Virginia. It wasn’t law enforcers who had him in their sights, though; it was Big Tobacco.
In November 2010, the Lorillard Tobacco Company sued Abujamous and others for trademark infringement, claiming they marketed a spice product called “Spice 99” in packaging with a very similar look to that used for Lorillard’s Newport brand of cigarettes—and which transposed the “o” and “r” in Newport to spell “Newprot” on its packaging. A judge handed a clear and convincing victory to Lorillard last summer and, in November, awarded the company nearly $250,000 in attorney’s fees.
At the November 2011 trial in the Lorillard case, Abujamous testified that his family owns tobacco stores called Tobacco Zone and that he distributed “Newprot” to gas stations, barber shops, tattoo parlors—in short, he said, “I distributed to everybody,” according to the trial transcript. He stopped doing so in January 2011, though, and said he learned only after Lorillard sued him that Newprot was being misused by people who smoked it. Thus, Abujamous’ testimony was that he got out of marketing spice about two months before it was banned and about four months before the New Market warehouse was raided.
Inside the warehouse in May 2011, however, court documents say agents found what appeared to be an active spice- and bath salt-making operation with Abujamous in charge. There were 66 boxes containing more than 300 kilograms of a damiana leaves—a tea-like plant that is often used in making synthetic pot—and bags of white powder, which contained, respectively, JWH-018 and JWH-073. Both are used in spice. Also found in the warehouse, according to court documents, were two barrels of white powder, one of which contained an envelope labeled “MDPV”—one of the compounds used in bath salts. Packages found in the warehouse included “Snowblind Bath Salt” and “The Dead Sea Bath Salt,” and among the packaged spice products were “G.I. Joe,” “Spice 99,” and “Zombie World,” all labeled “not for human consumption.”
Based on the evidence seized during the raid along with information gleaned from warehouse workers and package-deliverers, it appeared that Abujamous was facing major criminal trouble. Not only were the substances allegedly found in the warehouse illegal to possess and distribute—or soon to become so—but misbranding drug products sent out into commerce is also a federal crime. In this case, the bath salts’ packaging allegedly did not state that they contained MDPV, and the spice packaging allegedly was labeled “not for human consumption” when spice is actually sold for humans to smoke.
Ultimately, though, Abujamous skated away from his troubles in Maryland federal court. Initially he was charged for possessing spice with intent to distribute, then he was indicted for introducing misbranded drugs into commerce. In December 2011, just after the indictment was filed, the federal prosecutor on the case moved to dismiss the initial spice charges. And in November 2012, a judge dismissed the misbranding indictment with prejudice—meaning Abujamous can’t be charged again for the conduct alleged in the indictment.
The Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the dismissals. Abujamous’ attorney, Richard Karceski, did not respond to a phone call or an email seeking clarification and comment regarding his client’s adventures with law enforcers over designer drugs.
Other federal efforts to crack down on bath salts and spice have proven successful, though. In October, a Baltimore man pleaded guilty in Virginia federal court to selling bath salts out of the Dragon’s Den Smoke Shop in Fells Point (“D’Addario Pleads Guilty to Supplying ‘Bath Salts’ to Virginia Dealer,” Mobtown Beat, Nov. 7, 2012). In addition, the Dragon’s Den and the Tobacco Shop in Bel Air figured in a federal raid in California of M&C Wholesale, a suspected spice supplier (“Spicing It Up,” Mobtown Beat, Aug. 29, 2012), which was part of a national crackdown by the Drug Enforcement Administration dubbed “Operation Log Jam.” In November, federal prosecutors in Maryland filed a civil forfeiture case that seeks to keep $2.2 million seized from M&C’s bank accounts.
Meanwhile, on Dec. 18, Karceski filed a motion in federal court to have returned to his clients—Tobacco Zone and another company, Solo Wholesale—items seized during the New Market raid, including a truck, cement mixers, and packaging machines, together valued at about $36,000. If successful, the return of the assets could prove helpful in paying off the Lorillard judgment.
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