OWATONNA — Following a nearly year-long investigation of a local tobacco business that included a search of the business and a residence, three Owatonna men have been arrested after members of the South Central Drug Task Force found what they say is $150,000 worth of synthetic marijuana.
Agents with the task force arrested Omar Ahmad Abdallah, who identified himself in court on Thursday as the owner of Jericho Tobacco in Owatonna. Also arrested during the incident were Khamis Ahmad Abdallah and Wael Ali Abdallah.
Omar Abdallah, 47, was charged with fourth-degree sale of a controlled substance, sale of synthetic cannabinoid, conspiracy to sell synthetic cannabinoid and possession of synthetic cannabinoid. Three of the charges are felonies, the most serious of which is the fourth-degree sales charge, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Khamis Abdallah was charged with felonies for sale of the synthetic marijuana and conspiracy to sell the synthetic. Wael Abdallah was charged with misdemeanor possession of synthetic marijuana.
According to a criminal complaint submitted by the task force to Steele County District Court, agents with the task force first did a compliance check on Jericho for selling synthetic marijuana labeled as aromatic potpourri.
At the time of the initial compliance check in April of 2012, an agent with the task force went in and asked for “Koosh” or “K2.” According to the complaint, the attendant behind the counter laid out “K9” potpourri. The agent asked if it was similar to marijuana and the attendant said he couldn’t talk about it. The agent paid $20 for the package and left the store. Further investigation found that Omar Abdallah sold the agent the package, according to the complaint.
The package was logged into evidence and sent to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for analysis. According to the complaint, the substance tested positive for chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana.
On Aug. 30, 2012, agents returned to the store to conduct further undercover investigation. An investigator was given $70 in cash and a digital recorder, according to the complaint.
During the undercover operation, the investigator bought three packages of a substance that later tested positive for synthetic marijuana by the BCA, according to the complaint.
A third buy was made on Monday this week, where an agent bought $60 worth of herbal incense labeled as “Mad Hatter” and “Scooby Snacks,” according to the complaint. After the third purchase, the agents were approved for a search warrant to search the store and Abdallah’s residence.
During a search of the store, Wael Abdallah was found hiding in the store’s bathroom with a box of the “Mad Hatter” and “Scooby Snacks” products. Khamis Abdallah was also in the store during the execution of the search warrant and Omar Abdallah came in later.
A bag containing $1,740 was found in a bag under the cash register. Within that money were the documented buy funds used by the task force. An additional $24,576.97 was found in a safe in the back of the store.
Tim Hassing, commander of the South Central Drug Investigation Unit, said the arrests came at the end of an investigation that lasted nearly a year. He said the unit wanted to make sure it built a strong case.
“We wanted to make sure we followed a process and made sure this was an illegal substance that was being sold,” Hassing said.
During the search of Jericho Tobacco, agents discovered 198 packets of substance believed to be synthetic marijuana. A search of the residence yielded more than 6,400 packets. The value of the packages is estimated to be more than $150,000. More than $30,000 in cash was also seized, according to a release from the task force.
Hassing said throughout the investigation, authorities received complaints about the products. It was said in court that people ended up in the emergency room as a result of using the alleged synthetic substance. Hassing praised the agents for the work on the case, and noted that it took work from the entire task force to conduct the investigation.
“It sends a message that we’re out there identifying drug issues,” Hassing said. “We will spend the time necessary to conduct a thorough investigation.”
During court proceedings on Thursday, the attorney for the three men said they did not know the substance they were selling was illegal, and would agree to suspend sale of all products in question until the legal process had run its course.
Khamis and Wael Abdallah were released on their own recognizance in court on Thursday. Omar Abdallah’s conditional bail was set at $10,000 because the Steele County Attorney’s Office believed there was a public safety risk due to people allegedly being sick due to using the product. A return court date for Khamis and Omar Abdallah is being worked out between the attorneys and Wael Abdallah will next appear in court on March 20.
By AL STRAIN | May 14, 2013
Owatonna People's Press
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