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L.A. Chronicles : Federal officials in L.A. arrest 12 as part of sweep targeting 'spice'

Federal officials in L.A. arrest 12 as part of sweep targeting 'spice'.

Federal drug officials in Los Angeles have made a dozen arrests in recent days as part of a national sweep targeting popular synthetic narcotics often referred to as "spice."
In all, 151 people in 16 states were arrested in the operation, according to a statement from the Drug Enforcement Agency, which headed the effort. Agents seized more than 6,500 pounds of the drugs and $15 million.
The investigations conducted in and around Los Angeles focused on three groups of men and women accused of manufacturing and selling the drugs.
Of the dozen people arrested so far, 10 pleaded not guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court downtown, the U.S. attorney's office said in a statement. Two others were scheduled to be arraigned Thursday afternoon and a few more suspects remain at large, according to the statement.
The arrests underscore the growing concern over these types of drugs, which use chemicals produced in laboratories to mimic the high achieved from marijuana. The chemicals are typically mixed with a liquid solvent such as acetone and then sprayed onto dried leaves.
Packaged in colorful pouches and given names like "Crazy Monkey," "Mad Hatter" and "Scoobie Snax," the drugs have been widely available online and at pot stores. Though officials have increasingly cracked down on the drugs in recent years, producers and sellers have tried to stay a step ahead by tweaking the makeup of the chemicals enough to keep the products legal.
In an example of how these synthetic drugs have existed in a murky area of the law, one of the men arrested this week did not try to conceal his alleged manufacturing and sales operation but instead applied for trademarks on the names of several of his products, prosecutors said in court papers.
In announcing the arrests Thursday, federal officials said distributors deliberately target teens and bill the drugs as safe alternatives to marijuana and other narcotics.
"These are extremely dangerous drugs, despite being falsely marketed to youth as being a 'safe' alternative," said Eileen Decker, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles. "The often unknown and constantly changing chemicals in these drugs can have unpredictable and devastating effects on users."
In court papers, prosecutors laid out details of the alleged operations broken up in the Los Angeles area.
A 34-year-old man from Glendale, Faisal Iqbal, is suspected of being at the center of a group of family members and associates who set up shop in the skid row area of downtown Los Angeles.
Iqbal is accused of paying unnamed sellers at least $75,000 over several months in 2011 and 2012 for dozens of kilograms of two chemicals commonly used in the synthetic drugs. Operating out of rented facilities on Wall Street and East 4th Street, Iqbal and others then manufactured, packaged and sold the drugs, with a kilogram going for about $1,750, according to allegations in court records.
Iqbal and others are also accused of trying to hide profits from drug sales. In 2011, Iqbal is alleged to have surreptitiously funneled $500,000 from bank accounts in the U.S. to one in Pakistan. And he and others routinely made deposits and withdrawals smaller than $10,000 to avoid triggering scrutiny from banking officials, authorities said.
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