NEW YORK -- The Drug Enforcement Administration joined forces with Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection agents Thursday to raid mail facilities around the nation.
They were seeking shipments of chemicals that are sprayed on dried plant material to create the poison pot often called K2 or Spice.
151 people were arrested in 16 states, including one person in New York.
“This is a coordinated attack on global, synthetic drug trafficking from China,” DEA Agent, Rusty Payne, said from a mail facility in California.
The DEA also acknowledged, in a statement from headquarters in Washington, D.C., that the sale of synthetic pot and other designer drugs “continues to reveal the flow of millions of dollars in U.S. synthetic drug proceeds to countries of concern in the Middle East.”
This is a subtle way of saying there’s worry about the profits from K2 being used to finance terrorism.
PIX11 Investigates first reported this concern back on July 20th, when we aired our first special report on the K2 crisis.
During raids last year in 29 states, the feds found evidence at one smoke shop in Birmingham, Alabama that 38 million dollars had been wired to Yemen.
People waiting to receive the packages of chemicals from China are believed to be among those arrested today.
The one, New York bust involved the owner of Liquid Glass, a smoke shop in Nyack.
Andrew Grogan was accused of selling or conspiring to sell 39 packets of smokeable, synthetic cannabinoids over a one year period—known by brand names like “Green Giant” and “Geeked Up.”
He was scheduled to appear in White Plains federal court.
The DEA’s Payne explained that many of the chemicals used to create smokeable, synthetic cannabinoids (SSC) are bought over the Internet—and then shipped through express mail facilities from coast to coast.
Thursday represented the concluding phase of a 15-month operation, led by the DEA, called Project Synergy.
“This poison ruins and takes too many lives,” said DEA Acting Administrator, Churck Rosenberg. “Project Synergy III demonstrates our collective commitment to pursue those who produce and distribute this garbage to our children, and I am grateful for the partnership of HSI and CBP on this operation.”
More than six thousand complaints of bad exposure to synthetic pot have been reported to poison control centers around the nation this year.
Here in New York City and elsewhere, the month of April proved to be an explosive time.
That’s when hundreds of people started going to emergency rooms, suffering from seizures or psychotic episodes, after smoking synthetic pot.
The DEA and NYPD raided warehouses in the Bronx last month, finding hundreds of bags of dried, plant material—waiting to be sprayed with the chemicals that create the synthetic high.
The City Council passed legislation last month, making it illegal to sell the colorful packs of “potpourri” in bodegas and delis that have been sprayed with the various chemicals from China.
What the delis were doing were selling illegal substances over the counter that produced a high.
This week, PIX11 finally met Torah, a single mother of three from the Bronx who contacted me on Facebook.
Torah told me she was vomiting from a bad batch of K2 in her apartment, when she turned on the TV July 20th and saw our initial report on the public health crisis that was going on.
“I felt it was something led by God,” Torah cried, “for me turning on the TV that day, and seeing you, and giving me a new beginning. And I love you for that. Thank you.”
Torah said she was especially troubled by the potential connection of K2 sales to terror financing.
“The K2 high is not a marijuana high,” Torah said. “ Once you smoke it, you’re in another world. I mean, your eyes roll up in your head.”
Torah said she smoked marijuana for many years to combat depression and loneliness. She said she thought K2 was just an herb.
"I didn’t know it came from China and it was potpourri and they sprayed it on there,” she said, after learning of the chemical component involved in creating synthetic pot.
Torah walked with PIX 11 to a construction zone on 149 Street and Third Avenue in the Bronx, where, she said, K2 addicts used to zone out.
“After I saw your report, I saw results in this area,” Torah told PIX11, “of the police cleaning up K2.”
Now the feds are trying to keep the crucial components that create the drug—out of this country.