ALBUQUERQUE – Federal and City officials gathered Friday afternoon at the City of Albuquerque’s Cerro Colorado Landfill to witness the destruction of drug paraphernalia valued at more than $220,000.
The drug paraphernalia was seized and forfeited in connection with several federal investigations into synthetic cannabinoid trafficking occurring in “smoke shops” in New Mexico and west Texas.
The destruction of the drug paraphernalia was coordinated by U.S. Marshal Conrad E. Candelaria and the U.S. Marshals Service, which serves as the primary custodian of seized and forfeited property for the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Program. “The federal asset forfeiture laws are used to remove financial incentives from crime by depriving criminals of the cash and other assets they rely upon to facilitate their illegal activity,” Marshal Candelaria said. “The money generated from the sale of forfeited assets is used to compensate victims, supplement funding for law enforcement crime fighting initiatives, and support community programs.”
Marshal Candelaria was joined by U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez, whose office prosecuted the criminal cases and litigated the civil forfeiture cases generated by the investigations, and Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry, who made the resources of the City’s Solid Waste Management Department available to destroy and bury the drug paraphernalia. Also participating were DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Sean R. Waite and FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Derek A. Fuller, whose agencies conducted the investigations resulting in the seizure and forfeiture of the drug paraphernalia.
“When we forfeited the drug paraphernalia destroyed today, we took away the tools of the trade used by drug traffickers to perpetuate crime in our communities and we shut down businesses that served as fronts for drug trafficking,” U.S. Attorney Martinez said. “The asset forfeiture laws enable us to disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations that would continue to function if we only focused our efforts on prosecuting those arrested during our investigations.”
“The City of Albuquerque has a history of working on joint partnerships with our federal partners to create a net of security across our city,” Mayor Richard J. Berry said. “I am proud to, again, collaborate on this latest project to deter and stop illegal activity happening in our community.”
The drug paraphernalia destroyed today was seized pursuant to federal search and seizure warrants from smoke shops that operated in Albuquerque, Hobbs, Ruidoso and west Texas. The paraphernalia included thousands of bongs, “crack” pipes, and other glassware used to ingest illegal narcotics as well as packaging material. In addition to the drug paraphernalia, proceeds from the illegal sale of synthetic cannabinoids and drug paraphernalia were seized and forfeited to the United States. The locations from which the drug paraphernalia was seized included:
The Snack & Smoke Shop, formerly located at 2118 Central Avenue SE in Albuquerque. Drug paraphernalia valued at more than $18,700 was seized during the execution of a search and seizure warrant in September 2014.
Just Smokes, formerly located at 216 University Blvd. in Lubbock, Texas. Drug paraphernalia valued at more than $37,500 was seized during the execution of a search and seizure warrant in June 2015.
Just Smokes, formerly located at 2209 West 5th Street in Plainview, Texas. Drug paraphernalia valued at more than $33,800 was seized during the execution of a search and seizure warrant in June 2015.
The Magic Mushroom, formerly located at 1407 Sudderth Drive in Ruidoso. Drug paraphernalia valued at more than $11,300 was seized during the execution of a search and seizure warrant in April 2015.
Up in Smoke, formerly located at 220 East Marland Street in Hobbs. Drug paraphernalia valued at more than $53,800 was seized during the execution of a search and seizure warrant in June 2015.
The value of the drug paraphernalia destroyed today is exclusive of the value of other assets, currency and drugs seized and forfeited as a result of these investigations. For example, the investigation that targeted the smoke shops in Hobbs and west Texas resulted in the civil forfeiture of $2.8 million dollars in drug proceeds and assets in Nov. 2016.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kotz is the Asset Forfeiture Coordinator for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and was responsible for litigating the civil forfeiture cases and facilitating the administrative forfeiture processes resulting from these investigations. The criminal cases filed as a result of the investigations were prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer M. Rozzoni.
Synthetic cannabinoids are commonly referred to as “spice.” According to the DEA, over the past several years, there has been a growing use of synthetic cannabinoids. Smoke-able herbal blends marketed as being “legal” have become increasingly popular because they are easily available and, in many cases, are more potent and dangerous than marijuana. These products consist of plant material that has been coated with dangerous psychoactive compounds that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. These substances, however, have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for human consumption, and there is no oversight of the manufacturing process. Synthetic cannabinoids often are labeled as incense to mask their intended purpose.