NEW PORT RICHEY — Sikander Noorani stood next to the convenience store counter, nodded his head and occasionally looked up at a masked man who towered over him and appeared to be lecturing him.
After months of investigating, the man with the mask, an undercover Pasco sheriff's deputy, was there Tuesday morning to arrest Noorani on drug charges. In the store's aisles, between Slim Jims and soft drinks, state Rep. Mike Fasano, Attorney General Pam Bondi and other dignitaries were there to witness the arrest. To them, Noorani represents the synthetic drug plague in Pasco County. Despite ample warning, deputies say, the store clerk continued selling hallucinogen-laced "Spice," capable of inducing seizures and violent outbursts in those who smoke it.
A gaggle of news reporters bellied up to the ring of crime-scene tape, invited by Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco to broadcast the arrest of clerks at this store and two others. Nocco said media coverage would help alert parents about the synthetic drugs and what to watch for in their children.
Colorful packages with cartoon designs and innocent-sounding brand names like Scooby Snax, Mr. Happy and Cotton Candy are marketed to children and teens and can easily slip by unsuspecting parents, Nocco said.
"Parents sometimes don't hear what's happening out there," he said. "I can't tell you how many times I've seen kids that are on drugs and the parents just have no idea. Now, maybe they're going to start realizing this is what's going on."
Noorani, 57, collapsed soon after being told he was being arrested. An ambulance came to the Mobil gas station at 7011 Massachusetts Ave. Paramedics loaded him onto a stretcher and took him to a hospital for medical clearance before booking at the Land O'Lakes jail.
Noor Jehan, 58, another clerk at the store identified by deputies as Noorani's sister, was later led out in handcuffs. She did not answer questions from reporters.
For months, authorities said, three west Pasco convenience stores continued to sell synthetic marijuana made with banned chemicals. Detectives worked with confidential sources to buy the drugs and build the cases until Tuesday's arrests.
The investigation, dubbed Operation Consequence, started in late January and ran through this month. Purchases of the synthetic drug, commonly called "Spice," were made at the Mobil station on Massachusetts Avenue, as well as the Super K Food Mart at 12838 U.S. 19, Hudson; and Boost Mobile, a mini mart at 3448 Grand Blvd., Holiday.
The drugs came with such packaging names as Platinum, AK47, Insane, LOL, Bomb Marley, California Dreams and Mad Hatter, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
Samples of those drugs were forwarded to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab in Tampa, which found the drugs contained a cannabinoid known as "XLR11" which is a Schedule 1 controlled substance under Florida law, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office said.
Detectives obtained search warrants and arrested four people accused of the sale and possession of synthetic drugs. Aside from the two arrested at the Mobil station, deputies also arrested Mohammed Kamaluadin, 38, of Port Richey; and Ahmad Rabei, 19, of New Port Richey.
At the store on Massachusetts Avenue, deputies collected about 30 packets of Spice. A Pasco County ordinance that bans Spice based on the packaging and marketing of the drugs brings a $500 fine per packet, which means the store could face $15,000 in fines alone.
Detectives laid the packets on the hood of a deputy's cruiser. Then Sgt. Bill Davis spoke into cameras, straight to his target audience.
"This isn't marijuana," he said of the drugs, often referred to as synthetic marijuana. "This is acid.
"Go sell candy," he continued. "Stop selling this stuff to our kids."