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More than a dozen arrests result from Hillsborough synthetic marijuana raid

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office warned retailers months ago to stop selling synthetic marijuana.

A letter sent to area businesses in March offered owners the chance to turn over inventory of the drug to the Sheriff's Office before it became illegal to possess.

But not everyone cooperated.

On Friday, undercover officers in the sheriff's Special Investigations Division along with agents of the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco raided 10 convenience stores and arrested 15 people for selling the designer drug, said Tom Feeney, commander of the Special Investigations Division.

Officers confiscated nearly a half-million dollars in drugs.

"There were a number of these stores, despite our warnings, that continued to act as though they were impervious to our law enforcement efforts," Feeney said.

The drugs, sold under labels such as K-2 and Spice, are marketed as incense or plant food.

The drugs have been linked to convulsions, tremors and deadly overdoses.

"This is no different than cocaine, no different than heroin, no different than PCP," Feeney said. "And nobody ... has any earthly idea what long term effect this drug is going to have on kids in this community."

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi launched a crusade against synthetic drugs in 2011, first issuing an emergency rule outlawing so-called "bath salts" that mimic cocaine or amphetamine.

This year, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that expanded the number of chemical compounds banned.

Still, it can be hard for prosecutors to prove wrongdoing in court because as more chemicals are outlawed, manufacturers tweak the formulas to get new, legal versions.

None of the drugs confiscated in Friday's haul had been tested yet, Feeney said. But those arrested were charged under the Federal Analog Act, which states that any chemical "substantially similar" to a controlled substance be treated as one, if intended for human consumption.

"It's uncharted territory," Feeney said. "We've got to test those laws and we've got to set a precedent."

And this won't be the end of arrests, Feeney said.

"Our efforts don't stop here," he said. "We are going to vigorously investigate any and all complaints."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2442.

15 people arrested in Hillsborough drug raids

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office arrested 15 people and charged them each with one felony count of possession and selling of controlled substance-analog and one felony count of maintaining a store to sell a controlled substance. Here are the stores, their locations and the people charged:

Radiant Food Store, 13430 Bruce B. Downs in Tampa

• Claire McCarthy, 35, of Tampa

• Moataz Darwish, 35, of Tampa

• Saleh Elshabrawy, 41, of Tampa

Joy Food Mart, 10810 U.S. 41 S in Gibsonton

• Sagar Saha, 43, of Valrico

• Abdul Mannan, 57, of Tampa

• Subal Banik, 43, of Tampa

Country Food Store, 12020 E Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Seffner

• Heather Hernandez, 22, of Brandon

Quick Mart, 10051 Sheldon Road in Tampa

• Minhaz Lalani, 48, of Odessa

Shell Food Mart, 2819 E State Road 60 in Valrico

• Prollad Roy, 30, of Valrico

Fat Boy, 601 U.S. 41 S in Ruskin

• Mohammad Abukhdeir, 32, of Ruskin

Gibsonton Food Mart, 10143 U.S. 41 S, in Gibsonton

• Mohiuddin Qureshi, 56, of Riverview

Lithia Pinecrest Citco, 4330 Lithia Pinecrest Road in Valrico

• Kenaan Daaboul, 30, of Valrico

• Christina Stokes, 32, of Seffner

Snax Food, 6504 N Himes Ave. in Tampa

• Jamalutfi Al-Shalabi, 47, of Wesley Chapel

Nebraska Citgo, 11710 N Nebraska Ave. in Tampa

• Philip Thomas, 53, of Tampa

More than a dozen arrests result from Hillsborough synthetic marijuana raid 12/07/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 8, 2012 12:20am]
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