Pinellas County investigators, working with state and federal agents, have charged 10 people who they say were involved in manufacturing and distributing synthetic marijuana in Pinellas and seven states other than Florida.
The 11-month investigative collaboration among the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration's Tampa office and the Office of Statewide Prosecution led to the arrests in early April.
The ring sold the synthetic marijuana, illegal in Florida, at four local convenience stores and shipped at least 1,000 parcels weighing nearly 150 pounds via UPS since 2011 to Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Texas, Nevada and New Hampshire, officials said.
"It's adversely affecting our community, it has delusional qualities to it, it's not marijuana, it doesn't mellow people out and it really is a problem," said Sheriff Bob Gualtieri on Tuesday.
Undercover agents purchased synthetic marijuana in September 2013 from Shamir Sultanali Nathani, 32, a Holiday resident. Detectives then identified a second man, 48-year-old Pyarali Shamsuddin Heerani as Nathani's boss. Eight more suspects were later identified as lower-level operatives: Dadhichi Naik, 27, Hasnain Brohi, 26, Hurara Hassan, 33, Akber Ghazanfer, 33, Sheraz Khowaja, 26, Farkunda Akhtar, 21, Trudy Nathani, 46, and Joanel Volcin, 35.
Heerani, who lives in Tampa, remains at large.
Members of the ring have been charged with a range of drug possession and distribution and racketeering charges.
The investigation is ongoing, the sheriff's office says.