On Tuesday night, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized over 440 pounds of K2, also known as synthetic marijuana, from a store in Queens. The estimated street value of the packets is upwards of $200,000.
According to the DEA, the raid occurred on in Queens Village at "Excellent Tire Shop Services," which the feds believe to have been a front for the K2 operation. Agents discovered that a tarp at the back of the business was concealing drug manufacturing equipment, and in addition to a large quantity of unpackaged K2, they found industrial quantities of the chemicals used in its manufacturing, flavor additives, packaging materials, and scales.
Agents made one arrest at the scene: Osvaldo Maria Vasquez, a 36-year-old Queens resident, who also had an outstanding arrest warrant for cocaine distribution. According to court papers, he was arrested while exiting the store at 98-04 Springfield Boulevard, and allowed agents to search his car, where they found hundreds of packets of K2.
Vasquez allegedly participated in a controlled cocaine transaction in 2014, and federal agents discovered through a wiretap that he was negotiating additional cocaine deals. In one such wiretap, Vasquez allegedly referred to cocaine transactions using code words such as "three blondes," and saying that his clients were guaranteeing "four women for Monday's party."
New York City criminalized the sale and production of K2 in October; prior to that, though the drug was technically illegal in the city, sale or production merely constituted a health code violation worth a $250 fine. Offenders possessing more than nine packets of the substance with intent to sell are now punishable by up to $5,000 in fines and a year in prison.
The drug has been known to cause seizures and strokes, and has caused at least one death in the city. It's addictive, and has had an especially harmful impact on the homeless population in East Harlem.
"Synthetic cannabinoids present a new danger to public health," U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said in a statement. "While sometimes called synthetic marijuana, use of these drugs can have unpredictably severe and even lethal effects. Last night’s seizure by the FBI and DEA represents another step in law enforcement's response to this deadly serious problem."
Vasquez was arraigned in Brooklyn federal court yesterday, and the judge ordered that he be detained until his preliminary hearing on April 14th, deeming there to be a serious risk that he would not otherwise appear in court. His lawyer did not immediately respond to request for comment.