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Feds go after unlicensed marijuana shops

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Protesters filled Oakland streets in 2012, challenging federal agents and preventing them from leaving during the Oaksterdam raid.

While many people falsely believe that there is no serious consequence to operating an unlicensed cannabis business in California, federal agents are shifting their focus to going after unlicensed businesses. The situation is similar to the period before the famous 2010-2012 raids on medical marijuana collectives in the state. By that time, federal raids had slowed and people thought they were safe, but, in fact, the DEA was gathering evidence for a massive roundup of state legal operations.

As a result of the push by those raids, culminating in federal agents being persecuted on the streets of Oakland while serving their search warrants in the Oaksterdam district, President Obama’s Justice Department has released the Cole memo protecting state legal operations. Trump lifted that protection immediately after his seat, marijuana arrests have increased and investigations have continued, while the U.S. Senate is embroiled in fine details of legalization.

Federal officials have offered the following description of their latest persecutions of retail and wholesale cannabis suppliers.

Conviction in federal raids on underground cannabis warehouses

Shahram “Sean” Sheikhan and Sabriana Williams pleaded guilty in federal court on June 30 to drug distribution charges, the latest individuals convicted as part of an ongoing investigation by federal and state authorities aimed at unlicensed and illegal marijuana dispensaries in Southern California.

From at least 2019 to 2022, Sheikhan and Williams, along with each other, operated an unlicensed illegal marijuana business known as “Cannaland,” which operated primarily as a wholesale supplier of marijuana and marijuana products to unlicensed and illegal marijuana dispensaries in Southern California. In addition, Cannaland operated as an unlicensed illegal marijuana dispensary in its own right, serving individual customers.

In April 2021, law enforcement carried out a search warrant in Cannaland, which was currently located at 10630 Willie Baker Way in Spring Valley, California. During the execution of the search warrant, more than 3,000 pounds of marijuana were seized, with an estimated street value of more than $ 6 million, along with five firearms.

The gun charges piled on top of the marijuana charges

Following the search warrant, Sheikhan and Williams personally coordinated and facilitated the purchase of replacement firearms for the business’s armed security guards and continued to operate and distribute large quantities of marijuana. In part of their apology agreements, Sheikhan and Williams admitted that the amount of marijuana products distributed during the course of the conspiracy exceeded 3,000 kilograms.

Sheikhan and Williams join several others who have pleaded guilty to various drug charges, firearms and money laundering in federal court as part of this investigation.

“Over the past two years, federal and state law enforcement has targeted the operation of dozens of illegal and unlicensed marijuana dispensaries in San Diego County to enforce the law and reduce the crime associated with it. case, “Grossman said. He thanked the persecution team and investigative agencies for their efforts to protect the community.

Coordinated state agencies in arrests

“I want to thank our law enforcement partners in the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, the San Diego Police Department, the Chula Vista Police Department, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, and San Diego.County District Attorney’s Office for their commitment and collaboration in these cases.These are these ongoing partners that allow for law enforcement from the point of view of being agile and able to deal with these types of cases using a variety of investigative techniques with different prosecution options ”.

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“The FBI is committed to keeping our communities safe from the wide range of violent crimes and criminal activities that accompany these illegal establishments,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy.

“The IRS has been a part of the Task Force for Organized Drug Crime Enforcement (OCDETF) for more than 30 years. ‘Stronger Through Partnership’ is the motto of the OCETETF, and the success of this very impactful investigation exemplifies really this motto, ”said Ryan L. Korner, Special Agent in Charge of the Office of the IRS-Los Angeles Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI). . “The primary motivation of drug traffickers is greed. It doesn’t matter how their actions negatively impact innocent people, the community or our society. The role of the IRS-CI is to completely dismantle these criminal organizations by tracking the money they spend. fuels the drug trade, and ultimately ensures that street vendors of these illicit drugs do not reap the benefits of their criminal activity. ”

“The Sheriff’s Department has been a proud partner” in the raids, said Kelly A. Martinez, Undersheriff of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. “Sheriff’s deputies, investigators and analysts committed countless hours of investigative support, surveillance and analysis to this effort. Today’s result is a culmination of the dedication of federal, state and local law enforcement partners in the region. which are the sign of public safety in San Diego. East San Diego County is safer today because of this hard work. ”

“This operation demonstrates that strong partnerships, including participation in federal workforces, keep our community safe,” said San Diego Police Department chief David Nisleit. “The San Diego Police Department is committed to working with neighboring law enforcement agencies to combat organized crime in our region. We are proud of the work that has been done to shut down these illegal distribution centers and plant them. the violent crime associated with them ”.

Feds do not distinguish between licensed and illegal businesses

“Illegal marijuana dispensaries have been responsible for numerous complaints from members of our community,” added Chula Vista Police Department chief Roxana Kennedy. “We have seen many of them open near our schools over time. They pose a significant danger to health and safety for the public, especially our young people, and are moving to avoid enforcement. Collaboration with our law enforcement partners in the region and joining our resources to prevent these criminal organizations from putting our communities at risk is absolutely critical.

dispensary sign, medical

To date, the law enforcement has executed dozens of search warrants and charged more than 30 individuals with violations of state and federal law. As a result of this joint effort, law enforcement took nearly 30,000 pounds of marijuana and marijuana products; 68 firearms, including ghost pistols; It is millions of dollars in currency, jewelry and other valuables. Nearly 30 illegal, unlicensed marijuana dispensaries and wholesale distributors have been closed for this.

Of those charged, two groups of individuals recently pleaded guilty in federal court besides Sheikhan and Williams.

The first group, led by Lance Kachi, admitted to operating several unlicensed illegal marijuana dispensaries in Spring Valley and El Cajon, including locations at 9545 Campo Road, 9600 Campo Road, 9070 Jamacha Road, 985 Greenfield Drive and 9143 Birch Street. . Since at least 2020, Kachi, Michael Yono, Avrin Yakou, Fabian Yakou, and others, have overseen several unlicensed dispensaries that each generate up to $ 25,000 each day, and were open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Kachi and his co-conspirators have earned millions of dollars in revenue from their illegal, unlicensed operation. Several times a week, Kachi and others gather at various hotels where they spend hours counting hundreds of thousands of dollars in dispensary proceeds using automated money counters. Before leaving the room with bags of money, the defendants packed their cash counters and various notes that they took into account their profits and expenses, such as the cost of armed security.

In July 2021, law enforcement carried out several search warrants aimed at Operation Kachi. In May 2022, Kachi, Yono and the Yakou brothers pleaded guilty to various charges of drugs, firearms and money laundering, as well as the confiscation of millions of dollars in money, jewelry and other valuables.

Also in May 2022, a second group, made up of the Shamoun brothers – Sean, Alvin, Vincent, and Andrew – pleaded guilty in federal court to charges arising from their wholesale distribution of marijuana products to unlicensed marijuana dispensaries. and illegal from Los Angeles to San. Diego. Operating under the name Babylon’s Garden, the Shamoun brothers manufactured a variety of marijuana products in a warehouse in San Diego, which they would send directly to dispensaries or shipped in the United States mail. The Shamoun brothers admitted that their operation was responsible for the manufacture and distribution of more than 3,000 kilograms of marijuana.

In their apology agreements, all of the various defendants referred to above admitted that they had an obligation to report their income to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) and to the California state tax authorities, as well as pay tax on any income derived from these illegals. companies, which have not done so. In addition, all individuals have agreed to give up the seized money, which currently exceeds $ 5 million.

This case is the result of ongoing efforts by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership that brings together the combined expertise and unique capabilities of federal, state, and local agencies. The main mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, dismantle and prosecute high-level members of drug trafficking, arms trafficking and money laundering organizations and companies.

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