Cedar Rapids property owners lose properties in synthetic marijuana case

Federal judge grants property forfeiture

By Trish Mehaffey, The Gazette

IOWA CITY — A couple who is accused of selling synthetic marijuana has lost four of their properties in a civil forfeiture to the government.

U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade granted a default judgment Tuesday against Mohammad and Melissa Al Sharairei, the owners of Puff N Stuff II Tobacco Outlet, Basim Al Bakri and MMB Investments for four houses. Al Bakri was in business with the Al Sharaireis in MMB Investments, according court documents.

The properties are located at 142 34th Street Dr, SE, in Cedar Rapids, and the three other homes at 1611 8th St., 1704 Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, and 1517 23rd St are in Des Moines.

According to an affidavit filed in the criminal case, the properties were purchased by the couple in 2012 and 2013 for nearly $243,000 but there’s no information on current value of property. The couple also owned several other properties but they were not included in the forfeiture action.

Mohammad and Melissa are each charged with maintaining a drug involved premises and have pleaded not guilty. They are accused of distributing a mixture or substance containing a controlled substance analogue or illegal substance intended for human consumption from January 2012 until June 26, 2013. The synthetic drugs which contain this substance is commonly smoked.

The store was raided as part of a national synthetic drug enforcement in June 2013. Substances seized from the store tested positive for the presence of a controlled substance analogue.

The store grossed more than $1.3 million over 18 months in synthetic marijuana sales, according to court documents. The civil forfeitures were filed in May, claiming the purchase of the real properties represent property traceable to the sale of controlled substance analogues, represent the proceeds of the sale of controlled substance analogues, facilitate the sale of controlled substance analogues and represents property involved in money laundering.

According to the default judgment, notice of forfeiture had been posted in May and the owners were personally served with a notice and complaint. The owners failed make a timely claim, answer or defend the action, as well as any occupants residing at the properties.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Pete Deegan said in forfeiture actions like this, the proceeds from the properties will go into the U.S. Treasury Asset Forfeiture Fund. He said he couldn’t provide further details.

The Al Sharaireis’ trial is set Nov. 3. If convicted on the drug charge, each faces up to 20 years in prison.

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