By Mary Drier
CARO — A year-long investigation by several law enforcement agencies and a five-day trial results in guilty verdicts against two Caro residents from incidents at the former Clark Gas Station and Gran’s Party Mart.
Jamshid Bakshi Zahraie, 62, and Kirsta Beth Zahraie, 44, were found guilty of: Conducting Criminal Enterprise; Possession with Intent to Deliver a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance; Manufacture of a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance; Delivery of a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance; Possession of a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance and Maintaining a Drug House and/or Building.
“This verdict is the culmination of a joint, year-long, investigation between the Tuscola County Sheriff’s Department, the Michigan State Police and the Thumb Narcotics Unit. The defendants in this case were a local business owner and his employee/former spouse,” said Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark Reene noting the case started from allegations that Gran’s Party Mart and former Clark Gas Station were sites of a narcotics distribution process involving the sale of synthetic cannabinoids (synthetic marijuana), outlawed within the State of Michigan in most forms by law effective July 1, 2012.
“The investigation involved contacts with numerous individuals who had purchased these dangerous substances from the stores, as well as the execution of several controlled purchases in an under cover capacity, all culminating in the execution of three, simultaneous search warrants last May 2, 2013.”
During the execution of the search warrants, police also seized business records, invoices, bank statements, and well over $114,000 in cash from the defendants that was stored in a plastic grocery bag under a counter.
It was discovered at that time that the defendants had been manufacturing their own brand of synthetic marijuana which was then sold in the defendants’ stores.
In addition, expert testimony presented during the trial determined that synthetic marijuana brands that were pre-packaged in the stores were largely manufactured overseas in China and secreted into the United States, explained Reene.
“They are then distributed to places like party stores and convenience stores via internet sales. These products can also be manufactured and a recipe and manufacturing components were found in the defendants’ possession at their apartment.”
Such recipes can be deadly as well as dangerous.
Key components in the manufacture of synthetic marijuana were testified to be substances such as: plant material of any kind, nail polish remover, a synthetic cannabinoid and artificial flavorings which are added to make the product more attractive to customers. The products are then sold, labeled “Not For Human Consumption,” to customers who then smoke this product to produce a high that mimics the effect of THC, but is sometimes more potent and deadly.
“Expert testimony revealed that these 100 percent synthetic designer drugs were sometimes designed for medicinal purposes; but like all drugs, in the wrong hands are abused with sometimes fatal results. This fact was made clearer by testimony at trial from some individuals who had consumed the products sold by the defendants and ended up becoming ill, addicted, or, in one case, hospitalized,” Reene pointed out.
According to Reene, a lot of hard work by several individuals when into putting the case together and presenting it in court.
“As Prosecuting Attorney I want to recognize the extraordinary efforts of Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Eric F. Wanink. Due to the ever changing climate of illicit drug trafficking few cases involving these types of substances have been prosecuted to date,” said Reene. “He spent countless hours examining all aspects of the investigation and determining the best course of action.
“Both of these defendants were engaging in conduct that endangered the health, safety and welfare of this community. They have been held accountable and their activities halted in large part due to Mr. Wanink’s dedicated and professional efforts and many others.”
Reene also gave a special thank you to officers of the Thumb Narcotics Unit, the Michigan State Police, the Caro Police Department and the Tuscola County Sheriff’s Department for their assistance in the investigation and prosecution of this case. In particular, the efforts of Detective/Trooper Andrew Feehan of the Thumb Narcotics Unit, who was the investigating officer who helped put this case together as well as the efforts of Dr. Greg Endres of Caymen Chemical Company in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for his expert testimony in this matter.
“The case was a tremendous victory for the citizens of Tuscola County in a continuing battle to rid the community of these dangerous substances. This result could not have been achieved without the hard work and efforts of all of those involved,” said Reene noting a sentencing date has not been set yet.
Besides obtaining a guilty verdict, Reene is also initiating a civil-forfeiture cause of action against defendant Jamshid Zahraie. He is seeking forfeiture of several assets seized during and subsequent to the May 2, 2013 raids, including the two properties on which the businesses were situated. Trial in that matter is scheduled for May.
Mary Drier is a staff writer for the Tuscola County Advertiser. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.