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Five operators criminally charged after raids on Queens smoke shop, mobile cannabis dispensaries: DA

May. 5, 2023 By Bill Parry

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz on May 5 announced the takedown of three illegal cannabis dispensaries and the arrest of five individuals from across the borough and Long Island for their roles in allegedly operating the illegal marijuana shops.

The operation seized two mobile cannabis dispensaries operated out of two trucks in Astoria and an illegal smoke shop in Ozone Park located directly across the street from a middle school. Katz said that the vehicles were impounded and the products were seized during the multi-agency law enforcement operations.

“Unlicensed sellers are undercutting legal vendors as they are just getting started, denying badly needed tax revenues for essential public services,” Katz said. “The illegal outlets also are the focus of numerous community complaints, including for selling hallucinogens and edible marijuana products that have sickened young people and are marketed to children.”

Lara Paola, 32, of 70th Street in Jackson Heights, Tanik Kerr, 42, of Kane Avenue in Hempstead, and Edgar Niyazov, 30, of Queens Boulevard in Rego Park were each charged with criminal possession of cannabis in the third-degree, unlawful sale of cannabis and unlicensed general vending. The defendants each face up to 364 days in jail if convicted.

According to the charges, Paola operated an unlicensed mobile cannabis dispensary called “All The Smoke,” on the corner of 30th Avenue and 33rd Street in Astoria. Kerr and Niyazov operated an unlicensed mobile cannabis dispensary called “Canna Depot,” on the corner of Broadway and 34th Street in Astoria.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced raids against illegal mobile cannabis dispensaries and one brick-and-mortar smoke shop that resulted in five arrests.Photo courtesy of the Queens DA’s office

During the investigation, undercover detectives from District Attorney Katz’s office made numerous controlled purchases of cannabis from each of the trucks on multiple occasions. On May 3, detectives from the district attorney’s office, along with NYPD officers, executed search
warrants at each of the mobile dispensaries.

More than five pounds of cannabis flower, including hundreds of pre-rolled joints, blunts, resin, and oil were seized along with hundreds of packages of edible cannabis, such as gummies and candy bars in packaging resembling common consumer candy and snack products with names such as “Nerdz,” “SnoCapz,” “Wonka Bars,” and “Trolli.” Dozens of cannabis vape “pens” were also confiscated during the operation.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced raids against illegal mobile cannabis dispensaries and one brick-and-mortar smoke shop that resulted in five arrests.Photo courtesy of the Queens DA’s office

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced raids against illegal mobile cannabis dispensaries and one brick-and-mortar smoke shop that resulted in five arrests.

“The New York City Police Department is steadfast in our commitment to rid the city’s streets of unlicensed, illegal businesses that pose significant public safety problems in our communities,” NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said. “By working in close partnership with the New York City Sheriff’s Office, the Queens District Attorney, and all of our city and state partners, NYPD officers will continue to use every resource available to protect New Yorkers and to ensure that the new cannabis regulations are properly recognized, accepted, and enforced.”

Katz also announced that Nasser Gamil, 44, of 101st Avenue in Ozone Park, and Abdulwahab Alabi, 32, of Liberty Avenue in Ozone Park, were charged with criminal possession of cannabis in the first degree and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the fifth degree. If convicted, the defendants each face up to two and half years in prison.

According to the charges, Gamil and Alabi sold cannabis and controlled substances from inside the 101 Deli and Grocery at 92-15 101st Ave. in Ozone Park, less than 200 feet from MS 210, the Elizabeth Blackwell Middle School. During a joint operation with the DEA, undercover investigators conducted a controlled delivery to the defendants at the 101 Deli and Grocery of a shipping pallet containing cannabis and controlled substances from Los Angeles. More than 28 lbs. of cannabis flower and over six pounds of individually packaged edible psilocybin, a hallucinogen also known as “magic mushrooms” were seized along with more than 1,600 individually wrapped pre-rolled cannabis joints and dozens of boxes of edible cannabis.

“DEA sees drug traffickers disguise edible drugs to look like candy that often get into the wrong hands, causing toxic reactions,” DEA New York Division Special Agent in Charge Frank Tarentino said. “This case is one example of how the DEA continues to enforce drug laws in order to safeguard our communities from overdoses and poisonings. I commend the work of our partners at the NYC Sheriff’s Office, NYPD, and Queens District Attorney’s Office.”

The raids were part of Katz’s ongoing efforts to rid Queens of illegal cannabis dispensaries, whether operating out of trucks and vans or brick-and-mortar commercial locations. Since November, enforcement operations have resulted in the prosecution of 55 individuals for charges related to the sale and/or possession of cannabis or controlled substances in Queens.

“We appreciate the efforts of Queens District Attorney Katz and her staff in continuing to fight against the unlicensed and unregulated cannabis industry,” NYC Sheriff Anthony Miranda said. “The sale of unregulated products is a health and safety threat to our communities. The sale of cannabis in New York is only legal when sold from licensed dispensaries, all other sales are illegal. My office will continue to work with all of our law enforcement partners to rid the city of the illegal operations.”

Katz noted that currently there are nine licensed adult recreational-use cannabis dispensaries open in New York state, including one in Jamaica and there are 40 state-authorized medical marijuana dispensaries, including three in Queens.

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