HARVEY, LA -- Jefferson Parish Sheriff's detectives said Friday that by arresting eight suspects, they shut down a large synthetic drug making operation. The leader of the drug ring, according to Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand is 32-year old Thanh "Tommy" Tran, who is now changed with seven counts of Distribution of a CDS (Synthetic Cannabinoid) and Money Laundering.
"When you look at the manner in which this stuff is produced," Sheriff Normand told reporters at a press conference Friday morning in Harvey, "it is done so in an incredibly primitive way."
According to Sheriff Normand, the drugs were made with no regards to the effects on people ingesting the drugs. Two West Jefferson High School students were hospitalized earlier this month, investigators said, after ingesting synthetic marijuana purchased at Smoke Solutions, a store owned and operated by Tommy Tran.
Tran and others manufactured the drugs, according to investigators, inside five clandestine drug labs, all in Marrero. The addresses provided by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office: 2713 Ascension Court, 2745 Dolores Drive, 5532 Ehret Road, 558 Lapalco Boulevard and 2932 Mt. Kennedy Drive.
"Before, it was such a nice neighborhood, you could have your kids play out front and you didn't have to worry," Marrero homeowner Catherine Rivas said, "but now, you've got to stay close and watch them so they're in sight." Rivas lives just a few doors down from the Mt. Kennedy Drive address raided by police.
"As primitive as some of this was," Sheriff Normand said, "the criminal enterprise was very sophisticated."
44-year-old George May is charged with 12 drug counts and Money Laundering. 38-year-old Gina Leggio and 30-year-old Giang Troung Vo are charged with three drug counts each. 30-year-old Cuong Tran, 34-year-old Amer Zughayer, 29-year-old Thanh Nguyen and 26-year old Harold Bourgeois III are charged with one drug count each. According to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, the investigation is continuing, and more charges could be coming.
"Collectively, it is our intent to lock up every drug dealing thug that's selling this crap to kids and adults in this metropolitan area," Sheriff Normand said. "Let there be no mistake, and let this be a warning, if a convenience store decides to sell this crap, we are going to shut them down.
"The Sheriff's Office listed eight stores where the drugs were sold: three westbank locations of Smoke Solutions, Mike's Discount on the Westbank Expressway in Marrero, Greg's Food Mart on 4th Street in Marrero, Botonix Accessories on Lapalco Boulevard in Harvey, LA-1 Imports on Barataria Boulevard and Herbal Connections on Aris Street in Metairie.
Undercover detectives spoke with Tran inside his Smoke Solutions store, according to the Sheriff's Office, where Tran bragged about the huge profits he made selling the illegal synthetic drugs, packaged with names like "NOLA Diamond."
Deputies showed merchandise seized, which included an arsenal of guns, tens of thousands of dollars of cash, and a million dollars worth of automobiles, including a Lamborghini, a Porsche, and a Mercedes-Benz.
"They're marketing this through the social media," Sheriff Normand said. "And the breadth and depth of the impact they can make in a very short period of time is absolutely incredible."Detectives observed as many as 60 patrons an hour buying the illegal synthetic drugs.
"As these things crop up," Sheriff Normand explained, "the size of it is incredible because it moves so fast and it's a challenge for law enforcement in trying to keep up with it, and more and more, we're monitoring the social media."
Gretna Police, the St. Tammany Sheriff's Office, the DEA and the ATF all assisted in the investigation. Sheriff Normand said he also supports several bills pending with the state legislature in Baton Rouge, geared towards cracking down on the manufacturing and selling of synthetic drugs.