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Mary Kilpatrick / Houma Courier

A six-month covert drug operation with possible ties to the Middle East culminated Wednesday with the arrest of 11 people dealing out of three Terrebonne Parish convenience stores, law enforcement officials said.

Portions of cash from the operations totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars may have flowed to Yemen, which is a homeland security issue, Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Roberto Bryan said.

Authorities seized about $500,000 in cash from the locations and bank accounts, Terrebonne Sheriff Jerry Larpenter said. About $250,000 worth of synthetic marijuana also was confiscated from the stores. Authorities are still searching for two suspects, one of whom is believed to be back in Yemen.

The sting was part of the largest synthetic marijuana raid in the country, code named Project Synergy, Bryan said. On Monday, agents in 35 states descended on synthetic marijuana operations, executing 375 search warrants and arresting about 150 people. The Terrebonne drug bust, which involved about 100 law enforcement officials, including representatives from the DEA, the Office of Homeland Security and Louisiana State Police, was the only set of raids in Louisiana and had a 'major impact,' Bryan said.

Bryan said the DEA works with many other agencies to track down possible threats to the nation.

'The particular way of handling it is through our Special Operations Division, and that particular entity coordinates with the federal agencies in the United States and abroad. That's how we're able to go ahead and trace the money to these source countries or where this money is going to in order to eradicate and also follow up and prosecute those individuals that are over there,' he said. 'As you know, going into the Middle East, some of these organizations are tied with terrorist organizations, and that's where we partner with our federal and other overseas components to go ahead and tackle these particular problems.'

The operation included the Fast Stop-n-Go, 4174 W. Main St., Gray; Alma Street Discount, 6931 Alma St., Houma; and Kee Foods, 6957 W. Park Ave., Houma. It was titled 'Stop and Go' and began in December after the Sheriff's Office received several tips that dealers sold synthetic marijuana from the gas stations, Larpenter said. All three stores were in Drug-Free Zones, areas often near schools where drug offenses carry stiffer penalties than elsewhere. Five homes of employees were also hit during the raid.

'We all have received numerous calls from parents and grandparents and concerned citizens telling us that these locations were selling synthetic marijuana, how they were selling it and what they were selling and that their children were affected by it,' Larpenter said.

About 2.5 grams of synthetic marijuana costs $30 compared to $15 for real marijuana, the Sheriff's Office said.

Officials targeted the locations around 8 a.m. Wednesday. At the Fast Stop-n-Go, at least 100 people entered the store requesting synthetic marijuana that morning, Larpenter said.

Khalad Hamad, an Alma Street Discount employee who lives at 273 Monarch Drive, Apt. B-10, Houma, quietly exited the business in handcuffs as authorities arrested him on charges of distribution of controlled and dangerous substance I drugs, racketeering, money laundering, having transactions involving drug proceeds and violating a Drug-Free Zone. His bond was set at $1.8 million.

Another store employee, Fuad Towfik, 213 Alice Court, Thibodaux, was charged with distribution of controlled and dangerous substance I drugs, racketeering, money laundering, having transactions involving drug proceeds, failure to possess tax stamp and violating a Drug-Free Zone. His bond was also set at $1.8 million.

Store owner Fuad Hamed, 3509 Lake Lynn Drive, Gretna, is wanted by authorities and believed to be in Louisiana. He is charged with distribution of controlled and dangerous substance I drugs, racketeering, money laundering, having transactions involving drug proceeds, failure to possess tax stamp and violating a Drug-Free Zone.

Also taken into custody was Kee Foods employee Tawfiq Almansoob, 256 Monarch Drive, Apt. B, Houma, who was charged with distribution of controlled and dangerous substance I drugs, racketeering, money laundering, having transactions involving drug proceeds, failure to possess tax stamp and violating a Drug-Free Zone. His bond was set at $1.8 million.

Other Kee store employees arrested in connection with the sting:

-- Pepper Manuel Jr., 273 Monarch Drive, Apt. H-23, Houma. . His bond was set at $1.9 million.

-- Lawanda Deville, 128 Al's Trailer Park, Gray. Her bond was set at $2.15 million.

-- Stacey Ann Verdin, 255 Lake Long Drive, Houma. Her bond had not been set.

-- Abdulqawi Nagi, 6957 W. Park Ave., Houma, was charged with possession with intent to distribute a controlled and dangerous substance. His bond had not been set.

-- Kassim Nagi, 256 Monarch Drive, Apt. C, Houma, was charged with possession with intent to distribute controlled and dangerous substances I drugs, distribution of a controlled and dangerous substance, violating a Drug-Free Zone, principle to distributing controlled and dangerous substances I, racketeering, money laundering, transactions involving drug proceeds, failure to possess tax stamp. His bond had not been set.

-- Mohamed Nagi, 6957 W. Park Ave., Houma, Abulqawi and Kassim's father, is believed to be in Yemen and is wanted on various charges.

The last arrests were made at the Fast Stop-n-Go.

Store owner Karen Yost, 126 Beham Court, Thibodaux, was charged with having transactions involving drug proceeds, possession with intent to distribute controlled and dangerous substances, distribution of a controlled and dangerous substance, violating a Drug-Free Zone, failure to possess a tax stamp, racketeering and money laundering. Her bond was set at $2.35 million.

Her son, David Yost, of 126 Beham Court, Thibodaux, was charged with distribution of a controlled and dangerous substance, violating a Drug-Free Zone, failure to possess a tax stamp, having transactions involving drug proceeds, racketeering and money laundering. His bond has been set at $1.9 million.

Albert Vo, 6471 Shrimper's Row, Dulac, was charged with possession with the intent to distribute controlled and dangerous substances. His bond has not been set.

All were being held in the Terrebonne Parish jail.

Terrebonne officials first encountered synthetic marijuana in 2008, the Sheriff's Office said. The chemicals inside the substance were banned nationally in 2009 and in Louisiana in 2010.

The product consists of plant material that has been impregnated with dangerous psychoactive compounds that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, DEA officials said.

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