BATAVIA, N.Y. (WIVB) - The arrest of a Williamsville man authorities say was supplying area stores with bath salts and synthetic marijuana has helped a Batavia mother in her crusade to shut down a store she says was selling drugs to her son.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Attorney's Office announced the arrest of 34-year-old Fawzi Al-Arashi on Wednesday. The DEA in Los Angeles alerted Buffalo authorities of a suspected shipment of synthetic marijuana headed for Buffalo. Agents on this end of the delivery route say the package was delivered to Al-Arashi at "Town Tobacco," a business he operated on Delaware Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda.
Officials continued their investigation and found numerous varieties of synthetic marijuana being sold at that store and "Welcome Welcome" on Main Street in North Tonawanda, also owned by Al-Arashi. During their investigation, police received a call that synthetic drugs known as bath salts bought at "Town Tobacco" had put a man in the hospital.
Authorities executed two search warrants on Wednesday, including one at a storage location on Ridge Lea in Amherst, and found 30,000 packets of synthetic marijuana, bath salts, drug paraphernalia to use those drugs, $50,000 in silver bars and coins, and seized over $700,000 from Al-Arashi's bank accounts.
Dake Kasprzyk of the DEA said, "This is the largest synthetic drug bust to date in western New York. The DEA seized 30,000 drug packets to give you an idea - that's upwards of $900,000 in merchandise."
Meanwhile, News 4 has done multiple stories on the dangers of bath salts and one mother's crusade to get her son off the powerfully addictive drugs. Nicolette Lang has been vocal about her son's addiction, one she says he cannot get under control. She tried going to the Batavia store and asking owners to stop selling the drugs to Jason Lang, and the owners had her arrested for trespassing.
But that didn't stop Lang. She started a protest outside the store and worked to fight the charges in court.
Now, the arrest of Al-Arashi has provided Lang what she wanted: 420 Emporium on Ellicott Street has been shut down. DEA agents and NYS Police have been investigating that location as well as its four other locations: one in Rochester, another in Brockport, a third in Fulton, and one more in Syracuse.
Al-Arashi had reportedly been supplying the stores. Agents arrested three people on Wednesday, charging each with possession with intent to distribute and distribution of a controlled substance analogue: Joshua Denise, 37, of Batavia; Michelle Condidorio, 30, of LeRoy; and Austin Szczur, 22, of Rochester.
Brandi Smith, the sister of Jason Lang, said, "It's happiness knowing it will be so difficult for him [to find synthetic drugs] and hopefully we're one step closer to him being able to regain his life."
Authorities say Denise and Condidorio sold synthetic drugs to undercover agents from the Batavia store, and Szczur sold them to undercover agents at the Rochester location. Each could face a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail. But if any of the drugs sold are found to have caused someone serious bodily harm, the punishment increases and 20 years becomes the minimum prison term.
Al-Arashi is facing the same charges and same potential sentences if convicted.
If you suspect someone is selling synthetic drugs or your child is using them, you're asked to call the DEA at 846-6000.
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