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Eleven sentenced in Callaway County-based synthetic drug ring

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - UPDATE, Feb. 22: Raja Nawaz, who prosecutors said ran the California-based supply operations, received an eight-year prison sentence on Wednesday.

Michael Butler and Curtis Whayne Gonzalez, both of Sacramento, each received a sentence of six months in prison. Both ran businesses that shipped the synthetic drugs to stores in Callaway County. 

Sheila Nawaz received a one-year probation sentence from Judge Stephen Bough.

Aleksander Polyanskiy will be sentenced in April.

ORIGINAL: Eleven people received federal prison sentences for their roles in a synthetic drug operation based in Callaway County.

District Judge Stephen Bough spent Wednesday hearing arguments from attorneys on the case. Jason Lee Houston, who assistant U.S. attorney Michael Oliver called the "leader" of the conspiracy, received a seven-year prison sentence.

Houston apologized to a crowded courtroom for his actions, including his co-defendants.

"I regret that I drug them into some kind of situation where I took their innocence away," Houston said.

Brandon Rader, Christopher T. Sandfort, Shawn Browning and Joshua Sheets all received three-month sentences. The four ran various stores throughout the county that sold synthetic marijuana, commonly called K2. Federal authorities raided the stores in Fulton, Holts Summit and Auxvasse in 2015, and charges were filed against 13 people total in March 2016.

The stores in Callaway County received their products from suppliers in California, led by Raja Nawaz, Oliver said. Those five were set to receive their punishment on Wednesday afternoon.

Oliver said the conspiracy netted $6.6 million.

Callaway County Sheriff Clay Chism remembers the department "taking a beating" over the stores selling synthetic marijuana. While complaints came in, Chism said state laws kept deputies from making a case over the particular products sold and the chemicals used on them. Federal laws are better equipped to prosecute dealers of synthetic drugs, Chism said, which led to federal authorities getting involved.

"We had a huge problem a couple years ago," Chism said. "We're not seeing that problem near to the level today that we did then."

ABC 17 News highlighted the issues synthetic marijuana caused in Callaway County, and the difficulties law enforcement faced in arresting people making and selling it. Backlogs of evidence at the state's crime lab cause seized samples to go untested for months. Even after a test, the results may show the chemicals used on the plants are dangerous for human consumption but legal.

"If a synthetic operation opened up in the county today, we would be pursuing that federally, because the federal law, as written today, covers that type of activity much better than state law," Chism said.



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