116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A former Cedar Rapids man who has been a fugitive for over seven years on federal charges of selling synthetic marijuana, using drug money to buy a house and operating an illegal gambling business was extradited last week from Brazil and will face trial in Iowa.
On Oct. 20, 2014, Mohammad, then 36, and Melissa Al Sharairei, then 33, agreed to plead guilty to one count of an indictment — selling marijuana — and be arraigned on other charges. But neither showed for court and a magistrate judge issued an arrest warrant.
A superseding indictment was filed in March 2017 with additional charges, but court documents stated the couple were still fugitives. There was no activity in public court records until last Friday, when Mohammad Al Sharairei was extradited.
He waived a detention hearing Monday and U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Roberts ordered him to remain in jail pending trial. A trial date was set for Feb. 22.
The couple owned the former Puff N’Stuff II Tobacco Outlet, 1545 First Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids, that was busted in a national crackdown that started in 2012 on the K2 synthetic marijuana substance. K2 was usually sold as bath salts or incense, but was smoked like marijuana and many contained illegal substances. The couple’s store was raided in 2013, and several other businesses were raided and owners arrested in Eastern Iowa in an 2014 enforcement.
According to court documents filed in 2014, the couple’s business grossed more than $1.3 million over 18 months in synthetic marijuana sales.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Nicholas Bonifazi said Monday that Mohammad, now 44, and Melissa Al Sharairei, now 41, were arrested in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in February 2019 on a local charge and they were just turned over on the federal warrant. Deputy marshals flew to Brazil.
Bonifazi, with the U.S. Marshals Service of the Northern District of Iowa in Cedar Rapids, said Melissa Al Sharairei wasn’t extradited with her husband and will not have an initial appearance. He didn’t have further information on why she wasn’t brought back.
Mohammad Al Sharairei will be charged on the superseding indictment. He faces one count each of maintaining a drug-involved premises (Puff N’Stuff); conspiracy to distribute controlled substance analogues (synthetic marijuana); engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity; and conducting an illegal gambling business.
According to the superseding indictment, the couple is accused of submitting a cashier's check for $96,186 to Midland Escrow for a house, which the records describe as property derived from a specified unlawful activity — distribution of controlled substance analogues or synthetic drugs — on May 30, 2013.
In the gambling charge, the couple is accused of conducting, financing, managing and owning all or part of an illegal gambling business called Tiger Cyber Internet Café, at 167 Jacolyn Dr. NW in Cedar Rapids, from Feb. 5 2013. through September 2013, which involved video slot-type machines that are a violation of state law, according to the indictment.
The business contained several computer monitors set up with internet access, as well at traditional casino-style games and a “sweepstakes,” a previous plea agreement stated. At the beginning of a playing session, players would pay money to the business and they would receive points or credits to their accounts. Players would win or lose credits by playing video slot games and at the end of a session could redeem their credits.
The gamblers would also be registered for the sweepstakes, which Tiger Cyber advertised to customers could payout as much as $10,000 cash, according to the court documents.
Court documents stated the couple also employed at least three individuals who were involved in running the day-to-day gambling business, and Tiger Cyber was initially financed using money from the sales of illegal substances sold at Puff N’Stuff.
There also is a forfeiture allegation for any property derived from and any proceeds obtained from operating the Puff N’Stuff, according to the indictment. The property to be forfeited includes a money judgment of $425,000 and any proceeds or property from the couple's business.
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