Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson has a message for anyone selling or manufacturing kush in the county: Either get out of dodge or prepare to get arrested — and sued.
Anderson, the Houston Police Department and Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Monday yet another successful sting operation targeting the source of the illicit kush business, which has been plaguing Houston streets and parks and thousands of users — not to mention the city’s emergency response resources — for the past few years.
Two kush distributors, Naushad Pradhan and his partner, Rafeeq Panjvany, have been charged with delivery of synthetic cannabinoids (a.k.a. kush, also sometimes erroneously referred to as “synthetic marijuana”). Police seized 131 pounds of kush — or 4,067 ten-gram bags — from a storage facility on the Southwest Freeway the pair were using to stash the drugs, as well as $167,000 in cash. The street value of the drugs was more than $406,000, police said — and at roughly $10 a bag, that’s about 40,600 individual baggies that authorities have stripped from the hands of potential addicts. That’s also in addition to the more than 500 kush users that HPD’s public intoxication team and EMS crews have taken off the streets and brought to sobering centers in the city since late June.
“This is a national epidemic, and there is no silver bullet for dealing with it,” Mayor Turner said. “We are making progress with our comprehensive approach, but there is still much, much work to do until it is under control and no longer taxing our resources.”
Police nabbed Panjvany and Pradhan following a lengthy undercover operation, initiated thanks to an anonymous tip in July that the pair were major kush suppliers. Posing as customers, police inquired with Pradhan about purchasing at first 300 bags of kush and then another order of 600 bags. Lieutenant Mike Waterwall said the undercover officers then met with both Pradhan and Panjvany when they decided to step up their game and ask for 4,000 bags. Ultimately, police obtained search warrants to search Pradhan’s home and the Southwest Freeway storage facility and arrested Pradhan.
Meanwhile, however, Panjvany was not as easy to locate. Waterwall said Panjvany did not appear to know that his partner had been arrested when police conveniently spotted his vehicle right near the facility that police had just seized. Cops followed him there, then arrested him when he got out of the car — even though he said he was just there to “get some clothes,” Waterwall said.
Acting Police Chief Martha Montalvo said the Harris County Attorney’s Office is expected to file a deceptive trade lawsuit against the kush business partners, along with three more similar suits against businesses that have been selling kush to people from under the counter. The lawsuits and the arrests are part of a major ongoing narcotics division initiative to sweep kush and its suppliers from the city, which was launched in late June after 16 people, many of them homeless, overdosed on kush in Hermann Park.
Montalvo said 46 arrests have been made since the initiative began, with hundreds of pounds of kush seized along with $2.5 million in related assets.
“Since a few months ago when the mayor announced an aggressive plan to improve public safety, particularly in our parks, by addressing the kush epidemic, the Houston Police Department officers and the park rangers have been very vigilant in ensuring our parks become safe again for families. And I think we have been very successful in that arena,” Montalvo said. “But we knew that, in order to make a stronger impact, we would have to concentrate on the supply side.”
For more on how the city’s kush epidemic has been affecting people on the streets and affecting city resources, see our cover story last month, “How Houston Became Kush City.”