Feds: Mobile Ring Laundered Illegal Pot Profits through Casino Chips

Posted on: February 1, 2023, 07:55h. 

Last updated on: February 1, 2023, 07:59h.

This week, Mohammed Zohair Adi became the ninth of 14 suspects indicted in an Alabama drug-smuggling ring to plead guilty to federal drug charges. According to prosecutors in court documents obtained by WALA-TV/Mobile, the ring regularly smuggled high-grade cannabis by the kilo from California, where it’s legal, to Alabama, where it’s not. Their profits were then laundered in a variety of unique ways – including by the purchase and redemption of casino chips.

Casino Chips Smuggler
Damario King was sentented to 6.5 years in federal prison this week for conspiracy to distribute marijuana as part of a complex smuggling ring that purchased and redeemed casino chips to launder its illegal profits. (Image: WALA-TV)

The investigation began in 2019, and continued for months, until Prichard, Ala. police gathered sufficient evidence to pull over a car in which they discovered thousands in cash and a driver who offered contradictory explanations about the loot.

That driver, Damario Kentel King, was sentenced to 6.5 years in federal prison this week for conspiracy to distribute marijuana. King admitted smuggling 400-700 kilograms of marijuana from January 2018 through May 2021.

That’s enough pot to 3.1 million joints.

Their Cash Reeked From Pot

Federal prosecutions of marijuana crimes are relatively rare. However, WALA reported, the level of
criminal sophistication, and the money involved, are what attracted federal authorities to this case. According to King’s plea agreement, he received more than $1 million in unexplained cash income during 2017 and 2018, years for which he filed no federal income tax returns.

Prosecutors allege that drug couriers smuggled marijuana on commercial flights from California to Mobile, Ala. and then transferred the money back to people and entities in California. Some of those entities were involved in real estate and the cannabis business. One was a dummy corporation, called Investors Inc., that Adi had set up in 2012 to resemble a construction firm.

Investors Inc. received more than S100K in deposits made in Mobile, Pensacola, and California from October 2019 to January 2020, according to prosecutors, including some cash that bank employees reported literally reeked from marijuana.

In the Chips

The conspirators also purchased and redeemed casino chips with their profits and deposited money in California bank accounts. Court records did not reveal how much money was laundered through casinos and which casinos facilitated these transactions.

According to WALA, court records describe a complex money-laundering operation involving “structured” financial transactions of less than the $10,000 threshold at which banks are required to report activity to the government.

The investigation led to multiple seizures of cash, and marijuana. During one of those seizures, King and a co-conspirator were arrested with 125 pounds of marijuana – packaged in vacuum-sealed bags hidden in suitcases – when they returned to Mobile from a trip to San Francisco.

Also among the 14 indicted are Jervoris Scarbrough, whom Mobile police in December charged with murder in connection with a 2014 shooting, according to WALA.