- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A college professor at the University of Houston was among the more than a dozen individuals arrested Tuesday in connection with an international synthetic marijuana ring.

Omar Maher Al Nasser, 36, faces two criminal counts related to a synthetic drug operation detailed by authorities in a lengthy indictment unsealed Tuesday in the Southern District of Texas.

Mr. Al Nasser worked as an assistant professor of finance for the University of Houston-Victoria’s School of Business Administration at the time of his arrest, and he was responsible for teaching up to 40 students as of Tuesday, UHV President Vic Morgan told the Victoria Advocate.

Sixteen individuals in all are named in the indictment, and Mr. Al Nasser was one of 12 arrested Tuesday in the greater Houston area, authorities said. Together, officials say the co-defendants were involved in the manufacturing and distribution of Schedule I drugs — namely synthetic marijuana, also known as “Kush.”

In announcing the unsealing of the 13-count indictment, authorities said they had seized around 9.5 tons of synthetic marijuana and chemicals in the process of pulling the plug on the drug ring.

While some of the individuals accused of participating in the operation face charges ranging from smuggling goods into the United States and conspiring to commit mail fraud, Mr. Al Nasser only faces two counts: aiding and abetting an unlicensed money-transmitting business, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

If convicted, the college professor faces up to 20 years behind bars and a six-figure fine.

“The University of Houston-Victoria takes this matter very seriously and will fully cooperate with law enforcement on all aspects of their investigation. As more information becomes available, UHV officials will consider action appropriate to the situation,” the school said in a statement to Eyewitness News.

Mr. Morgan, the school’s president, told the Victoria Advocate that a replacement will be sought out so that Mr. Al Nasser’s students at the University of Houston’s Sugar Land campus can finish their courses while their professor is under indictment.

The professor holds a doctorate in finance from the University of Texas-Pan American in 2009, and previously received a bachelor’s in accounting and finance from Yarmouk University in Jordan and a Master of Business Administration from UHV in 2004, according to his LinkedIn page.

According to the indictment, several of the professor’s alleged co-conspirators were involved in a “scheme to defraud” by marketing harmful, synthetic cannabinoids as if they were safe.

“Some of the products were allegedly labeled as ‘potpourri’ or ‘incense,’ with some including false information such as ‘100% legal,’ ‘lab certified’ or ‘not for human consumption,’ ” the Department of Justice said in a statement Tuesday.

“According to the charges, these products were, in fact, dangerous drugs,” the Justice Department said.

Tuesday’s arrests were the culmination of a multi-agency investigation that brought together local law enforcement in Texas with the IRS, FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, authorities said.

“This operation highlights an intentional and deliberate effort to cut off and shut down the supply of synthetic cannabinoids trafficked by callous dealers and the corresponding negative impact that this horrific drug inflicts on our communities,” DEA Special Agent in Charge Joseph Arabit said.

In addition to the 12 individuals arrested in Texas, authorities apprehended a resident of Virginia and a resident of California in connection with the charges. Two others, Ziad Mahmoud Alsalameh and Aqil Khader, were considered fugitives as of Tuesday.

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