More than 3,000 pounds of cannabis with an estimated street value of $6 million was seized by law enforcement officials executing a search warrant in April 2021 in Spring Valley, Calif.—roughly 10 miles east of San Diego.
The targeted operation, known as “Cannaland,” functioned primarily as a wholesale cannabis supplier to unlicensed dispensaries in Southern California, according to the Department of Justice’s U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of California. Cannaland also operated as an illicit cannabis retailer in its own right, serving individual customers, according to the DOJ.
In connection with that operation, Shahram “Sean” Sheikhan, 52, of Las Vegas, and Sabriana Williams, 26, of San Diego, were charged with conspiracy to distribute cannabis. Maximum penalties included 40 years in prison with a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and a $5-million fine for Sheikhan, and 20 years in prison with a $1-million fine for Williams.
Sheikhan and Williams pleaded guilty in federal court to drug distribution charges on June 30, 2022, joining several others in the district who have pleaded guilty to various drug, firearm and money laundering charges in federal court as part of an ongoing investigation by federal and state authorities targeting unlicensed dispensaries throughout Southern California.
“Over the last two years, federal and state law enforcement targeted the operation of dozens of illegal, unlicensed marijuana dispensaries in San Diego County in order to enforce the law and curtail the related crime alleged in this case,” Randy S. Grossman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, said in a June 30 press release from his office.
The law enforcement agencies involved with the investigation include the FBI, San Diego County Sherriff’s Department, San Diego and Chula Vista police departments, and Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI).
FBI Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy said the federal bureau is committed to keeping communities safe from the “vast array of violent crimes” as well as the criminal activities that accompany illicit cannabis establishments through its law enforcement partners.
“It’s these ongoing partnerships which enable law enforcement from around the county to be agile and able to handle these types of cases using a variety of investigative techniques with different prosecutive options,” Moy said in the DOJ press release.
In the Cannaland case, Sheikhan and Williams, along with others, operated the unlicensed business from at least 2019 through 2022, according to the DOJ.
Following the search warrant that resulted in the seizure of 3,000 pounds of cannabis in Spring Valley, along with five firearms, Sheikhan and Williams allegedly replaced the firearms for Cannaland’s armed guards and continued to operate their business and distribute “vast amounts of marijuana,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
As part of their plea agreements, Sheikhan and Williams admitted that the amount of cannabis distributed through the business during the course of the conspiracy exceeded 3,000 kilograms (or roughly 6,600 pounds), according to the attorney’s office.
The primary motivation of drug traffickers is greed, Ryan Korner, special agent in charge of the Los Angeles Field Office of IRS-CI, said in the DOJ release.
“They don’t care how their actions negatively impact innocent people, the community, or our society,” Korner said. “The role of IRS-CI is to fully dismantle these criminal organizations by following the money that fuels the drug trade, and ultimately ensure that the peddlers of these illicit drugs do not reap the benefits of their criminal activity.”
To date, Southern California law enforcement officials have executed dozens of search warrants and charged more than 30 people with violating state and federal law.
As a result of the joint effort in San Diego County, nearly 30,000 pounds of cannabis and cannabis products have been seized, as well as 68 firearms, and millions of dollars of currency, jewelry and other valuables, according to the DOJ release. Nearly 30 unlicensed cannabis retailers and wholesalers have been shut down as a result.
In addition to Sheikhan and Williams, two groups of individuals recently pleaded guilty in federal court.
Lance Kachi, 33, Michael Yono, 32, Avrin Yakou, 30, and Fabian Yakou, 26, all of San Diego, and others, oversaw multiple unlicensed dispensaries that would each generate up to $25,000 daily, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. That group grossed millions of dollars in revenue from their 24/7 retail operation, according to the attorney’s office.
In May 2022, the individuals in that quartet pleaded guilty to various drug, firearms and money laundering charges in connection with multiple search warrants that law enforcement officials executed in July 2021, according to the attorney’s office.
Also in May 2022, a second group, comprised of four Shamoun brothers—Sean, 32, Alvin, 41, Vincent, 39, and Andrew, 35, all of San Diego—pleaded guilty in federal court to charges stemming from their wholesale distribution of cannabis products to unlicensed dispensaries, from Los Angeles to San Diego, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“Operating under the name of Babylon’s Garden, the Shamoun brothers manufactured a variety of marijuana products at a warehouse in San Diego, which they would deliver directly to dispensaries or ship in the United States mail,” the June 30 DOJ release stated. “The Shamoun brothers admitted that their operation was responsible for the manufacturing and distribution of more than 3,000 kilograms of marijuana.”
In their plea agreements, the 10 defendants referenced in this article admitted they had an obligation to report their income to the IRS and California state tax authorities, as well as pay taxes, which they failed to do, according to the June 30 release. In addition, the individuals agreed to forfeit seized cash, which currently exceeds $5 million.
Sheriff deputies, investigators and analysts committed countless hours to the joint investigation and eradication effort, Kelly Martinez, undersheriff of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, said in the release.
“Today’s outcome is a culmination of the dedication of federal, state and local law enforcement partnerships in the region, which are the hallmark of public safety in San Diego,” Martinez said. “East San Diego County is safer today because of this hard work.”