Casino Chips Used by Mobile Ring to Launder Illegal Pot Profits, Feds Say
Posted: February 1, 2023, 7:55 a.m.
Last update: February 1, 2023, 8:52 a.m.
Damario Kentel King was sentenced this week to 6.5 years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute marijuana. The 35-year-old Mobile, Alabama resident admitted to smuggling 400 to 700 kilograms of marijuana from January 2018 to May 2021 – enough to roll more than 3 million joints.
Damario King was sentenced to 6.5 years in federal prison this week for conspiring to distribute marijuana as part of a complex Alabama smuggling ring that bought and traded casino chips to launder his illegal profits . (Picture: WALA-TV)
King was part of a complex criminal operation that routinely smuggled high-quality cannabis by the pound from California, where it’s legal, to Alabama, where it’s not. Profits from the operation were then laundered in a variety of unique ways, including through the purchase and redemption of casino chips.
According to prosecutors in court documents obtained by WALA-TV/Mobile, the investigation began in 2019 and continued for months, until police in Prichard, Alabama gathered enough evidence to arrest a car in which they discovered thousands of dollars in cash, and a driver, King, who offered conflicting explanations for the loot.
So far, 14 suspects have been charged in connection with the operation. Among them is Mohammed Zohair Adi, who this week became the ninth suspect to plead guilty to federal drug charges.
Their money reeked of pot
Federal prosecutions for marijuana-related crimes are relatively rare. However, according to WALA, the level of criminal sophistication and the money involved are what drew federal authorities to this case. According to King’s plea agreement, he received more than $1 million in unexplained cash earnings in 2017 and 2018, years for which he did not file any federal tax returns.
Prosecutors allege King and other couriers smuggled marijuana on commercial flights from California to Mobile and then transferred the money to individuals and entities in California. Some of these entities were involved in real estate and the cannabis business. One was a shell company, called Investors Inc., which Adi started in 2012 to look like a construction company.
Investors Inc. received more than $100,000 in deposits made in Mobile, Pensacola and California from October 2019 to January 2020, prosecutors say, including money that bank employees said literally reeked of the marijuana.
The conspirators also bought and traded casino chips with their profits and deposited money in California bank accounts. WALA did not say whether court records revealed how much money was laundered through the casinos or which casinos facilitated those transactions.
According to WALA, court records describe a complex money laundering operation. These were “structured” financial transactions below the $10,000 threshold at which banks are required to report their activities to the government.
The investigation led to multiple seizures of cash and marijuana. During one such seizure, King and a co-conspirator were arrested with 125 pounds of marijuana — packed in vacuum-sealed bags stashed in suitcases — when they returned to Mobile from a trip to San Francisco.
Among the 14 charged are also Jervoris Scarbrough, who Mobile Police charged in December with murder in connection with a 2014 shooting, according to WALA.