Sugar Land businessman sentenced to 11 years for operating kush lab and distribution network
A Sugar Land businessman who literally made piles of cash manufacturing synthetic drugs at a rural ranch was sentenced to more than ten years in federal prison Monday for operating a multimillion dollar kush manufacturing and distribution operation.
U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller said in determining Muhammad Shariq Siddiqi’s sentence he factored the defendant’s help in providing key information in an unrelated federal fraud investigation.
But the judge also noted that Siddiqi had marketed his packages of chemical-coated resembling marijuana leaf to children, using brands like Angry Birds and Hello Kitty. Miller sentenced Siddiqi to more than 11 years in custody to be followed by three years on supervised release and agreed to dismiss five other charges.
Defense attorney Kent Schaffer told the judge he anticipated Siddiqi would be deported to his native Pakistan after he was released from prison. He also told the judge he had no intention of disputing that his client broke the law and knew he was doing so.
Siddiqi, 49, who wore shaded glasses, was handcuffed and shackled in an orange jail uniform as he recited a written statement in a rapid-fire monotone.
“I would like to apology to my family, friends … for the pain and embarrassment that I have caused them,” Siddiqi said. “I am remorseful and I am …humbled by what happened.”
The businessman expressed sadness at not being able to see his sons graduate.
Siddiqi’s longtime girlfriend, Ayisha Khurram, the longrime girlfriend of Siddiqi who alos pleaded guilty to involvement in the scheme, appeared in court shortly before his hearing. She lodged fairly new accusations that Siddiqi had burned her, attempted to blackmail her with nude photos and threatened her life.
The judge reset her sentencing to Wednesday so he could ask Siddiqi about the allegations. Eleven other participants in the kush scheme are scheduled to be sentenced later this week, wrapping up an investigation into a dangerous street drug that caused dozens of overdoses in Houston.
Siddiqi, the father of three children and four step children, got into the cannabinoid-making business as a result of his business holdings. Vendors visited the gas stations he owned and asked if he would be interested in selling the popular foil wrapped packets of the synthetic drug, his lawyer said following the hearing. They sold very quickly so he took on more product. When Siddiqi learned the drugs were made locally, he decided he would get in on that aspect of the business as well, Schaffer said.
Siddiqi ran a kush lab at a farm in Onalaska that he co-owned with his mistress, Khurram. Federal agents intercepted a U-Haul van leaving that property loaded with 813 pounds of raw kush in plastic garbage bags. A special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration testified the haul could have been stretched exponentially to manufacture massive amounts of the smokable drug.
When agents searched Siddiqi’s home where he lived with his wife and seven children, they found drug-making materials and more than $700,000 in cash, an amount his wife said wasn’t particularly spectacular for him. Police were also tipped off to the kingpin’s cash flow when Siddiqi’s son began passing out $100 bills to his middle school classmates.
At sentencing, the federal prosecutor said Siddiqi’s actions were “despicable,” and any plea for additional leniency for this head of household should be counterbalanced by the fact that he intentionally set out to market his drugs to young children.
Khurram, his girlfriend at the time, pleaded guilty to supervising the workers in the kush manufacturing business. At her Sugar Land home, where she lived with her husband, police found synthetic products from China addressed directly to the house.
Heriberto Medrano, her new defense attorney for Khurram, asked his client to show the judge her forearm, where Medrano said Siddiqi had burned her by holding her hand to a burning hot stove. He waved a thick manilla envelope at the judge, saying it contained x-rated photographs of Khurram that Siddiqi threatened to use against her. The lawyer also said that Siddiqi crashed his car into hers and he took out a $500,000 life insurance policy for Khurram where Siddiqi was listed as the only beneficiary.
“Mr. Siddiqi had told her, ‘This is what happens to you when you don’t listen. This is how much money I’m going to make from you if you disappear or someone kills you. This is how I’m going to go ahead and punish you,’” Medrano told the judge.
Siddiqi’s lawyer later explained the photos were from a romantic vacation the couple took to Dubai. Khurram paid installments on the life insurance policy which Siddiqi set up to protect her, the lawyer said.