By Barbara Boyer
The Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA — A potent type of marijuana known as AK47 - so strong that some users have been treated in emergency rooms for overdoses - has hit the Philadelphia area.
Yesterday, police laid out 16 pounds of the drug they said they confiscated from an alleged high-level dealer who supplied the suburbs: Michael Cascioli, 31, of the 6100 block of City Avenue. He was arrested Monday in his penthouse suite and charged with multiple drug offenses.
Also arrested was Jeremy Sarkissina, 34, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who allegedly showed up with $14,000 to buy drugs while police were executing a search warrant, police said. That money was confiscated as well.
Police put the value of the marijuana at $812,000. On Tuesday, as the probe continued, investigators seized 12 pounds of hallucinogenic mushrooms worth $614,000 and more than $439,000 in cash, police said.
"This was a large-scale smuggling operation," said Philadelphia Police Narcotics Chief Inspector William Blackburn. The drugs came up from South America, down from Canada, and went through New York to reach this area, he said.
"Most of his clients were from the suburbs," Blackburn said of Cascioli, calling his customers "high-end" buyers who purchased by the pound and then sold smaller quantities. "He wasn't selling this stuff on the street level. People would come and buy pretty large amounts of marijuana."
Blackburn said that in marijuana circles, the AK47 strain is called "the one-hit wonder" and "an award-winning drug."
On Planetskunk, a Web site that sells marijuana seeds, AK47 is marketed as a winner of eight awards for its potency, including second place in the 2003 High Times "Cannabis Cup."
Hospitals are seeing more teens in emergency rooms because of the "overdose effects and powerfulness of this drug," Blackburn said, adding that overdoses are not "typical of marijuana, but it's typical of this type of marijuana."
Blackburn said the Narcotics Field Unit started with an investigation last month. A team headed by Officers Tom Liciardello, Jeff Walker and Brian Reynolds then coordinated controlled buys, surveillance and intelligence gathering, said Narcotics Capt. Chris Werner. In addition to the FBI, police also had assistance from Montgomery County and Maryland police.
On Monday, officers moved in on Cascioli in his rented penthouse suite. In addition to the cash and drugs confiscated there, Blackburn said $16,000 was seized from a bank account.
Tuesday, investigators followed up at an apartment that Cascioli rented in Bala Cynwyd, where they confiscated $87,000 in cash. Later that day, they executed a warrant in Columbia, Md., where an additional $320,000 was confiscated in a relative's home, Blackburn said.
Blackburn said police have found small quantities of AK47 before, but never such a large amount at once. Blackburn said the investigation is continuing, including an examination of other assets Cascioli may have.
Copyright 2007 Philadelphia Inquirer
Philly police seize $1.4 mil. in drugs, including 'AK47' weed