Federal law enforcement authorities have arrested three defendants, and executed 26 search warrants, in a criminal investigation into the sale of nitrous oxide, an inhalant that is commonly available at stores and is often misused as a recreational drug.
Nitrous oxide, known on the street as “laughing gas”, is used for welding or car racing. However, some young people inhale the gas, particularly at rave-style parties, United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. said. The gas is typically filled into balloons from large, compressed cylinders, and can cause death or serious injury. During the past year, several adolescents in the Los Angeles area have been killed in car collisions linked to the use of nitrous oxide, and violent acts have been associated with the inhalation of the gas. Sales of nitrous oxide as a drug have dramatically increased in Southern California over the past five years, according to investigators with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
Three defendants were arrested and charged last week, and authorities are seeking a fourth suspect. The suspects in custody are identified as Edward Valencia, 51; Federico Valencia, 58; and Rose Marie Cuellar, 20. The suspect still at large is identified as William Victor, 65.
“Nitrous oxide is a dangerous inhalant when used for recreational purposes, and we want the public, especially parents, to be aware of its abuse by our youth,” Birotte said. “We also want those who choose to profit from the sale of nitrous oxide as a recreational drug to know that law enforcement is on your trail. We will find you, prosecute you and convict you.”
In addition to the arrests, authorities executed federal search warrants at 17 businesses and on nine delivery vehicles. The federal charge of misbranding a drug is a misdemeanor violation of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and carries a statutory maximum penalty of one year in prison and up to $100,000 in fines upon conviction.
Dubbed “Operation No Laughing Matter”, the arrests are part of an ongoing investigation by the United States Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
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