Earlier this month Khaled Azzam, a 29-year-old man from New York, was sentenced to four years in prison after admitting he shipped drugs that are similar to fentanyl and bath salts to the Syracuse area from China.
As stated by the court files, agents suspected that Azzam was buying the drugs from Chinese manufacturers via people he met on the dark web.
Due to the FIRST STEP Act signed into law by U.S. President Donald Trump in December, Azzam avoided a longer prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Case Background & Investigation
The investigators used different types of methods such as undercover deals, confidential informants and surveillance to arrest Azzam and a person that was accused of working alongside him to receive the packages.
When the investigators tested the drugs, they found out that Azzam was not receiving the Molly and fentanyl he ordered, and instead, he was getting synthetic drugs that were designed to simulate them.
As a confidential informant, the investigators utilized the runner of the stash house, who told them Azzam was a supplier.
The informant agreed to wear a wire and do an undercover transaction. He then ordered a kilogram of fentanyl worth $25,000 from Azzam.
In order to have the fentanyl shipped to Central New York, Azzam sent money to the provider in China, a connection he met through the dark web.
Later, he sold the drugs to the informant at a Dunkin Donuts.
Investigators found that Azzam was sending drugs to his family’s home located in Liverpool (a lakeside village in Onondaga County, New York), to acquaintances in the area and to a Metro PCS store where he worked.
Agents also arrested 30-year-old Syracuse resident Vincent Testa, who had helped Azzam by receiving the drug shipments that were sent to his home.
Azzam gave him $500 every time he received a package of drugs or sent money to China.
A package that Azzam ordered and was supposed to be shipped to Testa’s house in Syracuse was accidentally sent to Rochester due to a mislabeled address.
The investigators gained access to the package and found that instead of Molly, it contained dibutylone, a pink synthetic compound similar to bath salts.
In 2017, Azzam pleaded guilty to money laundering and conspiring to distribute drugs. According to court records, Azzam said that he was full of regret and that his involvement with drugs was a “reckless” decision.
Reducing the Sentence Under New Federal Law
Thanks to the FIRST STEP Act that President Trump signed into law in December 2018, Azzam avoided a longer prison sentence. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he was facing up to 10 years in prison.
The aim of the FIRST STEP Act, a federal sentencing reform bill, is to reduce the number of people in prison.
It does that by shortening mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses.
The main goal of the law is to reform the criminal justice system and to ease punitive prison sentences at a federal level.
Although Azzam didn’t qualify for a reduction of his sentence under the FIRST STEP Act because he pleaded guilty prior to its enactment, Kimberly Zimmer, his defense attorney, argued for the adjustment.
The prosecutors agreed that his sentence should be adjusted due to interests of fairness, or what they called a “safety valve” measure.
Northern District of New York Judge Glenn Suddaby agreed to a 51-month prison sentence (which amounts to just over four years) and ordered three years of supervision upon Azzam’s release.
Azzam’s accomplice, Vincent Testa, was sentenced to seven years in prison earlier this year. He faced additional prison time because of his prior felony convictions.