A University of Houston-Victoria professor was one of 14 people arrested Tuesday as part of a multi-agency federal investigation into trafficking of synthetic marijuana.
Omar Maher Al Nasser, 36, is an assistant professor of finance for the University of Houston-Victoria's School of Business Administration.
According to a news release by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Houston, Al Nasser is suspected of assisting the alleged drug ring in moving money to bank accounts outside the country and failing to comply with federal money transmitting registration requirements.
Federal agents have seized about 9.5 tons of drugs and chemicals. And although a Houston federal grand jury indicted 16 people, two remain fugitives.
The alleged drug ring is suspected of importing chemicals, combining them with plant material and then selling the drugs in Houston-area stores as packaged synthetic marijuana.
The U.S. Attorney's Office described the case as a "multi-year, multi-agency federal investigation into one of the largest cannabinoid trafficking enterprises in the country."
According to a news release by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic marijuana was recently made illegal, but some manufacturers have found ways to sidestep the drug's illegality by subtly changing the chemical's formula.
Al Nasser's role in the alleged drug ring was primarily financial. Of the 13 counts listed in the indictment, which was unsealed Tuesday, Al Nasser was charged in two.
He is charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the funds involved.
Al Nasser is also charged with aiding and abetting an unlicensed money transmitting business. That crime is punishable by a 5-year sentence and a $250,000 fine.
UHV President Vic Morgan said the university will cooperate fully with law enforcement and aid investigators by providing all requested information.
Although Al Nasser was arrested Tuesday, Morgan said a replacement would be found to teach the professor's classes. He was teaching courses at the University of Houston's Sugar Land campus, where some UHV courses are taught.
The university president said Al Nasser was likely teaching three courses for about 40 students at the time of his arrest. He began working for UHV as an adjunct faculty member of finance in June 2008 in Sugar Land, according to his LinkedIn page.
According to his biography on the UHV website, he obtained a doctorate in finance from the University of Texas-Pan American in 2009. The assistant professor received a bachelor's degree from Yarmouk University in Jordan for accounting and finance in 2001, and he obtained a Master of Business Administration from UHV in 2004.
Al Nasser has taught 3000, 4000 and 6000 level courses on a variety of financial topics, such as business finance, international finance and real estate finance. His research interests include international finance, financial economics, financial markets and institutions, and international trade.