2014-01-03 / Front Page

Simi pair arrested in substantial drug bust

Suspects believed to be behind major local methylone operation
By Anna Bitong

A man accused of leading a local drug operation that involved making and selling methylone, a type of the synthetic drug known as bath salts, is facing a litany of felony charges related to multiple narcotics violations after investigators seized more than $400,000 worth of drugs and cash at his homes in Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks last week.

As of press time, charges had not yet been filed against Aaron Lieberman, 23. He was arrested Dec. 26 along with his girlfriend, Samantha Brand, 22, of Simi Valley.

Investigators suspect that Lieberman was supplying most, if not all, methylone for eastern Ventura and western Los Angeles counties. Lieberman and Brand are accused of importing methylone and chemicals to make the drug from China. Because the couple did not procure the drug locally, investigators concluded that Lieberman headed methylone sales in the county.

While police have not confirmed that Lieberman is the only supplier of methylone in the area, Ventura County Assistant Sheriff Gary Pentis told the Acorn that his arrest will have a big impact on sales of the drug.

“He is putting so much of it on the street. He’s the majority of the issue,” the assistant sheriff said. “He’s been involved in drug sales for several years.”

Lieberman, who was on probation for a prior drug-related conviction, was arrested Dec. 26 in Simi Valley while under surveillance by police, who caught him selling 1½ pounds of methylone to another person in Simi Valley, Pentis said. He had previously been seen selling the drug to individuals including other drug dealers in Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks.

Investigators searched Lieberman’s residences in the 900 block of Quimisa Drive in Simi Valley and the 3500 block of Mapleknoll Place in Thousand Oaks in accordance with his probation terms, police said. Brand, who was at the Simi Valley home during the search, was also arrested for possession for sale of methylone.

Following the search, several kilograms of methylone, more than $40,000 in cash, two pill presses, and a large amount of cutting agents, steroids, and a substance suspected to be LSD were seized, according to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. Police also found glassware and other paraphernalia allegedly used to produce ecstasy-type drugs and bath salts.

Methylone, a hallucinogenic drug that mimics the effects of the club drug ecstasy, is typically used by teenagers and young adults and is popular at raves. Known locally as “moon rocks” and “sassafras,” the drug resembles raw brown sugar and is usually swallowed in capsule form.

The Ventura County Interagency Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit—comprised of members of law enforcement from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, the Simi Valley Police Department and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigation—began investigating the use and sales of methylone several months ago after receiving information that a large amount of the drug was being sold in eastern Ventura County and western Los Angeles County, according to a report.

Pentis said that instances of abuse and overdoses of the drug, particularly in the East County, had increased. He said the pharmaceutical crimes unit is trying to identify and stop new trends of drug sales, including sales of methylone and other synthetic drugs.

“That’s part of their direction, to not only deal with illegal drugs but to identify and immediately go after emerging trends with our youth,” Pentis said.

Methylone sales were also brought to the attention of investigators after 20-year-old Alex Pope of Newbury Park crashed his car while driving north along Reino Road in April, killing 23-year-old passenger Nicholas Cwayna of Newbury Park.

Pope had methylone, THC and Xanax in his system at the time of the accident. He was sentenced last week to a maximum of four years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of gross vehicular manslaughter and one count of DUI causing injury, both felonies associated with the April 9 crash, and a misdemeanor DUI charge from a separate incident on Feb. 24.

Pentis said that Lieberman is suspected of being “in the supply chain” to Pope.

After Lieberman’s arrest, he was booked into the Ventura County Main Jail with bail set at $350,000. He is facing up to 10 years in prison, Pentis said. Brand was booked and subsequently bailed out.

The TOPD Special Enforcement Unit, TOPD Bike Patrol Team, and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office West County Street Narcotics Team assisted with the investigation.

Return to top