Nitrous oxide is in your dentists office, and sometimes it makes you feel good. But authorities say the gas is being abused in the rave and party scene.
Today L.A. County Sheriff's officials announced a big anti-nitrous bust they're calling Operation No Laughing Matter. Yep:
A press conference featuring Sheriff Lee Baca and such federal luminaries as U.S. Attorney in L.A. André Birotte Jr. was scheduled for 4:30 p.m. So we don't know a lot yet.
The inclusion of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations makes us think at least some of the raids involved whipped-cream canisters called whip-its that are available at some adult shops. [Added: Nope, see update below]:
A statement by the sheriff's department says law enforcement targeted more than a dozen nitrous "distribution centers."
The gas, also called nos or noz, usually comes in large tanks and is sometimes sold by the balloon out of somebody's trunk in the parking lots of raves. Really.
The sheriff's department said this week that an alleged DUI crash on Monday probably involved a driver under the influence of nitrous. Cops investigating the Lynwood collision said they found a tank in the suspect's car.
We'll keep you posted.
[Update at 4:56 p.m.]: The U.S. Attorney's Office just released details about the operation, including arrests of three people today.
Prosecutors allege that car-tuning shops that sometimes soup up vehicles with nitrous-boost systems illegally obtained and distributed tanks that ended up at raves and parties, essentially.
The office listed four suspects:
William Victor, 65, of Northridge, who is currently being sought by authorities;
Edward Valencia, 51, of Lynwood, who was arrested; and
Federico Valencia, 58, of South Los Angeles, who was arrested.
The third defendant arrested today - Rose Marie Cuellar, 20, of Florence-Graham - is an employee of LA Rush, Inc., which operates stores in Norwalk and Huntington Park.
The first three work at Victor Welding Supply on East 58th Street in South Los Angeles, feds said.
Authorities served 26 search warrants on 17 businesses and nine delivery vehicles, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Prosecutors alleged the defendants ...
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.... as well as a host of storefronts across Los Angeles and Orange counties, as well as the Inland Empire - engaged in "misbranding" of nitrous oxide because they are distributing nitrous oxide for personal use without a prescription and in containers that do not include proper warning labels.
Sheriff's officials said nitrous sales have "dramatically increased" in the last five years and have been connected to car crashes and violence.
The defendants are charged with "misbranding a drug" and could face one year behind bars and fines of $100,000 if successfully prosecuted.