The last suspect in South Florida’s most notorious synthetic-drug ring returned voluntarily on Thursday after living on the lam as a personal trainer in Dubai.
Josue Morales landed at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and was immediately taken into custody by awaiting U.S. marshals and Homeland Security agents. He will be held in the federal detention center and is expected to have his first appearance on drug-conspiracy charges in Miami federal court on Friday.
Over the past two years, deputy marshals had tracked Morales to Mexico, Vietnam, China and ultimately the United Arab Emirates, according to law enforcement sources. He was believed to have been fighting in an underground mixed-martial arts ring in Dubai and working as a personal trainer there.
Morales, 35, was arrested on an international red notice in the United Arab Emirates in early 2017. But authorities in Dubai would not turn him over to the United States because the countries do not have an extradition agreement, so he was released.
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The U.S. State Department eventually revoked his passport, stranding him in Dubai, where he was running out of money and moves. Behind the scenes, deputy marshals had questioned his relatives here and put pressure on them to persuade Morales to return to South Florida.
Recently, Morales called the marshals and started making arrangements to return, pay for his own plane ticket and surrender. The State Department provided him with a temporary passport to make the return trip.
Prosecutors say Morales helped run a large-scale drug ring alongside two tattooed, body-building ex-U.S. soldiers who employed beautiful women and a cast of Miami characters to import Molly and steroids from China.
The story of the “Miami Molly Machine” was first featured as part of the Miami Herald's Pipeline China series, which chronicled a new breed of drug dealers who made their millions ordering synthetic drugs over the internet from clandestine Chinese labs — and using mail services to deliver the drugs in discreet packages.
The wider Molly operation was headed by Jorge Hernandez, a former U.S. Army intelligence specialist who returned home from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and became a fast-living Molly dealer. He was joined by his best friend, Matthew Anich, a former Marine.
Together, the group was suspected of importing hundreds of kilos of methylone and ethylone, euphoric synthetic drugs marketed as Molly among South Florida club-goers. Retail profits could run as high as $30,000 to $40,000 a kilo.
Agents with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations and Miami police learned about the operation after Anich's girlfriend, a porn star known as Selena Rose, tipped off officers to her boyfriend's activities during a squabble. Rose caught the attention of Miami police when she got into an argument with her boyfriend and started jumping up and down naked on his Porsche, which was parked outside Anich’s apartment.
Anich agreed to cooperate with the feds, wearing a wire against Hernandez and others involved in the drug smuggling. Hernandez later agreed to cooperate, too. In all, 14 people associated with the ring were sent to prison.
That didn’t include Morales, who met Hernandez at nightclubs such as Nikki Beach and Space. Investigators believe he introduced Hernandez into the Molly game. Morales ran a North Miami tax preparation business, where his Molly packages arrived, according to federal documents.
When he fled the country in September 2015, Morales was on state probation for grand-theft and organized scheme to defraud.
Among those convicted and sent to prison: Mario Melton, the son of a high-profile Miami-Dade lobbyist; Ashley Sue Morales, a former Hooters waitress who married Josue Morales; Seth Murray, the son of two Miami jail officers; and Carleane Berman, a web cam girl who was lured into the Molly ring by the older Hernandez.