The brightly colored boxes, jurors heard, arrived in the mail from China to Miguel Granda’s West Miami-Dade house.
And inside the packages, federal agents found two kilos of blue flakka, the cheap and powerful stimulant drug that has notoriously driven people mad across South Florida.
In the first flakka importation case to head to trial in South Florida , a federal jury must decide whether Granda broke the law when he agreed to accept $250 cash from a Miami drug dealer for each package mailed to his home.
“The defendant knew something was illegal in the packages and still accepted the packages and the money,” Miami federal prosecutor Anne McNamara told jurors.
The defense countered that the 24-year-old Granda was a “severe addict” manipulated by a seasoned drug dealer who later cut a deal with the feds to shave time off of a prison sentence.
“He never ever told Miguel Granda that the package had drugs,” Miami defense attorney Susan Bozorgi said in opening statements on Monday.
While there have been several other recent flakka importation arrests in South Florida, all so far have accepted plea deals.
Jurors in another federal courtroom on Tuesday began hearing testimony in the unrelated case of a second Miami man charged in a flakka importation case. The defendant: Jerry Lee Harris, is accused of receiving Chinese flakka to a home in Coconut Grove last year.
As for Granda, the government wrapped up its case Tuesday afternoon. Closing arguments and jury deliberations are scheduled for Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno.
Granda’s trial opens a window into the newest wrinkle in South Florida’s drug trade: ordering synthetic drugs from Chinese chemical labs using U.S. mail services. The trade, often plied by tech savvy college students with few connections to traditional drug outfits, was recently spotlighted in the Miami Herald series Pipeline China.
Besides the club-drug known as Molly, the Chinese labs have flooded South Florida with alpha-PVP, known most notoriously as flakka. It was not until October that China finally banned alpha-PVP and over 100 other synthetic drugs.
In Broward County, flakka has been associated with scores of deaths since 2014, often among transient and drug abusers on the streets. Medical experts say the drug elevates the body temperature while sometimes causing hallucinations, all while spurring users to embark on violent and often very public outbursts.
“When you take the drug, it’s going to give you that jacked-up feeling, that super human strength,” testified Fort Lauderdale Police Detective John Loges, who spearheads flakka investigations as part of a federal drug task force.
Loges, who recently accompanied local authorities to China for meetings with law enforcement counterparts there, said it only costs $200 for the Chinese to produce a kilo of flakka. U.S. buyers usually pay between $1,500 and $2,000 a kilo — which can net over $50,000 on the street.
“It’s very lucrative,” Loges said.
In the Granda case, the mastermind was Eudoro Romero, 26, a one-time Comcast cable technician who made his chief income peddling drugs. He testified on Monday that he easily found Chinese websites online to sell him Molly and flakka, wiring them money through Moneygram or Western Union.
Unlike many other synthetic drug importers who use P.O boxes to vacant homes to pick up packages, Romero initially steered his packages to hotels.
In early 2015, Romero — who testified Tuesday wearing a black velvet suit — was living at the EuroSuites Hotel and Residences in Doral, where he paid the concierge to receive packages of flakka shipped to a pseudonym. He testified that he also had packages shipped to the posh Acqualina Resort & Spa in Sunny Isles Beach, where he paid a man named George Monserrat to pick up packages.
Monserrat, who was arrested and is serving five years of probation, is also believed to have picked up Chinese drug packages for an ex-U.S. Army Soldier-turned-Molly-peddler named Jorge Hernandez, who was featured in the Miami Herald in November.
But Romero grew concerned that he was sending too many packages to the hotels. So he got in contact with Granda, a friend from their high-school days. Romero used to sell drugs to Granda back in 2012. He said Granda quickly agreed to receive packages at his mother’s home for $250.
“I told him it was illegal but not to worry about what was inside,” Romero told federal prosecutor Maurice Johnson.
But Romero also admitted that he purposefully avoided telling Granda — a heavy drug user — that flakka was inside the packages.
“I considered him a punk,” Romero said. “I knew he wasn’t going to disappear with the box.”
Federal agents arrested Romero in August. He immediately turned on Granda, providing agents with the tracking numbers for two kilos arriving to the man’s house.
After the drugs were replaced with sham narcotics, an undercover postal inspector delivered the packages to Granda. Homeland Security Investigations Agent Kevin Selent told jurors that Granda cooperated immediately, but didn’t admit he knew the package contained flakka.
“He told me, ‘I think it’s a bomb or a gun,’ ” Selent told jurors.
Miami Herald staff writer Jay Weaver contributed to this report.