The final suspect in South Florida's most infamous synthetic-drug ring spent years crisscrossing the globe as a fugitive before winding up in Dubai, where he worked as a personal trainer and fought in an underground mixed-martial arts ring.
On Wednesday, Josue Morales learned where he’ll be spending the next chapter of his life: federal prison, for five years.
A federal judge sentenced Morales, 36, for helping run the large drug ring alongside two tattooed, body-building former U.S. soldiers. The crew employed beautiful women and a cast of Miami characters to import “Molly” and steroids from China.
Morales pleaded guilty to conspiracy to sell ethylone, one of the Chinese-made synthetic drugs sometimes marketed as Molly.
Their story was first featured as part of the Miami Herald's Pipeline China series, which chronicled a new wave of drug dealers who made their millions ordering synthetic drugs such as “Molly” over the internet from clandestine Chinese labs — and using mail services to deliver the drugs in discreet packages.
The ringleaders were Jorge Hernandez, a former U.S. Army intelligence specialist who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his best friend, Matthew Anich, a former U.S. 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, more than a dozen people associated with the ring were sent to prison.
Morales, who met Hernandez at nightclubs such as Nikki Beach and Space, was the one who introduced Hernandez into the Molly game. Morales ran a North Miami tax preparation business, where his Molly packages arrived, according to federal documents.
Over the past two years, deputy marshals tracked Morales to Mexico, Vietnam, China and ultimately the United Arab Emirates. He was finally extradited to South Florida in October.
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.