Photos and details of a three-county crackdown on purported racing performance businesses that allegedly sold nitrous oxide so people could huff the gas and get high at parties were released Friday, including images from a raid at a Cerritos business on Piuma Avenue.
Deputies and federal agents went to BPG Performance at 16303-1/2 Piuma on March 22 and seized about 24 nitrous oxide tanks, Los Angeles County sheriff's personnel said in a statement.
They also arrested Joshua Green, 42, of Cardiff, on suspicion of possessing narcotics for sales, including cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, marijuana, hashish, Xanax and other substances that were to be tested, deputies said.
Green allegedly arrived in a car at BPG Performance to fill several tanks with nitrous oxide, and he was carrying about $4,000 cash, deputies said. He was arrested at 5 p.m. March 22 and booked at the sheriff's Cerritos Station, and he was released later the same day on $30,000 bail, according to L.A. County inmate records.
The raid at BPG Performance was part of a crackdown involving more than 200 deputies and federal agents who served search warrants at 17 locations across Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Other men accused and arrested from Northridge, Lynwood and South Los Angeles were selling nitrous oxide ostensibly as a "booster" in sports cars but in reality they were allegedly distributing nitrous oxide solely for recreational drug use, federal officials said.
"Nitrous oxide is being sold by stores across Southern California that purport to sell the gas for welding or car racing applications, but in fact are merely distributing a drug used by young people at rave-style parties," Department of Justice officials said in a statement March 22.
Deputies and federal agents used Cerritos Regional Park as a command post during their crackdown, which they called "Operation No Laughing Matter."
A criminal complaint charged defendants associated with Victor Welding Supply on East 58th Street in South Los Angeles, justice officials said.
According to a criminal complaint and an 82-page affidavit signed by Special Agent Lisa Hartsell with the federal Food and Drug Administration, between April 3, 2009, and Nov. 23, 2012, William Victor, Edward Valencia and Federico Valencia dispensed nitrous oxide, a prescription drug, without prescriptions and without required labeling.
Other businesses named in the affidavit were in communities including Gardena, North Hills, Carson, Garden Grove, South Gate, Santa Ana, Corona, Riverside, Norwalk and Huntington Park.
"Nitrous oxide is a dangerous prescription drug that is inhaled by recreational users," typically from balloons that are filled from metal cylinders containing the compressed gas, federal officials said.
"The drug can cause many significant and debilitating side effects, including, in extreme cases, death," federal officials said "During the past year, several adolescents in the Los Angeles region have been killed in car accidents linked to the use of nitrous oxide, and acts of violence have been associated with the inhalation or sale of the drug."
Sales of nitrous oxide as a drug have "dramatically increased" in Southern California over the past five years, according to the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.
Criminal complaints allege the four defendants and storefronts in L.A. and Orange counties and 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," federal officials said.
The prescription drug has legitimate uses, such as an anesthesia. But its use by people seeking quick rushes and giddiness can have severe consequences.
"At high and prolonged exposure levels, nitrous oxide is an asphyxiant that can cause death from a lack of oxygen," federal officials said. "The illegal use of nitrous oxide can also lead to spasms, convulsions and other health problems."
The sheriff's Electronic Communication Unit, which observes open source social media sites from the Sheriff's Headquarters Bureau, has located more than 350 illegal parties that openly advertised nitrous oxide on social media, L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca said March 22.