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Tibor’s Kosher Meats in University Heights was raided Sept. 22, 2020. Faces of law enforcement officers have been blurred intentionally.

Tibor’s Kosher Meats isn’t peddling THC cartridges at its counter, but the purchase of the store in September 2019 may have been financed by them, according to a U.S. attorney.

Eyton Senders, a co-owner of the University Heights butcher market, who listed his occupation as a butcher there in a bank filing, is named in a U.S. civil forfeiture case filed in U.S. District Court in Northern Ohio in Cleveland, which alleges money laundering on his part.

An investigation is under way by the Major Drug Crimes Task Force of Senders and Justen Balay, who the U.S. attorney identified as his partner. No arrests have been made. Senders and Balay operate a multi-million dollar drug trading operation that makes and distributes THC cartridges under the names Dank Vapes and Dankwoods, according to the forfeiture case.

THC cartridges were implicated in lung injury and deaths in 2019 and 2020, which were reported widely at the time. The type of lung injury is known as E-VALI, short for e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury, according to a 2019 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was reported by The Associated Press and The New York Times.

The name Dank Vapes was associated with E-VALI cases in a CDC report. Dank Vapes is not a brand name. Many people manufacture THC cartridges under that name and no single manufacturer has a trademark on it.

In an April 20 email to the Cleveland Jewish News, Dr. Brenna VanFrank, a medical officer for the CDC, explained the name Dank Vapes refers to “a broad class of largely counterfeit THC containing products of unknown origin.”

In an April 19 interview with the CJN, Dr. Michael B. Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University in Boston, credited David Downs, a reporter for Leafly, which covers the marijuana industry, with finding the problem and its source.

While the CDC initially believed the illness stemmed from e-cigarettes, Siegel said Downs first identified the source of the illness as Vitamin E acetate oil, used in “cutting” THC concentrate in cartridges.

“Of course, if you inhale it, it’s going to coat your lungs and not be able to breathe,” said Siegel, adding the oil resembles THC concentrate in its viscosity, so loading THC cartridges with it made it appear the THC content was higher than it was.

“It was a brilliant money-making scheme,” Siegel said of the practice of using the oil as a cutting agent. “I know that Dank Vapes was the most common product reported, but it wasn’t the only one.”

The CDC identified the name Dank Vapes in its Oct. 22, 2019, report about E-VALI.

“Although no single brand name was reported by all patients, a pre-filled THC cartridge sold under the brand name Dank Vapes was reported by 57 (66%) patients,” the report read. “In Wisconsin, two groups of friends (two patients in one group and three in the second group) who became ill after using THC-containing cartridges specifically reported sharing Dank Vapes cartridges. Dank Vapes was the only e-cigarette product reported by one of the patients.”

A CDC report dated Dec. 5, 2019, warned against the use of Vitamin E acetate oil, and as of Feb. 18, 2020, the CDC reported 2,807 cases, with 68 deaths confirmed in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

Since that time, Siegel said, the industry has apparently abandoned use of Vitamin E acetate oil as a cutting agent.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Henry F. DeBaggis II, Senders and Balay have engaged in a “fervent attempt to layer the illicit proceeds through third-party individuals and entities to make the monies appear legitimate,” including Tibor’s Kosher Meats.

Sendies Boys Limited LLC is the holding company of Tibor’s Kosher Meats. The signors of that business bank account were relatives of Senders, according to the U.S. attorney in the forfeiture case.

“...Tibor Meats and its business bank account is a conduit to launder money for Senders,” DeBaggis wrote regarding the Sendies Boys bank account.

Among the deposits into that account was a $100,000 deposit on Sept. 9, 2019, from “one of the third party money launderers used by Dank Vapes DTO in their illegal enterprise.” DeBaggis wrote. “This correlates with the purchase date of Tibor’s Kosher Meats.”

On Sept. 11, 2019, Tibor’s Kosher Meats filed a trade name assignment to Sendies Boys.

Victor Sherman of Victor Sherman PLC in Los Angeles, who represents Balay, had no comment when reached by the CJN April 19.

“Good luck with your article,” he said.

When reached by telephone April 26, a person who identified himself as Eyton Senders promptly hung up when a reporter identified herself.

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