JULY 01 (CHARLOTTE, N.C.) –Three separate criminal indictments and a criminal complaint charging 30 men and women with conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute synthetic drugs and related charges have been unsealed in U.S. District Court, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.
The indictments and criminal complaint are the result of joint local, state and federal investigations into head shops operating in Mecklenburg, Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania and Mitchell Counties. According to filed court documents and court proceedings, the head shops sold synthetic drugs, such as synthetic marijuana, commonly referred to as “K2” or “Spice” and/or synthetic cathinones, commonly referred to as “Bath Salts.”
The federal indictments and the criminal complaint remained sealed until the named defendants were arrested by law enforcement over a two-day period.
Harry S. Sommers, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division stated, “The rise of synthetic drug use in the United States alone has reached epidemic proportions and has resulted in a sustained rise in emergency room visits, deaths, and violence among teens and young adults. DEA and its law enforcement partners will continue to attack this issue aggressively. Many thanks to the joint efforts by all law enforcement personnel involved.”
“Masking synthetic drugs with creative names and deceptive packaging does not change the fact that these substances are illegal, highly addictive and potentially deadly to those who use them. Whether such drugs are sold in Asheville, Spruce Pine or Charlotte, let it be known that the law enforcement community stands united in the fight against these harmful chemicals that wreak havoc in our communities and pose serious health risks, particularly among young people,” said U.S. Attorney Tompkins.
“The sale of synthetic drugs has become a growing epidemic nationwide,” said Brock D. Nicholson, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Atlanta, which oversees offices in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. “These drugs are made from a variety of dangerous chemical compounds that are not meant for human consumption. These arrests send a clear message to synthetic drug distributors that HSI and our law enforcement partners will utilize every resource available to ensure these activities are thwarted.”
High Life Smoke Shops
A criminal complaint charged the owners of High Life Smoke Shops and their co-conspirators with conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute a quantity of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of synthetic cathinones. According to filed court documents, from the Spring of 2012 through the present, the co-conspirators sold synthetic marijuana and bath salts at six head shops throughout Charlotte and surrounding areas. The synthetic drugs were sold under brand names such as “Blue Kush, “Zombie Matter,” “Demon Free Ritual Sachet,” “Sonic Zero” and “Red Dragon.” At least two of the co-conspirators owned “Dark Matter, Inc.,” a company that manufactured synthetic substances containing “alpha-PVP,” which is a banned substance. Those drugs were labeled “Zumos,” “Velocity” and “Xantopia” and were marketed as dietary supplements sold at the head shops and over the internet, court records indicate.
The defendants are:
Sonia Sudhir Thaker, 35, of Charlotte.
Imran Yaseen, 45, of Mooresville, N.C.
Gautam Savla, 33, of Charlotte.
Jeffrey B. Davies, II, 34, of Charlotte.
Poojan Patel, 28, of Charlotte.
Court documents show that the drug conspirators stored and distributed the synthetic drugs from two Charlotte-area warehouses. Court records indicate that along with the illegal drugs, the co-conspirators stored at the warehouses other drug paraphernalia, such as glass pipes, which were also sold at the head shops.
“We have to protect our community, especially our youth, from being exposed to synthetic drugs in any way possible,” said Chief Rodney Monroe, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. “With regional operations, we’re sending a strong message that illegal activities like these will not be tolerated and thereby jeopardizing the well-being of our citizens.”
Octopus Garden Smoke Shops
A criminal indictment charged the owner of the Octopus Garden Smoke Shops, seven store managers and seven employees with conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute a quantity of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of synthetic marijuana and related charges. According to the indictment, the alleged conduct occurred between September 2011 and December 2012 in Buncombe, Henderson and Transylvania counties. The synthetic marijuana was sold at Octopus Gardens’ seven locations under brand names such as “Mind Eraser”, “Caution-Chronic 20x,”,“Crippler,” “Dead and Berry’d,” “Krypt Twilight Zone,” “Black Rain,” “Vesuvius,” “Bizzaro,” “Tales from the Krypt,” “Voo Doo Child,” “Zeus Gods of Aroma,” “F.U.B.A.R,”, “7H Kush”, “O.G. Kush,” “O.G. Kush II”, “Avalanche”, “Hades,” “Gro-Hi,” “Poseiden,” “Head Hunter,” “Be Marley,” “Armageddon,” and “Defcon .” The named defendants are:
Gregory Scott Casey, age 38, of Asheville, N.C.
James Scott Covington, Jr., age 28, of Asheville.
Patricia Davis, age 54, of Asheville.
Richard William Delalio, Jr., age 31, of Asheville.
George Coleman Freiberg, age 32, of Arden, N.C.
Kristi Diane Key, age 41, of Asheville.
Peter Andrew Kunza, age 26, of Weaverville, N.C.
Gerald William Locklear, age 60, of Asheville.
Muriel Annette Ring, age 32, of Maggie Valley, N.C.
Zachary Adam Shuford, age 33, of East Flat Rock, N.C.
Sidney David Tureff, age 85, of Asheville.
Jeffery Shane Vendernick, age 44, of Asheville.
Jessica Michelle Webb, age 27, of Candler, N.C.
Timothy Gary Wilson, age 30, of Asheville.
All defendants except Delalio and Ring are also charged with selling or offering to sell drug paraphernalia, such as glass pipes, intended for use in inhaling a controlled substance. Casey and Locklear are also charged with money laundering. During the course of the investigation law enforcement seized over $700,000 in cash and 247 ounces of silver, four vehicles and drug paraphernalia. The indictment includes a notice of forfeiture, which gives notice that the defendants must forfeit to the United States all of the property, currency and monetary instruments involved in the offenses charged in the indictment, and all property, currency and monetary instruments which are proceeds of such offenses.
“We hope by pursuing these cases as well as the new synthetic drug law that will go into effect on July 1, 2013, we will be able to curtail the sale of these very dangerous substances,” stated Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan.
“I would like to commend all the agencies involved for their tireless work and cooperative efforts in disrupting the flow of synthetic drugs into the streets of Western North Carolina,” said Henderson County Sheriff Charles S. McDonald. “Anyone wishing to establish a ‘head shop’ or similar type of business should not look to Henderson County as a community where they will be welcome or overlooked by law enforcement,” Sheriff McDonald added.
Synthetic marijuana has been a problem we have dealt with for some time. It has caused many problems for its users in Transylvania County. I appreciate the partnership we have enjoyed with HSI and the US Attorney's Office during this investigation. The results of this investigation demonstrate the success that great partnerships can bring and these results will make a big impact in Transylvania County,” said Transylvania County Sheriff David Mahoney.
The investigation into Octopus Garden was handled by the Department of Homeland Security (HSI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office, the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office, the Buncombe County Anti-Crime Task Force, and the Transylvania County Narcotics Task Force.
Pandora’s Dreams Smoke Shop
A separate criminal indictment charged seven defendants with conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute a quantity of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of synthetic cathinones and related charges. According to that indictment, the alleged conduct occurred in Mitchell and Mecklenburg Counties from July 2012 to May 2013. The Bath Salts were sold at Pandora’s Dreams head shop in Spruce Pine, N.C., under brand names such as “White Water Rapids”, “Snowman”, “Super Glass Cleaner”, “Anti Monkey Butt Powder”, “Dragon”, and “Bushman’s Repellant.” The named defendants are:
Matt Davis, age 32, of Charlotte.
Kelly Higgins, age 24, of Burnsville, N.C.
John Newberry, age 40, of Spruce Pine, N.C.
Albert Tomes, age 41, of Bakersville, N.C.
Tina Tomes, age 43, of Bakersville.
Kevin Vickers, age 22, of Bakersville.
Lori Watts, age 46, of Spruce Pine.
Newberry, Watts, Albert Tomes and Tina Tomes are also charged with selling or offering to sell drug paraphernalia, such as glass pipes, intended for use in inhaling a controlled substance. Matt Davis and Tina Tomes are also charged with money laundering. The indictment includes a notice of forfeiture, which gives notice that the defendants must forfeit to the United States all of the property, currency and monetary instruments involved in the offenses charged in the indictment, and all property, currency and monetary instruments which are proceeds of such offenses, including over $45,000 in cash, a vehicle, and a firearm seized during the course of the investigation.
Mitchell County Sheriff Donald Street said, “I am very thankful for the assistance from the federal authorities on closing down these head shops. Our local head shop was creating a real nightmare for our county and was destroying many people’s lives along the way. The arrest of the individuals involved in these businesses will hopefully show them and others the consequences of selling these very dangerous substances. This investigation is perfect example of what can be accomplished when local, state and federal authorities work together to solve problems in our local communities.”
“Synthetic cathinones (bath salts) and synthetic cannabinoids are two of the most widely abused drugs in Yancey County. My office has seen a large increase in the number of users of these controlled substances over the past couple of years. I feel like this is directly related to the fact that these drugs were very easy to obtain in both Mitchell and Buncombe Counties. Also, typically users of these controlled substances had the impression that these substances were ‘legal’ to purchase and possess. I would like to thank everyone for their assistance in this investigation,” said Yancey County Sheriff Gary Banks.
The investigation into Pandora’s Dreams was handled by the DEA, the Mitchell County Sheriff’s Office, the Yancey County Sheriff’s Office and the Spruce Pine Police Department.
Just Like That Smoke Shop
The third indictment filed in the Western District charged Scott Baddock, age 47, of Inman, S.C.; Isam Jaradat, age 40, of Mars Hill, N.C.; and Hermant Sahney, age 53, of Fletcher, N.C. with conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute a quantity of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of synthetic cathinones and a quantity of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of synthetic marijuana. According to that indictment, the alleged conduct occurred in Buncombe and Henderson Counties between June 2012 and January 2013. The “Bath Salts” were sold at the Just Like That Smoke Shop in Weaverville, N.C. and elsewhere, under brand names such as “Snake Eyes”, “Eight Ballz”, “White Girl”, “White Angel”, “Ivory Wave Bath Salts”, “Tran Quility Bath Salts”, “Diamond Dust”, “Loco Motion Bath Salts” and “Bang Bath Salts”. The “K2” was sold at Just Like That Smoke Shop and elsewhere, under brand names such as “Cool Beanz”, “Krypt”, “Purple Diesel Hydro”, “Nugz Hipnotic”, “Spectacular”, “Zero Gravity”, “Hydro Purple Haze”, “Mr. Nice”, “Zombie Breath”, “Super Kush”, “Mr. Kush”, “7H Hydro”, “Posh”, “K2 Super Kush”, “Route 69 Cherry”, “One Love”, “Smoke XXX”, “Woodstock”, “Platinum”, “Donkey”, “7H Kush 100% High”, “Diablo”, “Pure Evil”, “F.U.B.A.R.”, “Pure Fire”, and “Nightmare.”
Baddock and Jaradat are also charged with offering to sell drug paraphernalia, such as glass pipes, intended for use in inhaling a controlled substance. The indictment includes a notice of forfeiture, which gives notice that the defendants must forfeit to the United States all of the property, currency and monetary instruments involved in the offenses charged in the indictment, and all property, currency and monetary instruments which are proceeds of such offenses, including over $36,000 in cash, a vehicle, drug paraphernalia and three firearms seized during the course of the investigation.
The investigation was handled by HSI, the Buncombe County Anti-Crime Task Force, the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office and the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office.
The defendants are scheduled to have initial appearances today in U.S. District Court in Charlotte. The charges contained in the indictments are allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The prosecution for the case is handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dana Washington, Thomas Kent and Elizabeth Greene, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of North Carolina.The DEA encourages parents, along with their children, to educate themselves about the dangers of legal and illegal drugs by visiting DEA’s interactive websites at www.justthinktwice.com, www.GetSmartAboutDrugs.com and www.dea.gov.