Back in May, as part of nationwide raids, the DEA raided popular local Main St. smoke shop, Phat Stuff. Liberty activists were on-scene to document and copblock. The dozen-or-so agents loaded up a large U-haul and carted way nearly every smoking device in the store, easily $100,000 in inventory.
The ostensible reason for the raid was a crackdown on synthetic drugs, which the store had not stocked for months. Some observers of the situation believed that the DEA would actually give back the pipes. Those people are obviously new to observing this thuggery. The Keene Sentinel has an update on the case. Guess what? The DEA is seeing “forfeiture” (legal stealing) of all of the seized inventory.
The article reveals that the DEA jacked (in addition to the inventory), $15,000 from Phat Stuff owner Panos Eliopoulos’ bank account, nearly $700 from the store’s cash register, and stole his 2011 Ford F-250. As expected, no charged have been filed against any human beings. Only the inventory appears to be at risk here. Typical DEA robbery – they take your stuff, like a criminal gang, and there’s nearly nothing you can do. Does the owner want to spend $50,000 on attorneys to try to get $100,000 worth of inventory back, with no guarantee of success?
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is taking a Keene head shop to court in connection with a federal crackdown against alleged synthetic drug manufacturers and their distributors.
Phat Stuff, of 84 Main St., was one of hundreds of shops federal agents targeted throughout the nation this spring.
The raid stretched beyond the shop’s walls — where agents seized boxes of what investigators called drug paraphernalia and $695 from a cash register May 7 — to the personal bank account of Phat Stuff’s owner, Panagiotes J. Eliopoulos of Winchester, according to court documents.
Attorneys filed a civil forfeiture lawsuit in U.S. District Court in July so the federal government could permanently keep assorted pipes, grinders, rolling paper, glassware, scales, and vaporizers taken from Phat Stuff in that raid, court documents show.
Civil forfeiture allows the federal government to legally confiscate assets, and aims to take away goods that can be used to perpetrate crimes.
The authorities also seized more than $15,000 in funds from the checking and savings accounts of Phat Stuff and Eliopoulos around that time, according to court documents. Eliopoulos also used funds in Phat Stuff’s bank account to make payments on a 2011 Ford F-250, U.S. attorneys allege. The truck was taken by the government near the time of the raid.
Officials say they can trace money in those checking and savings accounts to the sale of drug paraphernalia and controlled substances.
As of late Monday, no one had contested the civil suit involving Phat Stuff’s merchandise and its profits, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Rabuck.
Eliopoulos could not be reached for comment about the case. His attorney, Charles Keefe of Nashua, was also unavailable to discuss the case and whether Eliopoulos plans to intervene.
This local case is moving forward at a time when statewide concern about synthetic drug use is on the rise.
Last week, Gov. Maggie Hassan declared a state of emergency as a result of the dozens of recent overdoses in Manchester and Concord from a type of synthetic marijuana called “Smacked!”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges in its suit that Phat Stuff has sold drug paraphernalia commonly used to smoke synthetic cannabinoids, and marketed the smoking devices for that purpose.
In August 2013, a cooperating witness, under the observation of federal agents, purchased foil packets labeled “Griffon” from Phat Stuff, according to court documents. Although the product claimed to be a melon berry deodorizer not for human consumption, it tested positive for an analog of a federally controlled substance, according to court documents.
An analog varies slightly in chemical makeup, but mimics the “high” illegal drug users get by affecting the central nervous system in a similar way to those drugs.
Last summer, Keene’s City Council unanimously approved an ordinance banning the sale of synthetic drugs in local stores. According to court documents, a Phat Stuff employee made mention of the ban to the federal witness, and said it was the reason why the store was no longer selling “Dreaded,” a brand of smokeable synthetic cannabinoids.
“Spice” and “K2” are the most common types of chemically engineered drugs. When ingested, they have a hallucinogenic effect similar to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana.
The Federal Analog Act of 1986 allows federal authorities to target manufacturers of synthetic substances that are similar to banned ones. Anyone found manufacturing or distributing the drugs is subject to federal administrative, civil and/or criminal penalties.
The catch is that these man-made products are legally sold in New Hampshire stores as “herbal incense,” often marketed in brightly colored packages with snappy names. But the heart of the issue is their ingredients, which manufacturers are constantly changing in an attempt to skirt federal laws banning specific compounds.
On May 7, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration served nearly 200 warrants in 29 states as a part of a national crackdown on synthetic drugs. Phat Stuff was one of them.
The authorities have kept many of the details of that raid under wraps. But the recent civil suit sheds new light why the enforcement agency targeted Phat Stuff.
In the months before the May 7 raid, agents staged a number of buys at the shop to gather evidence. Federal officials then used that evidence in support of their request for a search warrant, and, most recently, their case for forfeiture of the items seized, court documents show.
The fact that Phat Stuff does not sell tobacco may have also played a role.
Federal code prohibits selling some smoking devices that may be considered drug paraphernalia, even if they’re marketed to use with tobacco.
In determining whether these products are used instead for illegal drugs, federal code allows authorities to consider “whether the owner, or anyone in control of the item, is a legitimate supplier of like or related items to the community, such as a licensed distributor or dealer of tobacco products.”
What remains unclear is the extent to which the U.S. Attorney’s Office may be pursuing criminal charges. A motion to seal the case file until July 15 reads: “There is a related grand jury criminal investigation in progress. Indictments are anticipated but have not yet been issued.”
When asked for further details Monday, Rabuck said he could not confirm or deny any criminal investigation, as a matter of policy.
As of this morning, there were no pending criminal cases in U.S. District Court against Eliopoulos.
Rabuck also declined to comment about why the civil matter his office filed was under court-ordered seal for a period of time.