The federal criminal trial against local Keene business owner Panos Eliopoulos is nearing an end. The DEA raided his store Phat Stuff in May 2014 on suspicion of selling the synthetic cannabinoid PB-22. Although undercover agents had purchased PB-22 from Phat Stuff on August 9, 2013, the sale of PB-22 was not prohibited by the DEA until February 10, 2014, by which time Phat Stuff had stopped selling the compound to comply with the law. Since the Constitution prohibits ex post facto enforcement of laws, Panos could not be charged with drug trafficking. Not content to leave empty handed, the US Attorney’s Office filed a criminal indictment against Panos and his wife Katie in February 2015 for Conspiracy to Offer Drug Paraphernalia for Sale (21 USC 846 and 21 USC 863) and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering (18 USC 1956). In a plea deal filed on March 10, 2016, Panos and his attorney reached the following agreement with the US Attorney’s Office:
- Panos will plead guilty to the misdemeanor charge of Causing Misbranded Drugs to be introduced into Interstate Commerce (21 USC 331 and 21 USC 333), with the government recommending a sentence of probation for one year.
- The government will dismiss all remaining charges against Panos and his wife Katie.
- Panos and Katie will drop any defense in the companion civil asset forfeiture case USA v. $695.00 US Currency et al. This means Panos and Katie agree to let the government keep the $15,209 in cash the DEA seized from their store’s cash register and bank accounts, their Ford F-250 pickup truck, and all the glassware inventory in their shop on the day of the raid.
This outcome is a mixed bag for those of us fighting against the government in the War on Freedom. On one hand, Panos and Katie will avoid jail time and will not have felony convictions, which means they will keep most of their civil rights (firearm ownership and voting being two examples). On the other hand, Panos or Katie did not do anything morally wrong.The average citizen confuses the words “illegal” and “morally wrong.” They are not the same thing at all. The government can declare the sale of sodas over 16 ounces to be illegal (as the City of New York did in March 2013), but that does not make the sale of 20 ounce bottles of Mountain Dew morally wrong, nor does it mean that people who sell 20 ounce bottles of Mountain Dew should lose their homes, cars, life savings, or freedom. If Panos would have exercised his right to a jury trial (where defendants are convicted 90 percent of the time) he would be facing years in prison if convicted. Even if Panos were acquitted, he would need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on attorneys defending himself — money he does not get back even if he is acquitted. With so much to lose and no way to win, defendants usually plead guilty to a small crime with no jail time instead of fighting expensive criminal legal battles.
Formal sentencing for Panos will be before Judge Andrea Johnstone on June 14, 2016 at 10:00 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Concord, New Hampshire. Anyone wishing to write a sentencing letter to the judge can send their letter to Panos’s attorney:
Charles J. Keefe
ATTN: Sentencing Letter for Panos Eliopoulos
184 Main Street, Suite 222
Nashua, NH 03050
We wish the best of luck to Panos and Katie and hope they will recover from this unfortunate government sanctioned robbery.