By CARL E. FEATHER - firstname.lastname@example.org
ANDOVER TOWNSHIP —
Two men were arrested late Friday morning in conjunction with a synthetic-drug bust operation at the Blue Dragon in Ashtabula Towne Square.
Lt. Terry Moisio of the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Department said the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), Ashtabula City Police, the sheriff’s department and officers from the Trumbull Ashtabula Group (TAG) executed a search warrant at the business at 11:10 a.m.
Arrested were the store owner, Richard Leavitt, and David Nottingham, an employee. Leavitt was charged with one count of trafficking in a controlled substance (bulk) and two counts of complicity to trafficking in a controlled substance. Nottingham faces two counts of trafficking in a controlled substance. The names and charges were released by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office; addresses were not provided.
Jill De Greco, spokeswoman of the AGO, said the officers were looking for cannabinoids, one of three synthetic drugs that were outlawed in Ohio as a result of H.B. 344, which became law late last year.
“The drugs were packaged and sold as potpourri,” De Greco said of the substances that officers were searching for under the warrant. The items that were removed from the store were not in plain sight of shoppers, Moisio said.
The product names include “Scooby Snax,” “Caution” and “Down2Earth.” Moisio said products were removed from the store but he would not comment on the specific substances or quantities seized.
The AGO released images of both “Scooby Snax” and Down2Earth Climaxxx” from the mall store.
Moisio said the investigation is ongoing and could involve other locations in the county.
Moisio said Leavitt and Nottingham cooperated with law enforcement, which closed the store following its investigation of the property. Mall management did not return a call for information about the business’ history. The Blue Dragon, also known as Blue Dragon Leather, is located at the east side of the mall.
Moisio said the business, which has a “stuff a bear here” banner across its entrance and plush animals in the window, was under investigation for “a while.” The OAG stated that local authorities began investigating Blue Dragon after receiving several complaints from the community.
The drugs are often abused by people 25 and younger. Some of the packaging designs depict “superhero” images.
“This case shows just how easy it is for our children to get their hands on these deadly drugs,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, commenting on the raid at the mall. “Teenagers spend a lot of time at the mall, and this is what they could be buying.”
“Parents should be extremely aware of these substances, not only being sold in local stores but also on the Internet,” said TAG Law Enforcement Task Force Supervisor Lt. Jeff Orr. “The words ‘Not for Human Consumption’ being clearly marked on most packets is not a deterrent to our kids, who are risking their lives every time they use it.”
DeWine announced late last year an intense effort to crack down on the abuse and sale of synthetic drugs such as bath salts and herbal incense. De Greco said the drugs come under an umbrella of synthetics that include the cannabinoids, better known as synthetic marijuana or herbal incense. The bath salts fall under the cathinones category, while the third category are known as hallucinogens or “smiles.”
The drugs, which cost around $30 for a 10-gram package, are very addictive and the high can induce violence and extreme paranoia. They are often sold “under the table,” according to the OAG.
House Bill 334, passed last year, closed a loophole used by clandestine chemists that previously gave them the ability to slightly alter the illegal synthetic drug’s components into a new, legal substance. After H.B 334 became law, DeWine sent a warning letter to retailers advising them of the risks they would face for selling the drugs.
“We gave business owners fair warning that if we found synthetic drugs in their stores that there would be consequences, and now we are following through with that promise,” DeWine said after a raid at Quality Food Market, New Carlisle, last week. Both that Clark County business and the Montgomery County home of the store’s owner were searched for the drugs.
The sale of the synthetic drugs is an automatic felony, De Greco said. Any quantity over 30 grams is considered “bulk.”
Both criminal and civil charges can result from selling the drugs. De Greco said that on Friday, the OAG filed a civil lawsuit against the store owner in Ashtabula Common Pleas Court. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants engaged in “unfair, deceptive and unconscionable acts by selling the illegal drugs as legal products.”
The bust also could mean the loss of one more mall retailer. The civil suit requests a nuisance abatement in an effort to close the business for a year.
On Feb. 1, state and local law enforcement served five search warrants in three counties as part of an intensified effort to stop the sale of the synthetic drugs, said De Greco. Once again, the target were synthetic cannabinoids.