Several local convenience store owners were arrested last Thursday on charges they were a part of a large-scale synthetic drug and drug paraphernalia distribution network.
Among those arrested were Yashvent Patel and Yogesh Patel, of the EZ Shoppe, 404 Main Street, East Greenville, Mohammad Rahman of U.S. Gas, 1463 N. Gravel Pike, Lower Frederick, and Ibrahim Saloum and Amy Velazquez of the Main Street Market, 696 Main Street, Schwenksville.
The store owners face charges of conducting a corrupt organization, possession of controlled substances and drug paraphernalia, dealing in the proceeds of an unlawful act and related offenses.
According to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, which partnered with the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office and several area police departments, including Upper Perk, the defendants were among 15 arrested after a year-long investigation into the illegal distribution of dangerous synthetic cannabinoids, marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
The distributor was J & L Wholesale Distributors, Inc. and its subsidiary “Insense Specailties,” both of Allentown.
The sale of synthetic drugs, commonly called “bath salts” and cannabinoids, herbal and chemical blends used to mimic the effects of marijuana, was outlawed in Pennsylvania as of Aug. 22, 2011.
Authorities said the legislation came on the heels of violent acts, serious injuries and deaths stemming from the use of the synthetic drugs. Among them was an incident June 15, 2011 at the Willow Grove Park Mall where a 17-year-old boy jumped out from a third-story parking garage onto the street below, sustaining lifelong injuries, and an incident June 30 of the same year in Upper Pottsgrove where a 22-year-old man began hallucinating behind the wheel and caused a two-vehicle accident with injuries.
According to court documents filed by Special Montgomery County Det. Joseph P. Kelly Jr., an investigation into the EZ Shoppe began in February of this year when Upper Perk Police stopped an individual for a traffic violation. They later confiscated a bottle of “Flame,” a synthetic cannabinoid, from the vehicle. The driver said he or she bought the Flame at the store.
On a Feb. 29 visit to EZ Shoppe by a uniformed Upper Perk officer, the officer found a display case in the front of the store with Flame, incense, smoking pipes and metal grinders.
After an undercover detective from the DA’s office bought synthetic drugs and drug paraphernalia there March 6, authorities executed a search warrant the following day and confiscated 332 packets of the synthetic drug blends, 24 packets of bath salts and 41 smoking devices.
The investigation into the US Gas started in late Sept. 2011 after a concerned citizen reportedly contacted police about illegal sales at the store. According to court documents, police confiscated pipes, grinders and baggies from the location, notifying the owner they were illegal in late September.
A search warrant was executed Oct. 14 and police took pipes, bongs, digital scales, and containers with hidden compartments, among other paraphernalia.
In March a confidential informant worked with police, according to the affidavit of probable cause, to purchase synthetic drugs from the location. The synthetic drugs were allegedly kept in the car trunk of store owner Mohammad Rahman and in a box labeled “PA Lottery” behind the store counter.
Authorities later found out Rahman was arrested in 2009 after he allegedly sold drug paraphernalia as co-owner of a BP station in Hatfield Township. He later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct.
Police confiscated synthetic drugs and paraphernalia March 9 from the Main Street Market, warning the store’s husband and wife owners that the substances were illegal. A criminal informant went into the store April 11 and two subsequent days and purchased synthetic drugs and paraphernalia.
A search warrant yielded a total of 197 pipes, 33 grinders and numerous packets of synthetic drugs.
Additional operations yielded arrests at the Deli Mart in South Whitehall Township and Trexler Plaza Sunoco in Allentown.
On July 25 detectives from both DA’s offices jointly executed search warrants at J & L Wholesale Distributors, Inc., which did business with all of the retail establishments. Law enforcement seized two tractor trailers full of drug paraphernalia and froze and seized a total of $901,725.88 from bank accounts and safety deposit boxes from the suspected proceeds of illegal activity.
Kenneth Grossman, Jason Grossman, Rajwant Thind and Malwinder Mangat were arrested as proprieters and partners in J & L Wholesale and Insese Specailties.
All the defendants were arraigned Sept. 6 in Red Hill District Court. A preliminary hearing will be held today at 1 p.m. in front of District Judge Catherine Hummel-Fried in Red Hill.