Synthetic drug bust nets indictments

Clark County raid nearly a year ago nets host of charges this week.

Due to the ever-changing chemical compounds used in synthetic drugs as criminals “try to evade the law,” it took law enforcement nearly a year to process the narcotics found during the raids, said Sheriff Gene Kelly.

The Quality Food Mart at 127 Weinland Drive in Bethel Twp. was raided Feb. 1 by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office narcotics unit with the assistance of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. From that bust, the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations processed the thousands of dollars worth of synthetic marijuana. This included 567 packets of the drug, which Kelly said sell for $25 each on the street.

Owner Munir F. Al Hmidat was arrested during that raid, and will be prosecuted in Montgomery County for the items confiscated from his Riverside home, which includes synthetic drugs, drug paraphernalia, computer equipment, a hand gun and $30,000 in cash. A store employee, Fadi K. Shoukri, 29, was indicted Monday by a Clark County grand jury on two counts of aggravated trafficking in drugs and two counts of possession of drugs.

A separate raid was completed Aug. 13 at another Quality Food Mart at 2160 E. Main St. in Springfield. There, agents found synthetic marijuana, hundreds of smoking devices, digital scales, $7,200 in cash, handguns and boxes of counterfeit Ugg, Coach, Louis Vitton and Gucci shoes, according to court documents.

That store’s owner, Muhammad A. Bajwa, 54, also was indicted Monday for engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, conspiracy to engage in a pattern of corrupt activity, five counts of aggravated trafficking in drugs, five counts of possession of drugs, receiving stolen property, money laundering and trademark counterfeiting.

Meanwhile, Aziz Ulhaq Zia, 37, a purchasing agent for the store, was charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, conspiracy to engage in a pattern of corrupt activity and two counts of aggravated trafficking in drugs.

In October 2011, a new law went into effect in Ohio banning the sale and use of synthetic drugs, also known as “analog” drugs. However, Kelly said man-made narcotics such as “bath salts” and synthetic marijuana are still prevalent.

“I know they’re out there. I know there is, I know there is other people. We have reports that they’re selling it. It just takes time to investigate,” Kelly said.

However, Kelly said at $25 for a packet, synthetic drugs are still more expensive than heroin. That’s why heroin remains the No. 1 drug problem in Clark County and the state.

“It’s all about the drug of choice,” he said.

The state filed civil lawsuits against the three businesses it raided in February, including the Quality Food Mart in Bethel Twp, alleging they “engaged in unfair, deceptive and unconscionable acts by selling illegal drugs as legal products,” according to a release regarding the raid. Attorneys also filed nuisance abatements requesting that the stores be closed for one year. Maj. Russell Garman said those civil lawsuits are still pending, and both Clark County storefronts remain open.

Shoukri is scheduled today to be arraigned in Clark County Common Pleas Court. Meanwhile, Zia and Bajwa will be arraigned Jan. 24. All three men are out of jail and have an attorney.

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