Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pasco deputies raid convenience stores selling Spice

HOLIDAY — Rhonda Swetland saw the cruisers surrounding the convenience store next door and started clapping.

"We were waiting for this to happen for a long, long time," said Swetland, who owns Kids' Stop-N-Play day care center. The convenience store next door, Pure Gas, at 5317 Mile Stretch Drive, was raided Thursday for allegedly selling synthetic marijuana, commonly known as Spice. Swetland said people loiter outside the store all day smoking, making the area unsafe for herself and the 75 children at her day care. Swetland said she's called the Sheriff's Office every day for weeks asking for help.

"We are happy," Swetland said after watching the store's owner, Basil Almanluk, being placed handcuffed in a cruiser and boxes of seized Spice packets being carted outside by deputies.

Pure Gas was one of 15 locations throughout the county hit Thursday by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office in the agency's latest effort to wipe out the Spice market. Deputies had a list of 21 suspects. They arrested 14 on Thursday and continued to search for the remaining seven.

"They are killers, that's what they are," Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said of those selling the synthetic drugs.

"They are killers in our community — they are killing families, they are killing kids."

In recent months, the Sheriff's Office has teamed up with the Drug Enforcement Administration to go after people manufacturing Spice, which is marketed as incense or plant food, is widely used as a narcotic, especially by teenagers. The drugs have been linked to delusional, violent behavior and, in some cases, permanent psychosis and deadly overdoses, authorities said.

Federal, state and local officials are working to regulate the drugs, sold legally in convenience stores, by banning some of the chemicals used. But some manufacturers simply drop a banned ingredient and replace it with a similar, but still legal, compound.

What the Sheriff's Office did Thursday was new: It doesn't matter if the banned chemicals were in the Spice packets being sold at these stores, authorities said. In the past few weeks, undercover detectives went to these stores and asked to buy something that would get them high and then these store clerks offered them Spice, usually brought out from a container kept behind the counter.

This is how the Sheriff's Office believes it can nab these sellers: By charging them with possessing and selling imitation controlled substances. The agency says these clerks sold something they told a consumer would get them high, when these drugs are not actually a controlled substance.

Nocco called it a "unique" approach to "pressure" store owners and employees.

"I would rather us go out there and attack the issue than keep saying there's nothing we can do about it," Nocco said. "We are going to keep finding a way to arrest these individuals."

In one video released by the agency, Shrenik D. Mode, a clerk at a Marathon station at 8549 Old County Road 54 in New Port Richey, told undercover agents that one brand of Spice is "like a bomb."

"This is like awesome," he said. "I'm dead serious, trust me."

Nocco said another clerk used a different sales tactic, saying, "I'm high on it right now!"

The attack on Spice began months ago, with deputies hand-delivering letters to businesses selling the synthetic drugs, asking them to discontinue selling it. The agency also began a sticker program praising stores that stopped selling the drugs.

Sheriff's Lt. Chuck Balderstone hopes that what happened Thursday is enough to end this.

"I pray that this push right here will convince these people not to sell this stuff and we can get this stuff off the streets," Balderstone said.

But, if it's not, "if they continue to sell it after this first wave," Balderstone said, "we'll be right back out again."

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6229.

Pasco deputies raid convenience stores selling Spice 08/23/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 23, 2012 9:23pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Suspect arrested in fatal shooting of Virginia special agent

    Crime

    RICHMOND, Va. — A Virginia State Police special agent died Saturday after being shot by a man sitting in a car in Richmond, police said. The shooting suspect fled on foot, sparking an overnight manhunt that ended with the man's arrest about an hour after the agent's death.

    This image provided by the Virginia State Police shows law enforcement investigating the scene of a shooting early Saturday in Richmond, Va.   Special Agent Michael T. Walter, a Virginia State Police special agent died Saturday after being shot by a man sitting in a car in Richmond, police said. The shooting suspect fled on foot, sparking an overnight manhunt that ended with the man's arrest about an hour after the agent's death. Virginia State Police said in an emailed statement that Travis A. Ball of Richmond is being held without bond on charges that include malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. (Virginia State Police via AP)
  2. Mayor Rick Kriseman says St. Petersburg mayoral election is about going forward, not back

    Blogs

    ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman christened his campaign office Friday evening by telling his supporters that the mayoral election was about moving forward, not backward.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman says mayoral election is about inclusiveness Friday at campaign office rally
  3. Forecast: Lots of sunshine, low humidity to start Memorial Day weekend

    Weather

    The start of your long Memorial Day weekend is all sunshine this Saturday, according to WTSP 10Weather meteorologist Rick Kearbey.

    WTSP seven-day forecast on May 27, 2017.
  4. For starters: Rays at Twins, looking for another with Odorizzi starting

    Blogs

    UPDATE, 12:45: Cash said Robertson was taking better swings Friday and so he wanted to move him up today, liking the idea of having three straight right-handers vs. a LHP they don't know much about. ... Souza was still smiling this morning about his failed dive attempt last night, and the reaction it got. .. The …

  5. Global computer outage grounds British flights

    Airlines

    LONDON — British Airways canceled all flights from London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports Saturday as a global IT failure caused severe disruption for travelers on a busy holiday weekend.

    British Airways planes are parked at Heathrow Airport in January. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, file)