NEW PORT RICHEY — A Pasco County judge on Thursday made an example out of a store owner accused of selling spice in the first test of the county's new synthetic drug ordinance.
County Judge Paul Firmani found Fouad Abuasfour, 35, owner of a Holiday mini mart, guilty of 47 counts of violating the ordinance, and ordered him to pay a $23,558 fine within 45 days.
Abuasfour's problems didn't end there. After the verdict, he was arrested on charges of possession of an illegal substance and escorted out of the courtroom in handcuffs. Authorities had just gotten back chemical tests which they said proved he also possessed spice.
From the bench, Firmani preached about the dangers of the drug, primarily "young kids in this county ingesting it, inhaling it and burning it."
"Courtrooms and emergency rooms (countywide) are getting to witness the destructive nature of this drug," he said. "We are seeing the youth of this county having their brains destroyed forever."
Last November, Pasco County commissioners approved an ordinance to ban items described by misleading packaging such as "potpourri," "synthetic marijuana," or "synthetic drugs." Under the ordinance, stores that continue to carry the drugs will be fined $500 per package.
In the courtroom, Abuasfour sat on the left without a lawyer. On the right, there were Pasco sheriff's detectives and deputies and county workers.
Narcotics detectives testified that they gave Abuasfour a notice about the ordinance in December. They went back a month later and searched the business. They found three open packets of spice in a back room. When they pulled a trash can liner out of the trash they found two ziplock-type plastic bags filled with spice.
"He said he was selling it to his friends for 10 bucks apiece," detective John Sharpe testified.
They cited him for only one packet, but during the trial Assistant County Attorney Kristi Sims urged the judge to charge Abuasfour with all 47 counts.
"The evidence is so overwhelming in this case that it's quite frankly necessary to send a message to persons such as (Abuasfour) operating businesses that this is not a product that they can make money off of any longer," Sims said. "This is poison. We have children in this county who are brain damaged and dead because of this product."
Abuasfour told Firmani he used spice all the time, and in his country it was no big deal. He told the judge he is from Israel and his English isn't good and he didn't have time to get a lawyer. He said he got the spice in the mail from Panama City.
Sims asked Abuasfour for his address, and he told her he was currently living in his store.
Abuasfour, Sims said, is one of four retailers charged under the new ordinance. She said the others are in the process of settling and their businesses have been shut down.
In May, three more stores were targeted: a Mobil station on Massachusetts Avenue in New Port Richey, a Super K Food Mart in Hudson and Boost Mobile, a mini mart in Holiday.
Sims was one of a group of county attorneys who met last year to draft a new strategy against the drug. Instead of outlawing the chemicals that can be quickly altered, they went for the packaging.
As Sims and Lt. Charles Balderstone walked out of the courthouse after the trial, they peeked into Abuasfour's Mercedes. On the driver's side door, they spotted a package labeled Scooby Snax.
It was spice.