3 Morgantown Businesses Searched by Federal Authorities in Synth - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

3 Morgantown Businesses Searched by Federal Authorities in Synthetic Drug Raid

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Image Courtesy of MGN Online. Image Courtesy of MGN Online.

United States Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld, II, announced Wednesday that civil actions have been filed against two Morgantown businesses as part of an 18-month-long investigation into synthetic drug sales happening at the businesses.

Search warrants were executed at Mid-Nite Adult, located at 275 Spruce Street, and X-Hale Hookah Lounge, located on 218 Walnut Street, on Tuesday, April 29.  Federal search warrants were obtained after complaints were made that the businesses have been allegedly selling synthetic marijuana. The Mon Valley Drug and Task Force conducted the searches on the homes of the business owners,  and personal and business bank accounts were also seized. Both businesses licenses have been seized by the authorities as well.

Both businesses are believed to have been selling large amounts of synthetic marijuana, also known as synthetic cannabinoids. The substance has the same effects as marijuana and is commonly packaged and labeled as “Spice”, “Herbal Incense”, or “K2”. Undercover controlled purchases were made from both businesses during the investigation. The drugs are often sold for small amounts of money, $25-50, in storefronts and behind the counter.

"The open manner in which thee substances are sold, it makes it especially difficult to go after this problem, it may seem counterintuitive," said Ilhlenfeld. "We have had to come up with a new playbook to go after these places that are selling these substances right out in the open."

Investigators said the owners of X-Hale, Nicholas and Steven Graziano, generated over $1 million over a 20-month period from the sale of synthetic marijuana. They are alleged to have purchased automobiles with the proceeds, including a 2011 BMW 7501 for $95,900. A note hung on the store's door Wednesday reading "Closed, Sorry-Mgmt."

Mid-Nite Adult owners, Daniel and Sally Kocan, allegedly earned $3.2 million from the sales of the drug. An unidentified man on the phone told 12News that the store doesn't sell synthetic marijuana, but something called potpourri.

In addition to the search, another business is also under investigation. Dahlia’s, also located on Walnut Street, is also under investigation. Ihlenfeld's did not said it's not known whether or not Dahlia's was selling the drugs, but added that a family relation between it's owners and Mid-Nite Adult's owners gave them probable causes to perform a search warrant.

Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston joined in the announcement on Wednesday and said, “This is not a Morgantown problem, this is a statewide problem, it's a national problem, it's becoming an epidemic. It's not just the sale of illegal substances, the money laundering and everything else that goes with it, it's a pure health concern."

Ihlenfeld said that the dangers of the substance are still unknown, but can causes kidney failure, seizures, and psychoses. 
"It's been directly related to deaths of many young people in this country," he added. Synthetic marijuana is made by combining herbs with chemicals that when used produce similar effects to marijuana.

Some of the chemicals used are illegal, but new legislation will make just producing drugs with those effects against the law. That law goes into affect June 6, 2014.

Ihlenfeld's civil suites look to revoke business licenses for X-Hale and Mid-Nite Adult. Gary Tannanbaum, owner of the Blue Moose Cafe said the drug sales are bad for local businesses.

"I am very pleased with the outcome of this," he said. We have been trying for a long time to take back the street and clean up this problem."

"We knew there was a lot of activity going on, a lot of customers coming to make purchases, but I'm shocked on the numbers," said Terri Cutright from Main Street Morgantown.

No criminal charges have been filed, but Ihlenfeld said "I'm confident you'll be hearing from us again."

 The investigation is still ongoing.