With Three Arrests and Seizures of $75,000 in Suspected Drugs, New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs Partners with Local Police in Getting "Bath Salts" and Other Illegal Designer Drugs Off the Streets
These packets of suspected designer drugs were voluntarily surrendered on Friday, August 12, by shopkeepers along the Boardwalk in Seaside Heights, to the Division of Consumer Affairs and the Seaside Heights Police Department.
NEWARK – The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs in recent weeks has amplified its efforts to remove illegal, dangerous designer drugs such as "K2," "Spice," and so-called "bath salts" from the shelves of retail establishments that sell them to users in violation of state and federal laws.
Police in Seaside Heights and Stafford Township last week arrested three individuals accused of selling the illegal substances at novelty and convenience stores. The arrests followed cooperative investigations conducted by the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs' Enforcement Bureau in partnership with the police agencies.
On Friday, August 12, Seaside Heights Police arrested Sohail Padela, 44, at Fine Jewelry, a novelty shop he owns at 216 Boardwalk, Seaside Heights. The arrest followed a month-long investigation, in which a clerk at Padela's store allegedly sold designer drug packets to undercover investigators. One of the packets, with the brand name "Golden Eye Spice," tested positive for JWH-018 and JWH-073. The two chemicals are "synthetic cannabinoids," chemical derivatives of marijuana commonly sold as "K2" or "Spice." The chemicals were banned earlier this year under state and federal laws.
Upon arresting Padela, Seaside Heights officers seized 150 packets of "Golden Eye Spice" and other suspected designer drugs with labels such as "Black King," "Cloud 9," "Ecstasy Salvia," and "Spike Diamond," from Padela's vehicle, with an estimated total value of $3,750. Padela, of Houston, Texas, was charged with the third-degree crimes of possession and distribution of a Schedule I Controlled Dangerous Substance, and the second-degree crime of distribution within a recreational zone. He was released on $8,000 bail.
Separately, on Thursday, August 11, Stafford Township Police arrested Ritesh Kumar Patel, a clerk at The News Stand on 25 South Main Street, and Atul Garg, a clerk at the Exxon gas station at 555 Route 72, after each defendant allegedly sold illegal designer drugs to undercover investigators during a three-month investigation. Patel and Garg each allegedly sold packages that tested positive for JWH-018. Stafford Township officers seized a total of more than 655 packets of suspected designer drugs, including so-called "bath salts" and synthetic cannabinoids with an estimated total value of more than $16,000, from both stores. Patel, 20, of Barnegat, and Garg, 27, of Edison, were each charged with third-degree distribution of a Schedule I Controlled Dangerous Substance, and released pending future appearances in Superior Court.
Usage of "bath salts" designer drugs and synthetic cannabinoids is known to cause intense hallucinations, anxiety, paranoid behavior, seizures, tremors, racing heartbeats, elevated blood pressure, among other disturbing symptoms. Reports from authorities and emergency rooms across New Jersey and nationwide chronicle the frightening experiences with patients high on these drugs, some of whom became completely detached from reality, engaged in acts of self-mutilation and suicide, and turned so violent that they needed to be strapped down in four-point restraints, intubated, and forcefully sedated.
"In April, our Division of Consumer Affairs banned designer drugs labeled as ‘bath salts' because of their alarming physiological effects and the chilling acts of violence associated with their use," Attorney General Paula T. Dow said. "The message was sent loud and clear - the manufacture, sale, and possession of these dangerous drugs are illegal in New Jersey, and we intend to pursue violators to the full extent of the law."
Also in April, the Division adopted a recent federal ban, issued by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, against four synthetic cannabinoids including JWH-018 and JWH-073. Like the "bath salts" designer drugs, the four synthetic cannabinoids are now Schedule I Controlled Dangerous Substances under New Jersey's CDS Act, subjecting them to the same level of control as cocaine or heroin.
"While reported incidents of 'bath salts' use have declined substantially in New Jersey since our April 27, 2011 criminal ban and launch of our statewide consumer awareness campaign, our undercover investigators are still finding a disturbing number of disreputable retailers carrying the 'K2' and other designer drugs, particularly in our shore communities," said Thomas R. Calcagni, Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. "Head shops and novelty stores, take notice: all of these dangerous drugs - and any substance sold for the intoxicating effect of its fumes - are illegal in the Garden State. Get them off your shelves, or face criminal prosecution."
In addition to last week's arrests, Division of Consumer Affairs Enforcement Bureau investigators on August 12 worked with the police departments of Seaside Heights and Seaside Park in visiting a total of 11 novelty shops along the boardwalk that were suspected of selling illegal designer drugs. Rather than face criminal charges, the shopkeepers voluntarily surrendered a total of 733 packets of suspected designer drugs, with an estimated total value of $18,325.
The Seaside enforcement effort is part of the Division of Consumer Affairs' "Safe Summer 2011," a summer-long initiative in which the Division partners with county offices of consumer affairs, county health departments, and county and municipal law enforcement agencies in ensuring consumer safety and compliance with consumer protection laws along the Jersey Shore. Consumer Affairs investigators visited the boardwalks of Point Pleasant and Wildwood earlier in the summer.
"Since its launch in late June, 'Safe Summer 2011' has resulted in the surrender of roughly $75,000 worth of designer drugs from over 30 shopkeepers - preventing nearly 3,000 packets of these dangerous drugs from ever reaching the streets," said Calcagni.
Ensuring the safety of boardwalk visitors, Division investigators have been on the lookout for more than illegal designer drugs. As part of the summer initiative, investigators from the Division's Legalized Games of Chance Control Commission inspect amusement games to make certain they provide every player with a fair chance of winning. Investigators from the Division's Office of Consumer Protection ensure retailers comply with the state's Consumer Fraud Act, look for the sale of dangerous contraband items such as novelty lighters or novelty contact lenses, and use high-tech lead testing equipment to check the lead content of toys and other items. Inspectors from the Division's Office of Weights and Measures test the accuracy of scales and other measuring devices. County investigators participate in the inspections, including those from the county offices of health who seek compliance with the local health code.
To date, investigators have uncovered the following violations:
On August 12, 2011, at the Seaside Boardwalk, investigators seized a total of 1,535 novelty contact lenses, with a total estimated value of $38,000. Because decorative contact lenses have been associated with eye injury and infection, state and federal law prohibit their sale without a prescription from an eye doctor. Investigators also seized approximately 200 dangerous, contraband novelty lighters. Investigators also discovered 11 violations at eight amusement games, including basketball games in which the balls were hyper-inflated to more than three times the allowable limit, exponentially increasing their tendency to ricochet and substantially decreasing a player's chance of winning a prize. Investigators also found plastic toy rings with a lead content of 572 and 1,031 parts per million, respectively - both dangerously exceeding the new federal limit, effective August 14, of 100 parts per million. (The previous lead limit was 300 parts per million).
On July 12, at the Wildwood Boardwalk, investigators confiscated 89 dangerous, contraband novelty lighters. Investigators also noted that four stores had a total of 761 pricing violations (including 750 at one store) due to the failure to clearly display prices, and five stores had refund policy violations. Investigators further found violations at six amusement games, including a coin toss game in which glass plates had been secretly coated with furniture polish, making the surfaces unfairly slick. Investigators also discovered a toy ball with a lead content of 574 parts per million.
On June 30, at the Point Pleasant Boardwalk, investigators confiscated 8 dangerous, contraband novelty lighters and noted that one store failed to post prices on merchandise. Investigators also discovered a number of toys with dangerously high lead content, including a plastic toy spring with a lead content of 715 parts per million, a small black novelty fly with a lead content of 1,982 parts per million, and a key chain with a lead content of 3,877 parts per million.
"While the large majority of vendors along the boardwalks operate honestly, our investigators uncovered a number of concerning safety and consumer law violations that we moved quickly to resolve," said Calcagni. "The summer is not over yet, and there's still work for us to do."
The Division brings "Safe Summer 2011" to the Atlantic City Boardwalk on August 30.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website, www.NJConsumerAffairs.com, or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
Follow the Division of Consumer Affairs on Facebook, at http://www.facebook.com/pages/NJ-Division-of-Consumer-Affairs/112957465445651 ; and check our online calendar of upcoming Consumer Outreach events, at http://www.nj.gov/oag/ca/outreach/.