Agents raid Lacey smoke shop

‘bath salts’: DEA arrests owner

jpawloski@theolympian.comOctober 13, 2012 

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration raided a Lacey smoke shop Thursday, arresting the owner and seizing suspected illegal synthetic “bath salts” and “spice.”

DEA agents also served a search warrant at the shop owner’s Olympia home, confiscating $200,000 in cash believed to have come from laundered proceeds from the sale of the substances.

The shop, Vendetta Smoke in the 7800 block of Martin Way, was closed as of Friday. Owner Alexander Cho, 27, was being held at the Thurston County Jail on suspicion of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance and money laundering with bail set at $50,000.

Bath salts and spice are street names for a number of synthetic compounds that are banned by the federal government and illegal under state law. Generally speaking, bath salts mimic the effects of cocaine and methamphetamine, while spice mimics the effects of marijuana. According to the DEA’s website, bath salts typically are sold in tablets and powder form under various brand names. Spice typically is sold in small bags of dried leaves and is marketed as incense that can be smoked, according to the DEA.

The DEA’s Seattle spokeswoman, Jodie Underwood, said Friday that both substances have been linked to erratic behavior and crime. Poison-control centers have fielded a growing number of calls from people who have been sickened, she said.

“They’re very dangerous,” she said. “They’re not for human consumption.”

According to court papers:

Members of the Tacoma Narcotics Enforcement Team made nine controlled purchases of spice between June and September from Vendetta, using a confidential informant. Cho and other employees “kept the spice behind the counter out of the view of the public and required that a special code word be used by customers to purchase spice.” This indicated Cho and his employees knew they were breaking the law.

Cho hasn’t made cash deposits to Vendetta’s checking account since April 2011, after spice and bath salts became illegal in Washington. Cho allegedly laundered at least $28,000 in proceeds from the sale of the substances by purchasing high-end vehicles, such as a 2005 Hummer, a 2006 Corvette, a 2009 Chevy Silverado, a 2002 BMW 750 and a 2007 Cadillac Escalade. Bank records also indicate that Cho spent $147,000 in 2011 on motorcycles and vehicles, despite reporting earnings of $60,000 on his federal income tax returns.

Cho has no criminal history. Employees of a neighboring business on Martin Way, Remote Control Hobbies, said Cho was friendly and cordial. They said Vendetta had been open for about two years.

Remote Control Hobbies employee Colby Johnson added that he saw the DEA agents at Vendetta on Thursday morning, with a large number of undercover officers and a police dog. Johnson said DEA agents handcuffed Cho inside the store and seized his Hummer.

A sign outside Vendetta on Friday read: “Sorry, temporarily closed, will resume regular hours soon. Continue to check!”

Jeremy Pawloski:360-754-5445 @JeremyPawloski

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