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The 420 Emporium

April 18, 2015 - 8:53am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, synthetic drugs, bath salts, The 420 Emporium.

The man federal authorities identified as the owner of the former 420 Emporium that was a source of synthetic drugs in Batavia will serve 30 months in prison and forfeit $771,109 dollars in seized money.

Charles Fitzgerald was sentenced in U.S. District Court on Friday.

He had previously entered a guilty plea to possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.

The 420 Emporium, which was located at 400 Ellicott St., was the locus of synthetic drug dealing in Batavia for a period in the summer of 2012. Bath salts and synthetic marijuana appeared to be at the root of bizarre behavior by some users and the cause of seizures and other medical conditions that landed people in the emergency room at UMMC.

In July, 2012, local and federal authorities raided the 420 Emporium as part of a nationwide operation to crack down on synthetic drug trafficking.

The home of Fitzgerald in Greece, which he shared with co-defendant Amber Snover, was also raided, where authorities seized boxes of drugs as well as a bag full of cash.

Snover has also entered a guilty plea and will be sentenced June 23 in U.S. District Court.

June 18, 2014 - 6:40pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, synthetic drugs, bath salts, The 420 Emporium.

It's been nearly two years since multiple law enforcement agencies raided The 420 Emporium, the erstwhile head shop once located at 400 Ellicott St., Batavia, but today authorities announced federal indictments against two alleged owners of the business.

Charles Darwin Fitzgerald, 39, and Amber Lynn Snover, 23, both of Rochester, have been charged with conspiracy to distribute, and distribution of, Schedule I controlled-substance analogues and maintaining drug-related premises. 

They face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a possible $1 million fine.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office, Western New York, the defendants are accused of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute alpha-PVP, pentedrone and AM2201, which are all Schedule I controlled-substance analogues. The indictment also charges the defendants with maintaining four drug-related premises in New York for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing and using alpha-PVP, pentedrone and AM2201:

  • 21 West Hills Estate, Rochester;
  • 420 Emporium Store, 14 Market St., Brockport;
  • 420 Emporium Store, 400 Ellicott St., Batavia;
  • 420 Emporium Store, 1475 E. Henrietta Road, Rochester. 

Federal authorities are also seeking forfeiture of more than $770,000 in cash seized July 25 from the Fiztgerald-Snover residence in Greece as well as the property.

The 420 Emporium in Batavia was an infamous business for the 10 or so months it was open. The operators were suspected of selling various kinds of synthetic drugs, known generically as bath salts, and synthetic marijuana. 

Usage of the drugs was suspected in several bizarre and odd incidents locally.

Previously:

The sudden prevalence of bath salts in the community led to citizen protests.

After the 420 shut down, bath salt-related incidents became much less common (though did not completely go away) in Genesee County.

At the time the 420 was open, its ownership seemed murky.

Fitzgerald is listed in Monroe County documents as the owner of 420 Emporium, Inc. Snover once claimed on Facebook to own the 420 Emporium locations in Brockport, Fulton, Henrietta and Syracuse, but not Batavia. When contacted in 2012 by The Batavian, she denied ownership and then filed a harassment complaint with Greece PD against the reporter working on the story. State and local records showed Joshua Denise owned the 420 Store, LLC, at 400 Ellicott St., Batavia.

The 39-year-old Denise was arrested, along with Michelle Condidorio, during the July 25, 2012, raid. Both entered guilty pleas to possession of a controlled-substance analogue. Denise will be sentenced Aug. 21 and Condidorio on Sept. 18.

The 420 Emporium also operated a store in Fulton. That store is not listed in the indictment, but it is outside the jurisdiction of the WNY U.S. Attorney's Office. We don't know at this time if there is a separate indictment in the Central New York jurisdiction.

The July 2012 raid in Batavia was part of a one-day, nationwide effort to crack down on alleged bath salt distributors.

See also: From China White to bath salts, designer drugs ongoing public safety challenge

All photos are file photos from previous coverage.

August 30, 2012 - 12:33am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, synthetic drugs, bath salts, The 420 Emporium.

A group of at least five men showed up at 400 Ellicott St., Batavia, Wednesday evening to box up the inventory and remove the fixtures of the former location of The 420 Emporium.

The 420 was suspected of selling synthetic marijuana and synthetic amphetamines from the time it opened in Batavia in May.

The store was raided by the DEA on July 25 and its apparent local owner, Joshua Denise, was arrested. The store never reopened after the raid, though its shelves remained stocked -- until Wednesday night -- with glass pipes, bongs, rolling papers and other retail items.

For our prior coverage of The 420 Emporium, click here.

August 21, 2012 - 2:09pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, synthetic drugs, bath salts, The 420 Emporium.

Accused of a trespass violation, Nicole Lang entered Batavia City Court today with hands trembling, nervous about her pending case but adamant she did nothing wrong July 11 when she was accused of trespassing at The 420 Emporium.

Lang went into the store and accused an employee of selling bath salts to her son, Jason Lang.

Because police believed Lang had been ordered from the store and chose to reenter, she was given a citation for alleged trespassing.

Today, Judge Michael Del Plato, on the recommendation of the District Attorney's Office, dismissed the charge with the stipulation that Lang not be re-arrested within the next six months.

Lang has no prior criminal history.

Outside court, Lang said she was very happy about the turn of events.

Del Plato also issued an order of protection, requiring Lang not to have contact with the employee who filed the trespass complaint, Joseph Wesley.

The 420 Emporium was raided by the DEA on July 25 and has not opened its doors since. The location at 400 Ellicott St., Batavia, is apparently owned or co-owned by Joshua Denise. Denise was arrested during the DEA raid.

Jason Lang, the onetime owner of the Laughing Buddha on Ellicott Street, is scheduled to appear in Town of Batavia Court today on charges related to his alleged attempt to call the 420's landlord and suggest he was with the State Police and warn the property owner that the 420 allegedly sold synthetic marijuana.

We'll have an update on Jason Lang later today.

August 8, 2012 - 5:15pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, synthetic drugs, bath salts, The 420 Emporium.

The bath salt epidemic in Batavia seems to have subsided over the past couple of weeks.

Law enforcement and health officials across the board report fewer emergency responses that appear related to the use of bath salts by local residents.

Whether the decline in known usage is related to the closure of the 420 store at 400 Ellicott St., Batavia or some other factor is unclear.

In a report prepared yesterday by the Genesee County Health Department, a UMMC nurse manager is quoted as saying there were six bath salt patients admitted to ER in the middle of July. In the two weeks prior to Tuesday, there was one bath salt case in ER.

Michael Merrill, chief medical officer for UMMC, who told The Batavian on July 16 that emergency room cases related to bath salts had become routine, confirmed today that the hospital has seen no new bath salt cases for close to two weeks.

"The easy supplier in town is gone and now the supply is gone," Merrill said.

The drop in synthetic drug-related calls could also be a result of increased awareness by potential users of how dangerous the drugs are, officials said, and the fact that some of the people who seemed to have been involved in bath salts during the height of the seeming barrage of bath salt-related emergencies are now in jail.

"I think the people who wanted to experiment have seen all the negative things that this does and might not want to experiment (now)," Det. Rich Schauf said. "Maybe they had the thought that this might be something to do because it’s legal and then they saw that it's something that’s very harmful, and it got a lot of publicity, it might cause somebody to say, 'I’m not going to harm myself with it.' "

Synthetic drugs have been a growing problem across the nation over the past couple of years and on July 9, the federal government enacted more stringent legal controls on the sale of the substances.

Following the new legislation, the federal Drug Enforcment Administration was lead agency in raids in about 100 cities across the U.S., including Batavia, on establishments suspected of selling synthetic drugs.

Just prior to the raids, The Batavian reported that regionally, communities with emergency responses for suspected synthetic drug incidents were those communities that seemed to have an alleged local supplier of the drugs. Law enforcement officials in areas without an alleged local supplier reported seeing far fewer synthetic drug-related problems.

Users of synthetic drugs tend to display paranoid and agitated behavior, sometimes hallucinating, or they suffer sever medical problems such as high body temperature and seizures, creating both public safety and public health concerns.

Steve Sharpe, director of emergency communications for the Sheriff's Office, said without more data -- and two weeks is too little data -- he thinks it's too soon to say for sure whether usage is down.

He did report, however, that no new calls have been documented in the county outside of the City of Batavia since Aug. 1.

Officer Eric Hill is quoted in the health department report as saying Batavia PD was receiving two or three synthetic drug-related calls per shift, which would mean six to nine calls per day. 

The call volume, Schauf said yesterday, has dropped significantly in recent weeks.

The county health department has received one complaint about the possible sale of bath salts since July 25, when The 420 Emporium was raided. A citizen turned in an empty "Eight Ballz" packet that was allegedly purchased locally on July 26 or 27.

The 420 store remains closed, though its shelves are still stocked with glassware inventory and on the chain's Facebook page for the Brockport location an Oakfield resident asked about the Batavia store and an admin for The 420 Emporium page replied, "No the Batavia store is not open yet."

Joshua Denise, who appears to be the owner (or at least co-owner) of the Batavia store, was arrested during the DEA raid. He is out of federal custody pending further legal proceedings.

Schauf said the Batavia PD continues to remain alert for possible reports of synthetic drug sales in the city and there's no assumption the problems associated with synthetic drugs have passed.

"Somebody who wants to find it will find it," Schauf said. "If there’s a demand, somebody will say, 'there’s a demand' and they’ll try to sell it."

August 2, 2012 - 10:08pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, synthetic drugs, bath salts, The 420 Emporium.

Joshua Denise, the 37-year-old Batavia resident who was identified in a U.S. Attorney press release and in a federal search warrant affidavit as an employee of The 420 Emporium appears to be at least co-owner the the store at 400 Ellicott St., according to documents obtained by The Batavian.

While working on a story Monday about how other locations of The 420 Emporium have apparently reopened while the Batavia store remains closed, The Batavian stopped by the location to take pictures of the store and check for signs of activity.

The mail had apparently not been picked up in a couple of days and clearly visible in the mailbox was an envelope with a return address for New York Taxation and Finance addressed Joshua Denise c/o The 420 Store, LLC.

The 420 Store, LLC was filed with the Secretary of State on Feb. 16, 2012.

This is a separate incorporation from The 420 Emporium, Inc., filed Aug. 29, 2011.

The Batavian then issued a FOIL request with the Batavia Fire Department for any fire inspection documents.

Denise signed the inspection notice as "owner/occupant" of the business location.

A FOIL request was also sent to the Genesee County Department of Health for any inspection records. 

Denise is listed on those documents as "co-owner" of "420 Emporium," 400 Ellicott St.

Federal authorities, assisted by local law enforcement, raided the store July 26 as part of a larger operation hitting all five 420 Emporium locations and arrested Denise along with Michelle Condidorio, 30, of Le Roy.

Both Denise and Condidorio were arraigned in federal court that day and charged with possession with intent to distribute, and distribution of, a controlled substance analog.

They are suspected of selling packages of a product that contained alpha-PVP, a chemical that is an analog to MDPV. MDPV became a controlled substance on July 9. The substances are believed to provide an euphoric type high and be addictive. Side effects seem to include paranoia, hallucinations and agitation.

While Denise and Condidorio were not held by authorities following arraignment, the store has not reopened.

Meanwhile, the 420 stores in Brockport, Fulton and Henrietta have, according to sources, reopened.

The Brockport store has advertised job openings at its location on its Facebook page.

Charles Darwin Fitzgerald is listed in DEA documents as well as the incorporation papers as the owner of The 420 Emporium.  His live-in girlfriend, Amber Snover, has proclaimed herself on Facebook as the owner of the stores in Brockport, Rochester, Henrietta and Fulton.

The feds also searched the Fitzgerald/Snover home in Greece, and reportedly recovered a large bag of cash, but neither subject has been charged with a crime so far.

In an inspection of the 420 store in Batavia on May 31, Denise allegedly told a county health worker that his store didn't sell synthetic cannabinoids.

The health technician reported the following items were on sale: herbal incense brands of "Kryptonite" as well as items labeled "Rain of Fire," "Fuzzy Wuzzy," and "Kush 10x."

Kryptonite herbal incense can be found for sale on what appear to be online head shops and there is at least one YouTube video of a person allegedly smoking a substance of the same name.

"Rain of Fire," "Fuzzy Wuzzy," and "Kush 10x" are all reported on at least one Web site as a form of alleged synthetic cannabinoid.

The health technician issued to Denise a notice that day that the state had banned synthetic cannabinoids of all types.

On July 2, the County Health Department also cited the 420 Store for selling tobacco products that were not either behind the counter with only employee access or in a locked case.

Denise didn't contest the citation and paid a $350 fine on July 16.

The business was also found allegedly to be in violation of city fire codes on July 16, such as accumulation of trash in the back room, a hole above the back door that needed to be properly repaired, lack of properly located fire extinguishers, lack of outlet covers and no exit sign above the rear exit.

There's no indication whether these alleged violations were resolved or are still pending.

July 26, 2012 - 3:52pm

Yesterday our story on the raid at The 420 Emporium contained information from an affidavit we obtained that had been filed in support of a search warrant request.

It turns out, that affidavit came out of the Northern District of the U.S. Attorney's Office. Today, we obtained a copy of the affidavit from the Western District, which includes Batavia, Brockport and Rochester.

Below is some of the information that is specific to the WNY affidavit, presented in the order it appears in the affidavit, omitting information covered in the previous affidavit and concentrating on items relevant to Batavia:

  • Product obtained at the stores allegedly contained controlled substance analogs known as alpha-PVP, Pentedrone, MPPP, UR-144, and AM2201.
  • The first undercover purchase was May 10 at the Brockport store. The agent inquired about "Snowblind" and "Rave." The agent paid $60 for the products and left. Tests showed the products allegedly contained Pentedrone.
  • On July 19, an undercover agent again entered the Brockport store and noticed packages of synthetic marijuana were no longer available. The agent inquired about a product called "Da Bomb." A clerk reportedly said the store did not carry the product anymore because it had been outlawed. A second clerk said the problem was the packages didn't contain a surgeon general warning and the first clerk allegedly said that somebody would "repackage that shit in like a month or two and send it back out, you know that," and the second clerk added, "You know it's going to be the same companies, different name."
  • The first alleged controlled purchase by agents in Batavia was July 2. Two undercover agents entered. The first agent inquired about Amped, Pump-It and Spice. A store clerk allegedly said the Batavia location was out of Pump-It but the Rochester store might have it. UC-1 asked if a different synethetic cannabinoid had the same watermelon flavor as "Mr. Happy." The clerk allegedly said that was like "comparing apples to oranges." The UC asked for a recommendation and the clerk said she could not recommend anything, saying "people like what they like." The agent reportedly recognized face-down packages of Amped on the counter, so asked if there was any Amped available. The agent purchased one package of Amped for $65.
  • The second agent requested a synthetic cannabinoid known as "Purple Haze." The agent said one of the product made his girlfriend's stomach sick and asked what product might make someone's stomach sick. The clerk said she didn't know and added that the product was not supposed to be used for human consumption. The clerk then sold the agent a package of "Purple Haze" for $21.60. The affidavit notes that agents made it abundantly clear they intended to use products for human consumption and the female clerk was reluctant to talk about it.
  • On July 16, two undercover agents entered the Batavia store. The first agent asked for a packet of Snowman and the clerk said the store was out of it. "The clerk further stated the brands Rave and Snowman tested positive in 'field test,' " the affidavit says. "When asked if they had anything like it the clerk said he could not lead the agent in any one direction, but then, in a not-so-subtle fashion, displayed an empty packet of Amped." The agent said he had taken "Amped" before and tried to purchase one package for $54. When the agent couldn't produce ID, the other agent allegedly made the purchase.
  • The second agent then inquired about G-13. The clerk said the product was illegal. The agent asked if any was still in stock and the clerk allegedly responded that they had "Da Bomb" and "WOW" in stock. The first agent then said, "we need papers." The clerk said he could not sell the product and papers in the same purchase "because I have to assume it is going to be consumed," allegedly adding, but "you can go outside and come back." Agent one allegedly made the synthetic cannabinoid purchase, left the store while the second agent waited, returned 10 seconds later and bought papers. 
  • During the July 16 undercover buy, the clerk advised the agents 420 Emporium had been in the news recently about bath salts. The clerk allegedly explained that he would only get into trouble if he sold bath salts for human consumption.
  • The Amped was not being kept in plain view, the agent notes in the affidavit. A sign read, "All products are intended for their legal purposes only. Any mention of illegal activity will not be tolerated. Thank you."
  • During an alleged buy in Rochester, a clerk reportedly told an agent that there were 16 remote cameras in the store that were monitored by the owner from his home.
  • The affidavit notes that the Batavia store had been subject of multiple police reports from concerned citizens and community activists. The report makes note of, but not by name, the arrest of Nicole Lang for alleged trespassing. The incident spawned increased media attention on the store and led to a protest at the location, the affidavit notes.
  • Michelle Condidorio, Joshua Denise and Austin Szczur are all named in the affidavit as suspects for arrest.
July 26, 2012 - 1:27pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, brockport, synthetic drugs, bath salts, The 420 Emporium.

Previously we published a story looking at the communities that had head shops alleged to be selling synthetic drugs and those villages that had no such establishment.

As part of the process, we requested an interview Brockport Chief of Police Daniel Varrenti -- several times. At one point, we got the message back that he was out of the office until Thursday.

Yesterday morning as I stood outside The 420 Emporium on Ellicott Street, Batavia, and knew the same sort of raid was taking place in Brockport I thought, "ah, this is why the chief didn't want to talk to me until Thursday."

This morning, Varrenti apologized for not getting back to me. He was in fact concerned about discussing The 420 Emporium prior to the raids.

This morning while awaiting my own appearance on "Kimberly and Beck" radio show on "The Buzz," I heard a Brockport resident talk about how many people in the community there were concerned about the 420 allegedly selling bath salts and that just like in Batavia, dozens of people drove down Market Street yesterday cheering on law enforcement during the raid.

Varrenti confirmed this morning that there were people in the community concerned that the 420 might be selling synthetic drugs and were requesting police action. He said, however, as a law enforcement issue, his officers did not handle many calls similar to what we've seen in Batavia involving bizarre and violent behavior.

There were calls, he said, involving bizarre behavior, but it was never established that they were related to bath salts.

His officers, he said, weren't necessarily looking for a connection to bath salts.

"I know I've read reports where people might have denoted some psychological problems, but we do not know if it was the result of synthetic drugs," Varrenti said.

"How do we know we haven’t come across 20 of these things, but because there was no law broken all we’re going to do is bring in the person to be evaluated for (his or her) mental health and we’re never going to know what the problem was," Varrenti added.

Varrenti said as a 33-year veteran in law enforcement including more than a dozen years as a narcotics detective, many people in the community know him as an expert in narcotics.

"If I'm a quasi-expert in anything," Varrenti said. "It's narcotics."

With that background, people were looking to his department especially to do something about the perceived problem at the 420.

"Why can't you take care of this problem we have here?" Varrenti said people would ask him.

"It's very difficult because these investigations take a long time," Varrenti said. "We don't want to lock up the clerk behind the counter. We want to get to the distributor or the importer. I'm not a patient person by nature and I can only imagine what it's like for a member of the community who has a family member (who is using bath salts), and we've gotten those complaints."

In one of the affidavits used to secure search warrants for yesterday's raids,* community complaints in Brockport are used as a justification for the search.  Varrenti provided DEA agents with an email from a community member who said "it is killing our children" and implored Brockport PD to do something about it.

*NOTE: There were two affidavits used for search warrants yesterday, one for the Northern District of the U.S. Attorney's Office and one for the Western District.  Yesterday, we only had the Northern District affidavit. Today we obtained the Western District affidavit, which is full of information specific to Batavia that was not in the Northern District affidavit. In a separate post later today we'll share information from that affidavit.

July 26, 2012 - 10:14am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, synthetic drugs, bath salts, The 420 Emporium.

Michelle Condidorio Joshua Denise

The three clerks employed by The 420 Emporium and arrested Wednesday by federal agents have already been arraigned on charges that could send them away for as much as 20 years.

But with an investigation that's still pending and boxes and boxes of evidence to sort through, the defendants may yet find more charges piled on.

Authorities are especially interested in hearing from any potential witnesses who may have purchased synthetic drugs from the clerks, later ingested them and wound up in the hospital as a result.

The sentencing guidelines for people convicted of selling a controlled substance or its analog that leads to serious bodily harm requires a mandatory minimum of 20 years in a federal penitentiary.

"The judge has no choice," said William Hochul, U.S. Attorney for Western New York, during a press conference in Batavia on Wednesday evening. "You have to go to jail for at least 20 years and up to life imprisonment. As we’ve indicated in court, we believe that there is a possibility of that kind of sentence in this kind of case regardless of whether we proceed under the Analog Act or Title 21."

Taken into custody Wednesday were Joshua Denise, 37, a Batavia resident, Michelle Condidorio, 30, of Le Roy, and Austin Szczur, 22, of Rochester.

Denise and Condidorio are believed to have been employed at The 420 Emporium's Batavia location and Szczur reportedly worked in Brockport.

All three are suspected of selling packages of a product that contained alpha-PVP, a chemical that is an analog to MDPV. They are charged with possession with intent to distribute, and distribution of, a controlled substance analog.

MDPV became a controlled substance July 9 when President Barack Obama signed into law an act to ban a wide range of chemicals that are believed to be used in the synthetic drug trade.

An analog of a controlled substance is a chemical that has the same or similiar effect on a person as an illegal drug and was sold with the intent of human consumption.

"This stuff in the DEA’s eyes is just as bad as methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin," said James Burns, assistant special agent in charge for the DEA. "When you’re charging $60 for a 3-gram pack of some of this stuff and it’s labeled glass cleaner or plant food or bath salt, I mean that raises a red flag with me.

"It should raise a red flag with any rational individual because we all know you can go down to the five-and-dime and buy a box of bath salts for far less than 60 bucks, or a bag of potpourri for far less than what these substances are being sold for."

The alleged sale of these synthetic drugs appears to have been quite lucrative for Charles Darwin Fitzgerald, who is the owner of The 420 Emporium chain of five stores, according to federal authorities, and his live-in girlfriend Amber Snover, who has proclaimed herself the owner, on Facebook and in a public meeting, of at least four of the stores.

The couple's home at 21 West Hills Estate in Greece is worth at least $224,000.

Authorities say they recovered more than $700,000 in cash from the six locations raided by law enforcement Wednesday.

Authorities displayed potato-sack-sized bag of cash at the press conference, stuffed full of bundles of cash in denominations from $5 to $100.

Investigators said they couldn't publicly indentify at this time which location that bag of cash was seized from, but news reporters on the scene of 21 West Hills Estate yesterday said they saw officials carrying a large sack of cash from the Fitzgerald/Snover residence.

Neither Fitzgerald nor Snover were arrested Wednesday and so far are facing no federal charges.

They are free to reopen all five of their stores today. 

All of their employees who were arrested were released from custody following their arraignments.

Officials reportedly, however, seized all of the computer and electronic communication devices in the possession of Fitzgerald and Snover, including mobile phones.

The search warrant also reportedly allowed authorities to seize any written records.

With the investigation still pending, DEA agents will presumably be looking for evidence that connects Fitzgerald and Snover to knowledge of actual sales to the public or possession of a controlled substance.

According to a search warrant affidavit, the owner or owners of the 420 were able to monitor activity in the stores via remotely operated cameras.

Burns said the only reason people sell synthetic drugs is to make money.

"Even though something is called legal doesn’t make it safe," Burns said. "These are chemicals that have never been tested on either animals or humans.

"We have no idea what the long-term effects of these substances will be, and trust me ladies and gentlemen, the folks who are selling these substances and manufacturing this stuff, they’re not in it for humanitarian reasons or altruistic reasons. That (Burns pointed to the bag of money) right there is why they’re selling thses substances."

Local and state law enforcement officials spoke to the problems synthetic drugs are causing in neighborhoods and said they have presented a serious public safety hazard and difficult law enforcement problem.

"They’re manufactured in so many different ways you don’t know what's in the contents of these packages until you actually go and test them," said Major Christopher Cummings, Troop A commander, State Police. "You don’t know the reaction that can occur when a person consumes (these products) so it makes it difficult at our level in trying to address this situation.

"Some of the drugs in these packets here may be a controlled substance under New York State penal code, but then again they may not. Our federal partners are critical in addressing this fast-moving situation that we’re in."

Hochul praised the community support in alert law enforcement to what was happening with bath salts in their neighborhoods and said that law enforcement will continue to need community support if the potential damaging effects of illicit drugs is to be minimized.

"We in law enforcement will never be able to arrest our way out of any narcotics problem, including synthetic drugs," Hochul said. "I think with the public’s assistance in identifying (the availability of) these substances in these packets as being sold in the community then they can at least help to identify targets for us."

Lt. Jim Henning, Batavia PD, said the community cooperation and support as the bath salt problem seemed to spread throughout the city in recent months has been tremendously helpful.

"It’s very reassuring when the majority of your community realizes the danger that these drugs pose to the entire community," Henning said. "We’re just extremely happy with the events that took place today in our community because we realize on a daily basis the effect it has on our community and on our citizens."

July 25, 2012 - 4:40pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, synthetic drugs, bath salts, The 420 Emporium.

A 30-something woman walked out of the 420 Emporium at 400 Ellicott St., Batavia, this morning and told a police officer standing near the door, "Well, I picked the wrong day to come here."

Minutes before, at precisely 11:30 a.m., law enforcement officers from multiple agencies and led by an agent from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration swooped into the head shop and executed a search warrant aimed at finding evidence of illegal synthetic drug sales.

Two people believed to be employees of the 420 Emporium were taken into custody and four boxes of product marked "DEA Evidence" were removed from the store.

The raid was an apparent coordinated effort by DEA agents throughout the United States to go after the distributors of "bath salts" and other synthetic drugs.  News reports from around the country so far report bath salt-related raids in Boston, Albuquerque, Tampa, Texas and Utica.

The 420 shops in Brockport and Fulton were also raided as was the home of Charles Fitzgerald and Amber Snover at 21 West Hills Estate, Greece (mailbox, inset photo, courtesy Sean Carroll, WHAM13).

A warehouse in Tonawanda was also raided and WIVB reports it was allegedly a major distribution point for synthetic drug-trafficking throughout Western New York. Fawzi Al-Arashi was arrested at his Amherst home in connection with that raid.

The names of the two people taken into custody in Batavia this morning have not been released, nor do we know yet what federal charges they might face. They were transported to Rochester federal court for arraignment.

Authorities at the scene of the raid were not able to confirm what substances, if any, were found. We can only report that investigators -- which included agents of the Local Drug Enforcement Task Force and the State Police -- were inside the shop for two hours. DEA agents entered with flat, folded boxes and left with boxes seemingly packed to the brim of items retrieved from inside the store.

One male believed to be an employee of the store was inside at the time of the raid. A second woman showed up about 12:45 p.m. and spoke briefly with a trooper outside the shop, giggling nervously and saying she came by "to see if I still had a job."

Less than two minutes after she entered the shop she was sitting in a chair with her hands cuffed behind her back.

The same woman had been in the shop and behind the counter seemingly waiting on a customer when a reporter from The Batavian entered the store on July 17.

While Batavia PD were on scene, numerous members of the community drove by the location on Ellicott Street and honked, gave thumbs up and yelled "good job" at police officers.

"It’s very nice to see the community is supporting the efforts that we are doing here today," said Chief of Police Shawn Heubusch.

Heubusch said the DEA enforcement effort was indeed a welcome one for the community.

"This is a big relief for the City of Batavia as a whole," Heubusch said. "The residents in this community have been plagued by a problem with bath salts. To see this effort, to see that the federal government has noticed this, it is a very big relief to the residents of the city and the police department."

Asked if it felt like it took awhile for DEA to act at a time when current laws kind of tie the hands of local law enforcement, or if the DEA action seemed swift, Heubusch said, "The old saying ‘good things come to those who wait’ applies here. As with any criminal action, you need to get all of your ducks in a row and make sure you’re on good legal solid ground. I think they acted swiftly in this case."

The actual investigation into 420 Emporium appears to have taken about two-and-a-half months, according to an affidavit filed in federal court in support of a DEA request for a search warrant.

The affidavit states that a confidential informant helped supply information about the operation of the 420 shops, the practices of its owner, identified as Charles Darwin Fitzgerald, and supplied possible evidence to agents.

According to the affidavit, Fitzgerald was previously involved with the Look A Hookah shop in Rochester and that the informant has witnessed Fitzgerald provide synthetic drugs to people to sample and test so he could determine the effect on the people and the effectiveness of the product.

Fitzgerald is reportedly romantically involved with Amber Snover and they have at least one child together and both reside at 21 West Hills Estate in Greece.

Fitzgerald is identified as the sole owner of the 420 locations in Brockport, Fulton, Rochester, Henrietta and Batavia.

The affidavit focuses on two types of "Amped" allegedly sold at the 420 stores. 
There is an older product that is a white powder and a newer product that is an off-white powder. Both products are allegedly distributed by a company out of Tempe, Ariz., called Dynamic Distribution.

DEA agents intercepted two shipments headed to Rochester. Allegedly, one was specifically addressed to "Amber" at 21 West Hills Estate. (The phone number associated with the shipment is one digit off, with a an "8" where a "3" should be for the number The Batavian used to request an interview with Amber Snover earlier this week.)

The second box allegedly listed the same recipient as the first box and notes the second box required a COD payment of $23,500.

The first box weighed 22.9 pounds and was allegedly shipped from John Freeman, 3360 Annapolis Lane North, Suite A, Plymouth, Minn. 

The DEA requested and received a search warrant in order to seize the packages.

Inside, agents allegedly found 2,000 grams of "Amped Exuberance Powder," 500 grams of "White Water Exuberance Powder" and 495 grams of "Snowman Glass Cleaner."

A lab test allegedly found the Amped contained alpha-PVP, benzocaine and caffeine, and those same substances were allegedly found in the other products as well.

Alpha-PVP is apparently an analog (something like -- and under the Federal Analog Act like enough to -- a controlled substance that it's illegal to sell) of MPDV, which was made a federally controlled substance July 9 and has been a controlled substance in New York for nearly a year.

Over the past two-and-half months, according to the affidavit, agents have made a series of undercover buys at all five 420 locations.

During the undercover operation, agents noticed each of the 420 locations had security cameras that the DEA believes allowed a person at a remote location to monitor activities at the stores.

Undercover buys of Amped were allegedly made in Brockport and Batavia on July 2 and July 3.

At other 420 locations, clerks are alleged to have detailed conversations with undercover agents about the use of specific synthetic drugs, including Amped.

Bottom photo, 21 West Hill Estate in Greece, the residence of Charles Fitzgerald and Amber Snover. Photo courtesy Sean Carroll, WHAM13.

July 25, 2012 - 11:42am
posted by Billie Owens in batavia, crime, synthetic drugs, bath salts, The 420 Emporium.

The 420 Emporium on Ellicott Street in the City of Batavia was just raided by the local Drug Enforcement Task Force, agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the Batavia Police Department, and State Troopers.

UPDATE 11:56 a.m.: This is one of a handful of raids being conducted in Central and Western New York at locations suspected of selling bath salts. Howard, who is on scene, says that when this went down neighbors came out and cheered the officers on, and one person shouted "We've waited a long time for this!"

UPDATE 12:03 p.m.: A few minutes ago, City Councilwoman Rosemary Christian drove by and yelled "Fantastic!"

UPDATE 12:07 p.m.: Any charges resulting from this raid will be federal.

UPDATE 12:57 p.m.: An employee showed up to work at the store and was immediately arrested.

UPDATE 1:21 p.m.: All units are clear from this location.

July 24, 2012 - 5:49pm

In an apparent attempt to intimidate news reporters from covering the activities of her stores, the woman who has identified herself online as the owner of at least four outlets of The 420 Emporium contacted law enforcement on Monday and accused The Batavian's publisher of harassing her.

A police officer with the Greece PD contacted Howard Owens at 9:18 p.m., Monday, and ordered him to not have further contact with Amber Snover.

Snover was the subject of a story on The Batavian on Monday identifying her as the self-proclaimed owner of 420 shops in Brockport, Fulton, Henrietta and Syracuse.  It's unclear if she also owns the Batavia store at 400 Ellicott St.

When contacted via phone on Monday, Snover denied ownership of all five locations and Owens followed up with a text message question and an exchanged ensured in which she accused Owens of harassing her even though it was his first contact with her.

Owens, who had identified himself clearly on the initial call, informed Snover further via text that he was a reporter with legitimate questions.

When Owens told the Greece PD officer the same thing, the officer told Owens he had no right to contact Snover, that she was "alarmed and annoyed" by the contact and that if he contacted her again "we will issue a warrant for your arrest."

The Public Information Officer for the Greece PD, Capt. Steve Chatterton, said today the contact by the officer was a typical courtesy call placed by a police officer at the behest of an individual who wanted to request no further contact.

Chatterton said no police report was taken and no charges are pending. He said if Owens felt obliged as a journalist to seek an interview in the future with Snover, an arrest warrant would not be automatic. He said the circumstances of the case would be reviewed with the Monroe County District Attorney's Office before deciding how to proceed.

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Contact: Howard Owens, publisher (howard (at) the batavian dot com); (585) 250-4118

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