When local police found their attempts to bust a local head shop for selling synthetic drugs stymied by loopholes in state drug laws, they turned to federal authorities. Now the shop’s owner and an employee are facing a potential 20 years in state prison following a six-month investigation into the sale of the synthetic dope marketed as “bath salts” but formulated to mimic the effects of street drugs like ecstasy, methamphetamine and cocaine.
Last Friday, February 15, agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and detectives from the Kingston Police Department’s investigations unit arrested Kevin Hartrum of Mount Marion and Teresa Greene of Kingston at their homes. Both were charged with the federal crime of conspiracy to distribute schedule I controlled substance analogues. The crime carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a million-dollar fine.
According to complaint filed in U.S District Court for the Southern District of New York in White Plains, Hartrum is the owner of Broadway Head to Toe Apparel. Greene, the compliant alleges, has worked at the store since late 2011. Police described the store at 344 Broadway as “a head shop” which sold drug paraphernalia along with sneakers and jeans.
According to KPD Chief Egidio Tinti, the shop had been on police radar for the past few years, especially after cops began getting complaints from parents about students at Kingston High School buying “bath salts” there. The synthetic drugs, which according to DEA spokeswoman Erin Mulvey emerged around 2009, are marketed with names like “Vanilla Wave,” “White Lightning” and “XTC.”
Not for human consumption
The packaging claims the capsules, full of white powder, are bath salts, and contains the warning “not for human consumption.” Mulvey said they were in fact virtual clones of street drugs, with enough molecules moved around to skirt drug laws which usually lay out a specific formulation for substances to qualify as illegal narcotics. Until October 2011, when Congress approved an umbrella ban on any substance chemically similar to an illegal drug, bath salts existed in a legal gray area. Sold openly in head shops and convenience stores, they proved popular with high-school students as well as probationers, parolees and other subjected to frequent drug testing.
The testing typically failed to detect the analogues as banned drugs. Mulvey said. The synthetics, whose origin remains under investigation and whose chemical composition changes frequently, have been cited in a surge of overdoses and ER admissions over the past few years.
“It’s very dangerous, because you really don’t know what’s in it,” said Mulvey. “And it’s targeting teens, they can’t walk into a store and buy a six-pack, but you don’t need ID for bath salts.”