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Law enforcement raid 5 Victoria businesses; 7 arrested

By KBell
April 9, 2012 at 5 p.m.
Updated April 9, 2012 at 11:10 p.m.

Victoria County Sheriff's Office deputies carry out boxes of evidence found at D&D Novelties on Houston Highway following a five-month investigation. Deputies conducted searches at two D&D Novelties stores, as well as three other locations on Monday.

About 60 members of law enforcement raided five Victoria businesses Monday in search of synthetic drugs.

Victoria police officers and sheriff deputies served search warrants simultaneously about noon at Smoke N Rock, 6412 N. Navarro St.; Needful Things, 3608 N. Laurent St.; Cracker Barrel, 112 Sam Houston Drive; and the two locations of D&D Novelties at 1706 Houston Highway and 9501 N. Navarro St.

Seven people, including a few patrons, were arrested in conjunction with the raids, which uncovered the synthetic substances from each location.

"As we know, there has been legislation related to what we call bath salts, which is a synthetic cocaine, as well as a synthetic marijuana product. This has been an ongoing issue for last few years," Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor said.

A law categorizing the chemical makeup of the products as a narcotic became effective Sept. 1. O'Connor said law enforcement wanted to give businesses time to react to the legislation, but a five-month, undercover operation revealed the businesses were still selling the synthetic drugs. After purchasing the drugs, law enforcement then sent them to a lab, which concluded they were in fact illegal, O'Connor said.

Calls from concerned citizens and family members prompted the law enforcement agencies to investigate the sale of illegal substances. The drugs can change users' demeanor, making them hallucinate and act aggressively and causing their heart rates to soar, O'Connor said.

"They asked us to please look into doing something about it," O'Connor said. "We rely on the citizens out there to be the eyes and ears of what is wrong."

At a news conference Monday night, O'Connor did not elaborate on what exactly deputies found in which business, only to say there were some surprises. Law enforcement worked into the evening securing evidence, which is expected to fill up multiple large trucks.

O'Connor would also not elaborate on who was arrested and whether the products were concealed or on display, saying he didn't want to hinder the investigation. He said later charges may stretch beyond the county and include engaging in organized criminal activity, which is being investigated by the state Attorney General's office.

According to the arrest blotter Monday night, at least one employee from each of Smoke N Rock, Needful Things and Cracker Barrel was arrested on suspicion of manufacturing or delivering a controlled substance.

Another person was arrested at Smoke N Rock on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, according to arrest reports.

David Shook, who owns the D&D Novelties store on Houston Highway, said no employees from either D&D location were arrested.

Shook said he was under the impression the products he sold were legal. He said he worked with the companies from which he bought synthetic marijuana to ensure the chemical makeup was legal in Texas. The drugs could be purchased online, he said, but declined to give brand names.

"We felt like we had to pay more taxes - we were helping the city. We weren't hurting it, but maybe we were," he said, adding D&D did not sell the bath salts.

Shook said law enforcement packed up all of the shop's smoking gear, which is the most popular way to use the drugs.

Shook said he was mostly upset that his 10 to 15 customers were interrogated after the raid.

One customer, Mary Gray, 30, said she was detained for an hour and a half while deputies patted down and checked the identifications of the patrons.

"It was not scary. It was very frustrating," she said.

O'Connor, meanwhile, said searching the patrons was part of the investigation.

"When you go in, and you have a search warrant, you're going to detain everybody that's in there," he said.

The stores are free to open back up when deputies have secured all of the evidence.

And that's what Shook plans to do.

"We understand they don't want us to sell synthetics anymore. So we won't. This is it for us. We'll stop," Shook said. "But still let us sell pipes and stuff. That's our bread and butter."

O'Connor said law enforcement will release more details Tuesday afternoon. For now, he said, the extensive operation was a success that brought multiple agencies together to combat a problem on Victoria streets.

"Today proves we're going to be very aggressive on this, as well as any other narcotics in Victoria and Victoria County," he said.

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