FRANKLIN, Ind. (WISH) – The doors of a Johnson County gas station were padlocked for a second time in as many weeks, after police raided it to seize synthetic marijuana known as “spice.” It’s the first use in Central Indiana of a new state law meant to shut down businesses found to be selling the dangerous chemical.
The bust at a Phillips 66 station in the 400 block of East Jefferson Street followed a two-year undercover investigation by Franklin Police and Indiana State Police. It netted more than 350 packets of the synthetic drug, with a street value in excess of $14,000.
Rupinder Singh and Veerpartap Singh were both arrested during the raid and charged with dealing a synthetic drug. Arrest warrants were issued for the gas station’s owners Nachhattar Singh and Harinder Kaur, who are out of the country in India. Their attorney has indicated they plan to turn themselves in when they return to Franklin in January.
Both face a Class C felony charge, which could result in up to eight years in prison if convicted.
For nearby business owners like Sarah Bullington, the bust and subsequent shut down of the gas station was a welcome sight.
“There’s just a lot of different kind of riff raff going on, a lot of strange people coming in and out of there, and we’ve always been a little nervous working in here after dark,” Bullington said. Her store, Salvage Sisters Antiques Market, sits directly across the street from the gas station.
“We had heard around town it was coming, and we were just keeping our fingers crossed that it would be sooner rather than later,” she added.
But, Bullington’s excitement was short lived. Just two days after the bust, the gas station’s doors reopened.
“Very frustrating,” she said. “We were definitely bummed and thought this had been taken care of.”
“I was the same way,” said Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper. “[I said], ‘What do you mean they’re open again? They shouldn’t be open again!’ I told them to shut them down!”
Cooper says Franklin Police Chief Tim O’Sullivan did not believe officers had the authority to keep the business shut down following their investigation.
“I told them that they did,” said Cooper. “And they apparently came out here, shut it down, searched the place, but then gave the keys back to the owners, much to my surprise.”
I-Team 8’s calls to O’Sullivan and other Franklin Police public information officers were not returned Monday.
Two years ago, I-Team 8 first exposed how synthetic drug makers were changing their chemical compounds to avoid prosecution. Lawmakers responded by passing a bill to give prosecutors the power to shut down stores found selling the chemicals.
Sen. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis), who co-authored the legislation, expressed frustration that the gas station had resumed operations.
“It’s come to my attention that owners of the Phillips 66 convenience store have resumed operations after a synthetic drug raid, pending further review of potential infractions or criminal charges for dealing look-alike synthetic drugs. I am hopeful the court will handle this case appropriately and quickly, and help permanently rid the Franklin community of these poisons,” he said Monday.
“The selling of the synthetic drugs was supporting the other things that were going on,” Cooper said. “This was a storefront that was used to sell synthetic drugs. And, basically, anything that’s being used to sell drugs I can shut down.”
But, that newly-enacted power had never been used before in Central Indiana. So, when Franklin police gave the keys back to the owners’ family, Cooper went to court.
“It was their decision. No [bad blood]. I just gave them the legal advice that they could. But, I was going to shut it down whether they did or not. So, we went to the judge and he said to shut the business down until the legal matters are resolved,” Cooper said.
But, the padlock now on the door is only a temporary solution.
A more permanent fix lies with Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who sent a letter to retailers earlier this year warning them that their retail merchant certificate could be revoked if they’re convicted for selling synthetic drugs.
“Not only here, but throughout the state. Anyone else caught selling these synthetic drugs should be in fear of their retail license. We can go after retail licenses who sell these types of synthetic drugs, and we’ve provided notice to everybody. So, at this point, everyone knows you can’t sell these types of synthetic drugs in retail shops,” Zoeller said during a news conference announcing the charges stemming from the Franklin bust.
Zoeller’s office is now building its case against the gas station and its owners, and additional racketeering related charges could also still lie ahead, Cooper said.
It’s the first test for the new law, and Cooper says he hopes for a quick resolution.
“We would like to seize this, have it sold off, and then have that money given back to the police agencies for their expense in doing this investigation,” Cooper said. “My goal is to not have people dealing synthetic drugs in my county.”