A 39-year-old Rochester man has admitted in federal court that he sold drugs commonly known as bath salts in Batavia and other communities and faces a maximum prison term of 30 years or $2 million fine or both.
Charles Fitzgerald entered a guilty plea to possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute before U.S. District Court Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr.
As part of the plea, Fitzgerald admitted to ownership of the 420 Emporium, once located on Ellicott Street, where substances known as Amped, Pump It, Da Bomb and Mr. Happy were sold.
Shortly after the store opened in the Spring of 2012, local law enforcement officers were responding to a series of calls dealing with people engaging in bizarre behavior.
By the summer, a number of local residents joined in pickets in front of the store and a rally against bath salts held at a local business.
Federal officials responded as part of a nationwide crackdown on bath salts July 25, 2012, with a raid of the Batavia location as well as Fitzgerald's other 420 Emporium locations.
Fitzgerald lived with Amber Snover, who had previously listed herself on Facebook as the owner of at least two of the 420 locations. Snover was also arrested and agents seized $771,109 in cash at their residence at 221 West Hills Estates, Greece.
The arrests of Fitzgerald, Snover, Joshua Denise (who was listed on state documents as the owner of the Batavia location) and Michelle Condidorio, an employee in Batavia, was the culmination of an investigation that involved undercover buys and an unnamed informant seemingly within Fitzgerald's inner circle.
The substances Fitzgerald sold were synthetic drugs, compounds devised by clandestine laboratories to mimic the highs produced by illicit drugs such as meth, cocaine and marijuana.
Bath salts were blamed on a rash of unusual behavior across the country, including reports of naked men eating the faces of victims.
Prior to the raids, the federal government listed the known synthetics of the time as analogues to controlled substances, making sales and possession illegal.
While bath salts are known to cause issues locally, including emergency room visits and even possibly one death, bath salt incidents locally dropped off dramatically after the raid and closure of the 420 Emporium.
Three 420 Emporium employees have pled guilty to federal charges and are awaiting sentencing.
“This case demonstrates how by working together, the community and law enforcement can improve the quality of life for all,” said U.S. Attorney William Hochul. “In this case, a rash of emergency room visits due to overdoses of synthetic drugs was brought to our attention by concerned members of the community, including the media. Law enforcement immediately engaged, and within several months, was able to execute search warrants throughout Western New York and make arrests of those selling such illegal and highly dangerous substances. With this conviction, we are able to report that the entire investigation was a success.”
Fitzgerald will be sentenced at 3 p.m. on April 15 by Judge Geraci.
The Batavian provided the most comprehensive, and fastest-breaking news coverage of the bath salt issue in Western New York in 2012. For an archive of those stories, click here.
PHOTO: File photo of cash and drugs seized by federal agents in the raids on July 25, 2012, of the 420 Emporium stores and the owner's residence.