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Saturday, April 18, 2015 at 8:53 am

Owner of former 420 Emporium given 30 months in prison, forfeits $771K

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bath salts, crime, synthetic drugs, 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.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 1:26 pm

Former 420 Emporium owner pleads guilty to federal drug charge

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bath salts, crime

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.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at 6:40 pm

Alleged owners of 420 Emporium face federal charges two years after raids

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bath salts, crime, synthetic drugs, 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.

Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 12:33 am

Photo: Workers clear out former 420 Emporium location

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bath salts, synthetic drugs, 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.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 2:31 am

Family members say Jason Lang is doing much better with bath salts harder to get in Batavia

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bath salts, synthetic drugs, The Laughing Buddha

Jason Lang, the local businessman who caught got up in using bath salts and still faces some criminal charges that appear to stem from his use of the chemical substances, is doing much better, according to family members.

Lang appeared in Town of Batavia Court on Tuesday, which is a big step forward from July 17, when he didn't make it for a scheduled appearance, but did meet with reporters in the court parking lot minutes after his attorney left the facility.

Observers at the courthouse said Lang looks much healthier and his mother and sister say his mental outlook and demeanor have improved.

Today's court appearance was to answer to charges stemming from an alleged phone call he made to the owner of 400 Ellicott Street attempting to convince the landlord not to rent to The 420 Emporium. Lang allegedly posed as a State Police investigator and said the 420 sold synthetic marijuana.

The case was continued until 3 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 18.

In the weeks following his alleged impersonation, Lang's name or his home address came up several times in calls on the police scanner for incidents that give the appearance of being related to bath salt use, including a report of Lang saying he heard gun shots at a local hotel. For that call, Lang was eventually charged with filing a false report and harassment, 2nd.

Since the last week of July, there have been no reported bath salt related calls connected with Lang's name.

Lang's mother, Nicole, said today that since the 420 closed, her son has not been using bath salts.

"He’s doing pretty good," Nicole Lang said. "He’s doing a lot better than he was doing. Now that the emporium is shut, I think it’s made a big difference."

Brandi Smith, Lang's sister, agreed.

She said in recent weeks, she's been able to talk with her brother on a daily basis, something they used to do but stopped doing for the time Lang appeared to be using bath salts.

Jason Lang has been going to daily sessions at GCASA, she said.

"The other day I drove past GCASA and I saw his car parked out front and it just brought a huge smile to my face to know that he’s going every day and he’s getting help," Smith said.

"Bath salts" is a generic media term for a class of substances that are sold under a broad range of product names and claims but when consumed cause stimulation, euphoria, hallucinations along with paranoia, agitation and fear.

The substances, meant to mimic drugs that were already outlawed, can also be highly addictive.

At one time, Jason Lang owned the Batavia Cab Company and the Laughing Buddha.

Lang has previously admitted to selling both bath salts and synthetic marijuana at the buddha.

Both companies went out of business about the time it became public knowledge that Lang was getting into trouble with the law.

During the seeming height of Jason Lang's contact with local law enforcement, Nicole Lang went to The 420 Emporium at 400 Ellicott St., Batavia, and demanded employees stop selling bath salts to her son.

She was convinced if it continued, her son wouldn't survive.

On Tuesday, prosecutors dropped the trespass charge against Nichole Lang stemming from that confrontation at the 420.

A couple of weeks after the confrontation, the 420 was raided by the DEA and its doors have been closed since.

The raid and the increased awareness about the dangers of bath salts, Smith said, have been a good thing for the Batavia community.

"It has really helped our community," Smith said. "Like I said, it’s harder for these people to find it and it pushes them to get clean quicker. Overall, I think our community is doing much better."

In general, Smith said, her brother's outlook has improved, he's much less paranoid -- though some paranoia lingers -- and he has a better grasp on reality.

She said it's good to have her bother back.

With the Lang family getting so much media attention in July, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office invited Smith to be part of his press conference in Buffalo earlier this month to announce new penalties in New York for the possession and sale of "bath salts."

Smith said it was a real honor to be included and get a chance to share with people about what the now-banned substances have done to her family.

"Unfortunately, we’ve had to live through it, but it has been a learning experience," Smith said. "I’m thankful for each person that I can maybe give some advice to and help them because we have been through this. Unfortunately, we had to live through it but I think by going through it, it makes us stronger and we’re able to help more people."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Trespass charge dropped against mother who protested bath salt sales

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bath salts, crime, synthetic drugs, 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.

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm

Woman seeks medical help, says she can't sleep after using bath salts

post by Billie Owens in batavia, bath salts

A 31-year-old woman in the City of Batavia is requesting transfer to UMMC after being unable to sleep after "overdosing on bath salts last night." Mercy medics and police are responding.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 8:11 am

Batavia council will appeal to Albany for more effective laws to crack down on designer drug trade

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bath salts, synthetic drugs

It's time for the State Legislature to pass legislation dealing more forcefully with the rise of synthetic drugs in New York, Batavia City Council members said on Monday.

City staff will draft a resolution for the council to vote on at its next meeting, encouraging Albany to expand the penal code to make the manufacture, sale and possession of designer drugs a crime with the same penalties as any other controlled substance.

Some on council wanted to know why the city couldn't enact is own tough, local law, but City Attorney George Van Nest explained that's easier said than done.

"The state has determined that this should be addressed under state law," Van Nest said. "There's that issue, that if the city chose to go above and beyond that, it would be preempted by state action.

"There's also a matter of complexity," Van Nest added. "As the materials indicate, this is a very complicated matter. For city staff to sit down and to try and draft and articulate a statute that's going to stand up in court, withstand challenge, is not going to be an easy undertaking."

Last week, the governor's office announced an emergency order banning the sale and possession of a wide range of synthetic drug compounds, including substances that act like controlled substances.

But breaking this law is only a violation. The maximum criminal penalty under the law is a $500 fine and 15 days in jail.

Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian noted that DEA agents seized about $750,000 from the reported owners of The 420 Emporium chain in raids on July 25, which is quite a bit of money compared to a $500 fine.

Incorporating sale and possession into penal law would mean defendants could face a year in jail for a misdemeanor or several years in prison for a felony conviction (depending on the how much of the substance a defendant possessed).

City Manager Jason Molino shared a report with council members that said from around May 1 (the approximate date The 420 Emporium opened in Batavia) until July 25 (when the DEA raided the store (and it's been closed since)), Batavia PD handled 35 to 40 calls for "bath salts" related incidents.

Since July 25, Batavia PD has handled no such calls.

During the course of those three months, seven individuals were identified as alleged bath salt users.

"That doesn't mean there couldn't have been more, but we didn't have contact with them," Molino said.

"Bath salts" has become a generic name for a range of products that, despite their "not for human consumption" labels, are often snorted, injected or inhaled in order to provide the user with a stimulant-type of high or hallucinations. The chemicals used have nothing in common with substances commonly added to hot water to provide a relaxing bath.

Because the manufacturers of these chemicals change the compounds as quickly as state and federal officials can ban them, it will take a more comprehensive piece of legislation from Albany to effectively deal with the synthetic drug trade in New York.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Law enforcement and medical calls for 'bath salts' seems to have decreased in Genesee County

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bath salts, synthetic drugs, 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."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Cuomo's new criminal penalties for synthetic drug sales seen locally as a 'Band-Aid'

post by Howard B. Owens in Andrew Cuomo, bath salts, crime, synthetic drugs

Local officials welcome new NYS Health Department regulations cracking down on the sale and possession of synthetic drugs, but also say the new rules are no substitute for aggressive legislation from Albany.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made three stops across the state today to announce new rules against drugs he deemed more dangerous than crack cocaine or methamphetamines or heroin.

“It is a new face on a very old enemy. It’s an enemy that we fought decade after decade. The enemy is drugs, and it’s an ongoing battle. When you beat one manifestation of the drugs, it comes back in another form, sometimes more virulent.

But whether it’s crack cocaine or methamphetamines or heroin back in the old days, this is just the newest explosion of that old enemy. And in some ways it’s more dangerous and it’s more insidious, because this wasn’t sold in a back alley. This wasn’t sold on a street corner. This isn’t sold in the shadows. This is sold in broad daylight, over the counter in stores all across this state and across this nation.”

Unlike a previous health department ban on synthetic cannabinoids, which allowed only for civil penalties, the new emergency regulations give local police officers the power to arrest people found in possession of banned substances.

If convicted, a person caught selling or possessing one of the banned substances could be fined $500 or serve 15 days in jail, and while the new regulation (PDF) allows for multiple penalties for a shop owner caught with several packages of drugs, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman said he's concerned the new rules won't have the desired effect.

"When you consider the harm that we know is caused by these substances, I would like to see more teeth in the law," Friedman said.

When The 420 Emporium stores, along with the residence of the owner(s), were raided by the DEA on July 25, agents recovered more than $700,000 in cash.

Friedman said thinks the penalties need to be harsher than just a $500 fine, even if the fine and jail time can be strung together.

Sheriff Gary Maha expressed some of the same reservations.

Maha urged the Legislature to pass a bill that would make the sale or possession of synthetic compounds a violation of the law under the state's penal code, rather than just a violation of the public health law.

"This appears to be a 'Band-Aid' approach until the legislature enacts such legislation," Maha said. "It helps, but is not enough."

The new regulation bans a dozen specific compounds associated with the type of synthetic drug commonly known as "bath salts." 

While the state has already listed some "bath salt" compounds as controlled substances, the state doesn't have a comprehensive "analog" law (a law that bans substances that are the same or similar to already illegal controlled substances).

The new regulation does specifically cover analogs of banned substances. It also covers a wider variety of the more than 450 known synthetic cannabinoids.

While the regulation specifically states employees of stores selling such products can be prosecuted, the store owners (anybody with an ownership interest in the store) are also held to criminal liability even if not present at the time of sale.

Besides the fine and jail time, a store owner could lose his business.

Batavia PD Chief Shawn Heubusch wasn't available for comment today, but City Manager Jason Molino said the health department's new regulations were a topic on conversation today in a meeting between city staff and the county health department.

Molino said that while the new law seems to lack teeth, it is a step in the right direction.

He also pointed out that tonight is National Night Out and several neighborhoods in the city are actively participating, including the neighborhood around Pringle Park, which organized its own event this year.

"When neighborhoods get together, that is your more powerful enforcement tool," Molino said.

Inset photo: File photo.

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