In a perfect example of why it's best -- if you're looking to run a successful drug empire -- to keep the manufacturing and distribution arms of your outfit separate, the Drug Enforcement Administration moved to seize 35 financial accounts, six cars, jewelery, almost $20,000 in cash, seven gold Canadian "Maple Leaf" coins and 18 properties from Lawrence Shahwan of Lewisville, Gas Pipe head shop owner Jerry Shults and others associated with the Texas and New Mexico-based chain.
According to court documents, the seizure comes after a months-long investigation consisting primarily of federal agents going to Gas Pipe shops and purchasing what the documents call "synthetic marijuana," but is more accurately described as a varying cocktail of hallucinogenic chemicals mixed with a plant base. The substance is packaged as potpourri or incense or something else that shouldn't be ingested. Before July 2012, synthetic marijuana was legal. That month, President Obama banned it. It's now just as illegal as actual marijuana.
The DEA alleges that Shults partnered with Shahwan -- who's currently sitting in Lew Sterrett jail on an apparently unrelated distribution charge for actual marijuana -- first as an exclusive distributor for Shahwan's synthetics, and then as a manufacturer after Shahwan had to shut down production when several of his employees were jailed on unrelated charges.
Shults, the documents say, added a special room to Gas Pipe's Maple Avenue headquarters to make and bag the drugs and paid a Shahwan employee $50,000 to train his staff for the production process.
In the last year, Dallas has been a hotbed for incidents involving the (not so) good stuff.
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Last June, the DEA targeted the smoke shops that line Harry Hines Boulevard for selling synthetic marijuana and an Irving man's neighbors sued him for burning down their building while trying to make his own. In October, Wayne Joseph Sweeney, the owner of Dallas' Hostile Pipes, was arrested for allegedly making millions distributing his special "KO" blend from his store, according to court documents.
The worst came over a five-day stretch that ended in early May of this year. In a little less than a week, according to news reports, almost 120 Texans were hospitalized after ingesting K2, a popular synthetic marijuana blend. The bad batch, according to police, came from Dallas.
The latest bust, which was first reported by local news outlets yesterday, is one of the biggest synthetic drug busts in U.S. history. According to the federal complaint, properties to be confiscated include Fort Worth's historic Ridglea Theater -- which is owned by Shults and shares a building with a Gas Pipe -- and the $1.3 million Highland Park home of one of Gas Pipe's managers. The company's headquarters and manufacturing center are on the list, as well.
For now, Gas Pipe's stores remain open, pending the forfeiture proceeding and lawsuit. We tried calling the stores, just to see how everything was going, and were hung up on. Shults also did not respond to an interview request.