In announcing the results of the raids at the State Police barracks in Batavia, U.S. Attorney William Hochul said use synthetic drugs is a public health crisis that federal and local agencies are teaming up to fight. "We have heard the complaints of the public and we have acted on them," he said.
The raids began just after 11 a.m. and targeted businesses selling sythetic drugs and bath salts. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, State Police and local law enforcement raided five 420 Emporium stores, including sites in Batavia, Brockport and Rochester, as well as the Greece home of Chris Fitzgerald, the owner of the stores. Packets of illegal synthetic drugs with names like Mary Jane Mango, Voodoo and K2 Liberty were seized along with several hundred thousands of dollars. "This stuff in the D.E.A.'s eyes is just as bad as methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin," said D.E.A. Special Agent James Burns.
Fitzgerald was not arrested, but three store employees were. Joshua Denise, 37 of Batavia, Michelle Condidorio, 30 of LeRoy and Austin Szczur, 22 of Rochester were all charged with selling synthetic marijuana, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a one million dollar fine, or both. Investigators said the raids are a beginning. "In order to dismantle a whole organization we need to identify those that are the wholesale distributors and even the manufacturers of the substance," noted Burns.
Local authorities have seen the dangerous effects of synthetic drugs, which mimic the highs offered by marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. "Certainly we've had the incidents on the streets too where the people have just been very incoherent, and we had one gentleman that was jumping from rooftop to rooftop," said Lt. James Henning of the Batavia Police Department.
On July 9, President Barack Obama signed a federal law banning synthetic drugs. Major Christopher Cummings of the State Police said that was a game changer. "Our federal partners are critical in addressing this greatly, fast moving situation that we're suffering and seeing young and old effected by this problem," said Cummings.
Investigators had not completed their count of all the synthetic drug packets and money seized by Wednesday evening but said it was a major bust. As to what type of dent it will put into the synthetic drug trade, Hochul said it's too early to tell.