Federal agents raid Eugene glass blowers
Federal law enforcement agents served indictments to dozens of glass blowing manufacturers and headshops nationwide Monday in a series of raids, confiscating millions of dollars worth of drug- and tobacco-related paraphernalia. At least 55 people were indicted, including two Eugene businessmen that own a glass manufacturing company, a distributorship, a local retail shop and multiple Web sites.
Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Monday in a press conference that the Drug Enforcement Agency now considers glass pipes and other equipment “drug paraphernalia” that may be confiscated and used as grounds for arrests under federal law.
Higher Source, located several blocks west of campus at 135 E. 13th Ave., was one of six locations in Eugene served with a search-and-seizure warrant Monday morning. Higher Source is co-owned by Jason Harris and Saeed Mohtadi. Both were indicted for “knowingly, intentionally and unlawfully (selling) items for use with illegal narcotics,” according to a DEA press release. Harris and Mohtadi are both in custody and will appear in federal court this morning, and friends of Harris say they have not been in contact with him for the past two days.
U.S. Marshals roped off the area around the store and started a long process of “bringing empty boxes in, and taking full ones out,” said Tim Long, the owner of Eugene Jeans — a store located across the street from the bust.
DEA Seattle field division spokesman Thomas O’Brien said businesses that sell tobacco-related products such as water pipes are in danger of breaking federal law under the DEA’s new interpretation.
“If these bongs are being used to inhale controlled substances, they’re illegal,” said O’Brien, whose division encompasses Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Alaska. However, according to federal law, drug paraphernalia is equipment which is primarily intended for use with marijuana or other controlled substances. If a product is primarily intended for tobacco use, it would not be subject to the DEA under federal law.
O’Brien explained the DEA’s decision was similar to confiscating ammunition so people could not use guns — by depriving possible drug users of their equipment, agents will be able to curtail drug use nationwide.
The bust at Higher Source drew heavy criticism from onlookers, some of whom were store customers.
“This is bullshit,” Lane Community College freshman Jonathan Carley said.
Higher Source sells glassware and glass blowing supplies, as well as 420 Gear, stickers, hats and room accessories.
A bong “can be a tobacco bong just as easily as it can be a marijuana bong,” University student Mark Peck said.
According to Peck, Higher Source made a point of telling its customers any glassware bought was to be used for tobacco use only.
“Even on the bongs they sell, it says ‘tobacco only,'” Peck said.
Jerome Baker Designs Inc., a glass blowing warehouse located off Highway 99 North owned by Harris and Mohtadi, was also raided by U.S. Marshals and undercover agents from several law enforcement agencies at the state and federal levels.
Neighbors said federal agents arrived at Jerome Baker Designs, one of the largest glass-pipe manufacturers on the West Coast, at 6:30 a.m. by the dozens. By around 2:30 p.m., at least eight officers were still in the area, including undercover agents wearing ski caps and dark clothing. At least six unmarked cars and pick-up trucks with Oregon and Nevada license plates guarded entrances near the barbed wire-encircled warehouse.
Robert, a local man who did not want his last name used, said he saw officers cart boxes of material out of his neighbor’s office. He said some agents had bulletproof vests on. Robert added that he had often observed strange activity at the warehouse that never ceased, even late into the evening.
“I’ve always noticed there was a lot of cars over there — but last month I noticed they weren’t bringing any product in or out, only people,” he said. “I try not to mess with my neighbor and they won’t mess with me. … They never looked like they were (dealing drugs), ever.”
O’Brien said all 55 individuals, including Harris and Mohtadi, have been served with their indictments. The two are scheduled to appear in federal court today, according to a Monday KEZI-TV news broadcast.
The Eugene business partners also own Ghettoweb, Inc., Universal Glass, Inc., Jeromebaker.com, Ghettoweb.com and Smokelab.com.
Ashcroft said in a press conference Monday that the DEA was starting to focus on the Internet aspect of drug paraphernalia sales.
“With the advent of the Internet, the illegal drug paraphernalia has exploded,” he said. “Quite simply, the illegal drug paraphernalia industry has invaded the homes of families across the country without their knowledge.”
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