BAD AXE — A 48-year-old Bad Axe man who has been dubbed the area’s bath salts king pin faces eight felony counts related to delivering designer drugs and maintaining a drug house at both his residence and business.
Robert David Alent, who owns Maple Lane Discount store in Verona Township, sat quietly next to his attorney, periodically taking notes during Friday’s preliminary hearing in Huron County District Court.
Two confidential informants gave testimony outlining how Alent allegedly sold them designer drugs known as bath salts on three separate occasions.
The first informant testified that on July 15, 2012, he went to Maple Lanes to purchase some bath salts as part of a controlled buy. He said when he asked Alent whether he could purchase some bath salts, Alent said “in the morning I sweep and put the trash in the dumpster.” The informant said he then went to the dumpster located behind the business and found a bag that contained Crystal Rush, which is a combination of synthetic marijuana and bath salts.
The informant said in addition to July 15, he had purchased illegal bath salts from Alent many times at the store.
The second informant testified he purchased illegal designer drugs from Alent during controlled buys set up on Sept. 20 and Sept. 28.
During the Sept. 20 buy, the informant went to Maple Lanes to purchase bath salts. He testified Alent asked him if he “wanted any popcorn,” and when the informant said he did, Alent passed him a sealed bag of microwaveable popcorn that was wrapped around two vials containing 100 grams of bath salts for $300.
During the Sept. 28 buy at Maple Lanes, the informant testified Alent sold him a “special cigarette” that contained illegal designer drugs.
As for the Crystal Rush, the informant testified he thought Alent was making the drug, but he was never outright told that.
When asked whether he was a user of bath salts, the second informant said, “I was probably everything with bath salts.” He testified he did not use bath salts to soak his feet, rather, he “snorted it to get high” — using it almost daily over a one-year period.
But, he told the court, he got in trouble with police, and faced a number of distribution charges. In return for cooperating with police, investigators agreed not to file any charges against the second informant.
Defense attorney Steven Jacobs of Bay City made a point of noting the second informant’s motive, in terms of how it came to be that he was used in the two controlled buys.
As for the first informant’s motive, he testified that he volunteered to help police because bath salts had ruined his life. He said using bath salts cost him his marriage, children, job and home.
“I’ve pretty much destroyed my life over bath salts,” he told the court.
The second informant testified he stopped using bath salts after he was hospitalized because of the drug.
“I almost died,” he said. “I was very scared.”
Both informants testified they owed Alent previous drug debts. The first eventually paid off his debt. The second testified that after state law designated many of the substances illegal, Alent had cleared out his store and had the informant sell the illegal substances. He said he used proceeds from the drug sales to pay Alent back for portions of his debt.
Also during Friday’s hearing, various law enforcement officials testified about a Sept. 28 execution of search warrants at Maple Lanes and Alent’s Beech Street home in Bad Axe.
Police testified that at both locations, numerous containers of chemicals and other items used to make bath salts were confiscated. However, Jacobs noted, at the business, police did not discover any illegal substances.
Police testified that wasn’t the case at the residence, where Police Chief David W. Rothe testified he ordered officers to evacuate the premises shortly after they arrived because there were chemicals in the air that were believed to be harmful.
Agent Robert Derocher, of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, testified he was called in to evaluate the scene, as it was the location of a suspected clandestine laboratory — which is a lab used to produce illegal substances.
He said upon arrival, he found multiple chemical substances in industrial quantities, packaging materials and other solvents typically used in clandestine laboratories. He then asked the DEA to send a full clean up team to Bad Axe.
“The entire house was used as a laboratory,” he told the court.
Once the team arrived, crew members photographed the house and searched for evidence. Some of the confiscated items included a recipe for suspected K2 (synthetic marijuana), an unknown white powder, several containers of acetone (which is typically used as a solvent to break down chemical compounds), and 60 pounds of inositol (a cutting agent commonly used to make heroin and adulterate illicit drugs), Derocher said. Also confiscated were at least 1,000 gel caps used to make pills, and a pill encapsulating machine.
“All of these materials are indicative of a clandestine laboratory,” Derocher said.
Derocher couldn’t say what specific substances were being manufactured in the home, but he suspected they were likened to bath salts. He said this is the first lab manufacturing bath salts that he’s responded to.
Though Derocher acknowledged there weren’t any illegal substances seized from Maple Lanes, he said the items taken from there went with the items in the home that police believe were used to manufacture illegal substances. For example, he said, Zippo lighter fluid in and of itself is not illegal, but large quantities of it indicates it’s being used for illegal purposes.
Jacobs seized in on the necessity of police vacating the home and calling in the clean up team. At one point, Derocher acknowledged he was erring on the side of caution by calling in the team.
“So you were erring on the side of caution in terms of busting out the windows, (to air out the home ... and destroying everything)?” Jacobs asked.
Derocher answered no, and said the team acted in the manner it did not to air on the side of caution, but to protect evidence handlers — both trained and untrained.
Samples taken from some of the substances confiscated from the home were analyzed by the Michigan State Police crime lab in Bridgeport. Rothe said test results found the substances included JWH-122 (synthetic marijuana); more than 57 grams of methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDVP), which is used in bath salts; Pentedrone, which also is used in bath salts.
Elaine Dougherty, a forensic scientist from the Michigan State Police’s Bridgeport lab testified this was the first case she’s encountered Pentedrone. She said it’s in a new group of drugs that falls under the bath salts category of drugs.
Lab results also confirmed were illegal substances purchased in the controlled buys on July 15 and Sept. 20 and 28.
In closing arguments, Jacobs didn’t dispute any of the charges stemming from the controlled buys. However, he did ask the court to dismiss the charge alleging Alent maintained a drug house at Maple Lanes, particularly because there were no illegal substances seized from the business.
Huron County District Court Judge David B. Herrington said it’s clear that even though no illegal substances were seized, Maple Lanes was used as a place for selling controlled substances, and he found that there is probable cause for the drug house charge relating to the business.
He said it’s also clear there is probable cause supporting the charges of Alent delivering MDVP on July 15 and July 20, and JWH-122 on Sept. 28.
The judge also found probable cause supporting the four criminal counts stemming from the Sept. 28 execution of the search warrants. Specifically, there were three charges of possession of a controlled substance (MDVP, JWH-122 and Pentedrone), and one charge of maintaining a drug house at the residence.
“It certainly appears clear by the evidence that it was a clandestine laboratory,” Herrington said.
In all, Herrington bound Alent over to Huron County Circuit Court on eight felony counts. Alent is scheduled to appear for arraignment in circuit court on Feb. 4.
He remains out on bond.
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