STORE OWNERS DISPUTE 'CRACK KIT' BUSTS
Say The Ingredients Are Common Shelf Items
Walter Faulkner has a photo of former Mayor Charles Wylie cutting a ribbon at the grand opening of Faulkner's Central Food Mart on Alexandria Drive in 1970. City officials were celebrating the opening of the business.
But 35 years later, officials are accusing Faulkner of illegally selling kits used to smoke crack cocaine.
The accusations anger the 71-year-old Faulkner, who maintains that he is innocent and has always run an honest, clean business. He was among 34 either arrested or cited on allegations of selling so-called brown bag specials, consisting of a vial used for smoking cocaine, scouring pads and a lighter.
"They lumped me in with everyone else," said Faulkner, who isn't so sure that the other 23 stores raided by police April 29 are innocent. "It has hurt my name. You work hard all your life for your character and what you're made of. You just don't take it lightly when people tear it down."
Several convenience store owners and clerks raided last month are adamant they're innocent. Only one, Surinder Pal, 31, has plead guilty to charges of possessing drug paraphernalia. He will pay a $500 fine plus court costs of $145.50, according to Fayette District Court records. A judge also ordered him to perform community service.
Police said that among those cited was Ibrahim A. Shalash, 27, who is awaiting trial on federal charges of conspiracy and receiving, possessing and transporting stolen property. Authorities say Adnan or Ibrahim Shalash purchased tractor-trailer loads of stolen goods from an undercover agent on several occasions.
Police said they will not seek to have his bond revoked.
The mostly foreign-born owners claim they are being targeted by police and question the timing of the raids. They say stores stock their registers with money near the beginning of the month for customers who want to cash their paychecks.
In most cases, police seized the money, according to search warrants.
Police are confident their evidence will prevail in court. Capt. John Jacobs said he couldn't comment on owners' specific claims because the cases will be going to trial.
According to search warrants, police sent informants into 40 stores asking for a kit or paper bag. In 31 of those stores, they were sold the items, which are legal if sold individually but illegal if sold as a package.
The widespread selling of crack kits at corner markets, groceries and liquor stores shocked police, Jacobs said. Those stores have drawn crack addicts into neighborhoods, he said.
"You look at the community disorder," Jacobs said. "Their selling the kits draws the people who use the kits who draw the people who use the product all to the same area."
But Faulkner says he's never heard of a brown bag special. And he says he doesn't sell the vials in question, which are commonly sold with a rose at gas stations.
The "vials" police seized, Faulkner maintains, were glass tubes containing cigars. He says it's only natural to sell lighters next to cigars and cigarettes.
The Chore Boy scouring pads were sold near the counter only because he's had problems with patrons stealing them in the aisle, he said.
"You can buy all of these things at Kroger," Faulkner said.
He acknowledges that a police informant bought a kit from a store employee.
But he says the clerk was new and didn't know what the informant was requesting. She sold it only after the person asked for each of the items, Faulkner said.
"It was really entrapment," he said.
Simon and Sylvia Bahbah, who own East End Market on Breckenridge, also claim ignorance.
"I am telling you, I had no idea what they are for," Sylvia Bahbah said. "I had men coming in and buying the (vials with) roses for their girlfriends and I thought, that's nice. That's how stupid I am. I don't use drugs. I don't hang out with people who do stuff like that."
Police also seized Viagra from the store and charged Simon Bahbah with selling the drug illegally. Sylvia Bahbah says it was for her husband's personal use and wasn't being sold.
But if that's the case, police ask, then why were they stored in lollipop containers under the store counter?
The Bahbahs said they were in sample packaging and were give to them by a doctor who is a friend.
Canh Phan, accused of selling crack kits and counterfeit University of Kentucky merchandise at Russell Cave Convenient, said police should be concentrating on drug dealers rather than harassing small business owners.
She also said she doesn't understand why police did not go after the wholesaler who sold it instead of her.
"It is not fair to pick on us like that," Phan said. "We are a small business. We are tying to survive and they treat me like a drug dealer."