War on bath salts

The owner of a Reno business, which police raided in 2011 for selling bath salts and other synthetic drugs, was sentenced Thursday in Washington County Common Pleas Court.

James E. Biles Jr., 41, of 905 Seventh St., will serve 60 days in the Washington County Jail, but not until after a Monday doctor’s appointment.

Biles was arrested in July 15, 2011 after members of the Major Crimes Task Force served a search warrant at S & J Incense, the business he owned at 26380 State Route 7.

Biles had been selling bath salts and other synthetic drugs from the Reno business, said Major Brian Schuck, of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

“That was when the drugs started hitting pretty hard in Parkersburg and right after we started dealing with it here in Washington County,” he said.

Biles opened the Reno business July 7, 2011, the same day Marietta City Council signed an ordinance prohibiting the “use, possession, and/or sale of synthetic cannabinoids and other synthetic drugs” inside the city limits.

It was also the same day a similar business, Herbal Safari, closed its doors at 136 N. Seventh St. Herbal Safari had been selling K2, a synthetic marijuana, said Schuck.

Biles’ short-lived business was raided just more than a week and a day after opening, on the same day Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a bill outlawing the possession, use and sale of synthetic recreational drugs, including bath salts. However, the bill did not go into effect until 90 days later.

The decision was made to bust the business before the law went into effect because law enforcement officials were worried about the toll the drugs were taking on the community.

“We started dealing with a lot of bath salts incidents. Paranoia, hallucinations, agitation, suicidal thinking, just a complete change in behavior in people,” said Schuck.

A variety of criminal complaints have been attributed to the use of bath salts. In January 2012, a Newport man was sentenced to two years in prison for a brutal attack on his wife brought on by drug use. And in March, a Lubeck man was shot and killed by officers from the Wood County Sheriff’s Office after allegedly opening fire on them while on the drug.

In one strange incident, a Washington County Sheriff’s deputy was on his way home when he came upon a vehicle that was stopped in the middle of the road, said Schuck.

“He was taking off his clothes and a foot chase ensued. He’d been on bath salts,” he said Schuck.

It’s not uncommon for people on bath salts to forget what their actions and whereabouts are for a day or two at a time, he added.

Additionally, law enforcement was concerned about the sheer amount of traffic the business was generating, Schuck said.

At the time of his arrest, Biles told officials he was making $4,000 a day through the sale of bath salts and other drugs.

“And the type of clientele it was bringing in were individuals who had lengthy records,” said Schuck.

One customer, Mark D. Degori, 34, of 120 Eldorado Drive, Marietta, was also arrested at the store the day of the bust. Degori was found to be in possession of crack cocaine.

Since the drugs were not yet on the controlled substance list when they business was raided, Biles was ultimately indicted for two-fifth degree felonies for complicity in the sale of unapproved drugs and possession of unapproved drugs.

Biles was also indicted on a fourth-degree felony for possession of drugs for at least 60 Vicodin pills that were found in the business and on his person at the time of the raid and a third-degree felony charge of tampering with drugs for allegedly altering the package of a dangerous drug.

He pleaded guilty in January to both of the fifth-degree felonies. In addition to the 60 days jail time, Biles will also be subject to three years of community control.

He was facing a maximum of 12 months in prison, said Washington County Assistant Prosecutor Alison Cauthorn.

He won’t begin serving his 60 days in jail until next week, for medical reasons.

Biles, who recently underwent surgery for a cancerous spot on his nose, has a follow-up consultation on Monday, said his attorney Ray Smith.

“I’m sorry to bring this up last minute,” said Smith, explaining the situation n court Thursday. “Can we start the sentencing Monday afternoon or release him Monday?”

Biles will be permitted to attend his appointment, said Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Randall Burnworth.

“What we’ve been doing in these cases is booking them at the jail and releasing them. Failure to reappear after their appointment constitutes a charge of escape,” he explained.

Biles slouched in his seat and said nothing throughout the sentencing. When Burnworth asked if he had a statement, Biles shook his head.

In addition to serving time, Biles will also forfeit a lengthy list of property that was confiscated during the search, said Cauthorn.

Included on the list is more than $12,000 in cash, display cases, a cash register, a safe, electronics and all of the unapproved drugs being sold in the business.

According to Schuck, the July 2011 bust was a successful one because the task force accomplished their main goal – to shut down the business.

“Anytime you shut down a store that sells it, you’re going to see a decrease in cases involving the drug,” he noted.