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Charges: Even after raids, Smokedale shop continues to sell synthetic drugs

After five years of investigation, an Afton man and smoke shop owner faces felony drug charges in Washington County District Court.

Hatem Amin Younis, 44, of Afton was charged with three counts of sale and possession of hallucinogens, stimulants and synthetic cannabinoids.

He is the owner of three smoke shops -- Smokedale Tobacco Store in Oakdale, as well as in Hudson, Wis., and Minneapolis -- where federal drug agents conducted raids in 2013.

Since 2012, Oakdale police and the Department and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) launched their investigation into the sales activity out of Smokedale.

“This is a long-term investigation which illustrates the fine cooperation between state and federal agencies,” Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said in a statement.

A vast number of synthetic hallucinogens, stimulants and cannabinoids were confiscated by law enforcement during searches of the smoke shop in 7100 block of 10th St. N. in Oakdale and Younis’ home in the 14600 block of Afton Blvd. S.

Orput recalled the death of Tara Fitzgerald as an example of the extraordinary danger of synthetic drugs.

“We only have to recall the Woodbury High School student who died several years ago after ingesting a synthetic hallucinogen to know how deadly they can be,” Orput said. “This office will do everything it can to deter the sale of these deadly substances.”

Younis is due in court in August.

According to the complaint:

Several citizen witnesses admitted to police they had independently purchased synthetic hallucinogens and cannabinoids from Younis.

On Aug. 1, 2012, a girl overdosed on synthetic drugs called “Skin Bubbles,” which were purchased at Smokedale. Two clear containers labeled “Bubbles Glass Cleaner” were found to have been thrown in the woods behind the girl’s home. They contained alpha-PVP, a schedule I hallucinogen.

An informant told officers that Bubbles was removed from the shelves at Smokedale in July 2012, but if a customer asked for “the usual” at the counter, the drugs would be retrieved from a storage area in the store. Sometimes the drugs were labeled as glass cleaner.

On Sept. 9, 2012, the DEA attempted a controlled purchase from the store. A tube of “Zumos” was purchased, with several pills of the designer drug Pentedrone, an analog of a schedule I stimulant.

On April 19, 2013, Zumos was for sale on the countertop at Smokedale. A search warrant was executed by the DEA at the store and at Younis’ home in Afton.

On June 26, 2013, officers searched the Smokedale store and warehouse, as well as Younis’ home. Thousands of suspected controlled substances were seized during the raids. Due to the number of confiscated items, not every item was tested and some tests are still pending.

Testing positive for controlled substances were:

one package of Johnny Clearwater’s Banana Split, containing 4.2 grams of 5-MeO-DALT, a schedule I hallucinogen;

one package of Mind Crip, containing 0.39 grams of 4-Fluoromethamphetamine, a schedule I stimulant, and 5-MeO-DALT;

one package of Green Giant Herbal Potpourri, containing 0.78 grams of JWH-122, JWH-210, and AM-2201, schedule I synthetic cannabinoids;

one package of Joker, containing 0.54 grams of JWH-122, JWH-210, and AM-2201;

and nine packages of Mary Jane’s Potpourri, containing 2.89 grams of JWH-122, and AM-2201.

In Minneapolis and Hudson, raids produced similar substances, which were seized.

A number of items tested positive for XLR-11 and UR-144, which were added to the list of schedule I synthetic cannabinoids in August 2013.

Additionally, $12,500 cash, drug-related books and pamphlets, and a checkbook in Younis’ name were seized from Younis’ residence.

On Oct. 9, 2015, and on Oct. 30, 2015, Smokedale customers told officers they purchased synthetic drugs, advertised as bath salts or Bubbles, from the store in Oakdale. Some of the bath salts were sold in lip gloss containers or vials. One customer also told officers he purchased synthetic marijuana several times in Oakdale.

Case dismissed in Wisconsin

In January, charges filed against Younis were dismissed in St. Croix County Circuit Court, in Wisconsin.

Prosecutors dismissed one count of possession with intent to deliver non-narcotics against Younis, whose store in the 1500 block of Coulee Road in Hudson, is also called Smokedale Tobacco.

According to a criminal complaint filed in Wisconsin last year, members of the DEA investigated Smokedale amid suspicions that a 21-year-old woman who died of a drug overdose had used a product from the Hudson store.

DEA agents and members of the St. Croix Valley Drug Task Force made undercover purchases at the Hudson Smokedale store of the product Zumos.

Federal agents launched a nationwide sting on June 26, 2013, called Operation Synergy that coincided with a raid that day on Smokedale in Hudson. Agents confiscated numerous items of merchandise at the Hudson store, in addition to funds found at the store.

According to a dismissal order signed Jan. 14, 2016, by St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Scott Needham, prosecution “does not feel it can meet its burden of proof.”

Mike Longaecker contributed to this report.

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