Man pleads in synthetic drug case

In the first case of its kind in Lawrence County, a man was found guilty Monday of selling synthetic drugs.

Robert Holley, 45, of 316 Clary Hollow Road, Ashland, Ky., pleaded guilty to two charges of third-degree aggravated trafficking in drugs and a count of fifth-degree trafficking in a controlled substance analogue of spice. The charges were amended from second-degree counts of trafficking in drugs.

Two other charges, on a separate indictment, of fifth-degree trafficking in a controlled substance analogue of spice were dismissed as a part of a plea agreement, as well an additional count of second-degree trafficking in drugs.

In January, the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office and the Lawrence County Drug and Major Crimes Task Force raided The Counter Culture Shop in South Point and arrested the Holley, the owner and his employee Joshua Tackett, 32, of Olive Hill, Ky.

The store had been the target of an investigation after an anonymous tip alleged the shop was selling synthetic marijuana and other similar substances, the sale of which became illegal in October 2011 after the passage of House Bill 64.

According to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, synthetic drugs, such as bath salts, are dangerous and have been known to induce violence in the abuser or cause extreme paranoia, delusions or hallucinations.

Both were indicted twice. In January, shortly after the raid, Holley was indicted on two counts of trafficking in spice and Tackett was indicted on one count of tampering with evidence. Authorities allege he tried to hide items the task force members were looking for and that were named in the search warrant.

In April, Holley was indicted on four counts of trafficking in drugs and Tackett was indicted on one count of possession of drugs.

Previously, Holley’s attorney, Umberto DeBeneditto, said the case should be declared “void for vagueness.”

Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge D. Scott Bowling, however, denied the motion.

Lawrence County Prosecutor Brigham Anderson said the changes in the law require the synthetic drug to be “substantially similar to a banned substance.”

“Under the new law, if it is substantially similar to a banned substance, the chemical makeup, and it causes a hallucinogenic, stimulant, depressant effect on the central nervous system, then it is banned pursuant to the new law,” Anderson said.

Associate Assistant Attorney General Matthew Donahue, filling in for Anderson, recommended Holley be sentenced to three years community-controlled sanctions, with seven years reserved in prison if the man fails to comply with his probation agreement. Holley will also be ordered to pay mandatory fines and forfeit any contraband.

DeBeneditto asked that any reserved prison time be served concurrently.

Bowling set sentencing for Holley at 2 p.m. Jan. 23 following a pre-sentencing investigation.

After Holley’s court appearance, DeBeneditto said he thought the resolution of the case was fair, but still said he thought the sale of the substances was legitimate.

“Mr. Holley had, with each order of the proscribed substances, there was a purported lab report from the manufacturer saying they were legal,” DeBeneditto said.

DeBeneditto also said Holley paid taxes on each sale of the substances and has no prior criminal record.

In December Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office worked to add a synthetic drug provision to the bill that toughens previous laws banning synthetic drugs with House Bill 334. The bill closes a loophole used by clandestine chemists that gave them the ability to slightly alter the illegal synthetic drug’s components into a new, legal substance.

“It will now be easier for law enforcement to arrest those abusing or selling synthetic drugs like bath salts or herbal incense,” DeWine said. “We also hope that the increased threat of an arrest and jail time will act as a deterrent.”

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