Gas Pipe owners charged in federal court with selling synthetic marijuana

Shults                The father and daughter who ran The Gas Pipe head shop chain have been charged with conspiracy to sell synthetic marijuana.

Gerald “Jerry” Shults and his daughter, Amy Lynn Herrig, turned themselves in on Wednesday.

Last June, federal authorities said they shut down what they called a criminal organization that was manufacturing synthetic marijuana in North Texas and selling the product at the The Gas Pipe.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Dallas has filed an 88-page forfeiture lawsuit against the defendants, seeking to keep more than $19 million that was seized or frozen, along with jewelry, nine vehicles, five aircraft, the historic Ridglea Theater in Fort Worth, 11 Gas Pipe locations, Herrig’s $1.7 million Highland Park home, and other items.

Shults and Herrig have denied the allegations and are fighting the government’s attempt to keep their seized houses and other property.

The seized items include a 1999 Cessna belonging to an Alaskan wilderness adventure fishing business, Rapids Camp Lodge, and the company’s fishing boat, “Sea Witch.”

Authorities say Shults formed the fishing business in 1992 and is still listed as its sole owner. It is advertised as an “all-inclusive Alaskan fishing lodge in the heart of Bristol Bay, with ‘a spare-no-expense ideology.’”

This week, Shults, Herrig, The Gas Pipe and others filed a motion in the forfeiture case asking a judge to order the government to return their seized property. In it, they said the government’s action is based on in an inaccurate reading of the federal money laundering statute.

They called it “another instance of the history of abuse of a statute with potentially limitless reach.”

Agents arrested a Dallas man last May who is believed to be the head of the criminal organization manufacturing the dangerous drug.

Lawrence Shahwan was arrested by a Drug Enforcement Administration task force officer for allegedly operating an indoor marijuana growing business in Cooke County. Shahwan was charged in federal court with conspiracy to distribute a schedule I controlled substance.

He and five others were later indicted as part of the DEA’s investigation. All have pleaded guilty to drug charges, according to court records.

The government’s forfeiture suit says the Shahwan ring made and distributed the fake marijuana, known as “spice,” to various smoke and head shops in the Dallas area including, Smokies, Fusions, Blue Phoenix, Puff and Stuff and Big Mikes.

But the drug ring in September 2013 agreed to make The Gas Pipe its only customer, authorities said.

Undercover officers have made numerous purchases of “spice” from The Gas Pipe, according to court records.

Last month, one of the defendants, Justin Laney, was sentenced to three years and five months in federal prison, records show. Shahwan and his other co-defendants, William Venable, Jason Bond, Craig Starnes and Brody Jones, are currently awaiting sentencing.

Investigators linked Shahwan to a property in Whitesboro that had 596 marijuana plants, about 13 pounds of loose and packaged marijuana as well as hashish oil and a large number of empty butane gas canisters and equipment used to make butane hash oil, records show.

The forfeiture suit said Shahwan, owner of Sacred Sun Botanicals in Dallas, ran a drug trafficking organization that made and sold synthetic marijuana

The Gas Pipe website said the owner started the business in 1970 and that “having survived Vietnam, it became his sworn duty” to provide the best smoke and gift and party goods.

The store got its name from the first location in Dallas where exposed gas pipes ran across a bare ceiling, according to the website. Among the items for sale are pipes, incense and “grow gear.”

The Gas Pipe case is among several North Texas smoke shops that have been targeted by federal authorities for allegedly selling synthetic marijuana investigation.

The cases are part of a larger federal crackdown on the distribution of synthetic cannabis, a dangerous chemical concoction that is becoming popular.

President Barack Obama signed a law in 2012 that banned synthetic drugs. But manufacturers are trying to stay ahead of law enforcement by using different chemical compounds, or synthetic cannabinoids. The DEA is making more chemicals illegal and seeking permanent bans.

Such chemicals affect the brain similarly to the substance found in natural marijuana. They’re often marketed as “herbal incense” or “potpourri” online and in retail stores. But their harmful effects have sent some users to hospital emergency rooms.

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