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Sale of two legal items lands stores in trouble

Together, they make a drug kit, officials say.

By STEPHANIE GARRY and CASEY CORA, Times Staff Writers
Published January 25, 2008


The items, glass pens and copper scrubbing pads, violate ordinance when sold together. Authorities say the pens become glass pipes and the copper pads become a screen to hold crack rocks.
photo
[St. Petersburg Police Department]
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ST. PETERSBURG - Convenience store owner Akm F. Mosabber said he thought he was helping a customer.

But police and a county official said he was profiting from addiction when he offered to sell a copper scrubbing pad and a glass pen to a plainclothes cop.

Mosabber, 45, was one of three convenience store clerks who violated a county ordinance Wednesday against selling items that form a kit to smoke crack cocaine, according to St. Petersburg police.

The County Commission passed the controversial rules in October 2006 as part of a countywide crackdown on illegal drugs.

Police say the pens become glass pipes and the copper pads become a screen to hold crack rocks. Other products sold at the ticketed stores were small plastic bags and scales, said Lt. Lisa McKinney, who led the operation. McKinney said that the products are offered for drug use, and that stores have had fair warning.

McKinney said the county sent out letters that warned of the changes to local retailers, including those targeted in Wednesday's sting, the first enforcement of the ordinance. McKinney wouldn't detail how officers approached clerks because it would reveal police procedure and aid retailers in violation, she said.

Tickets were issued to Mosabber of St. Petersburg; Ali Ribhi Abdel Jawwad, 41, of Tampa, who manages the Lakeview Citgo at 3400 22nd Ave. S; and Mousa Sedrak Robeel-Saad, 52, of Clearwater, a clerk at D&K Market, 2735 Fifth Ave. N. Violators face up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Commissioner happy

County Commissioner Ken Welch, who led the task force that recommended the rules, said he was thrilled that police are starting to enforce them. Illegal drugs cost the county an estimated $8-million in 2006, Welch said, and the ordinance was carefully crafted to attack the issue.

"Retailers who are profiting from the drug trade need to be on notice," Welch said.

Mosabber, who owns the DJ Food Mart at 3801 Sixth St. S, said he was unfairly targeted this week. He said he didn't know the products could be used to take drugs.

According to him, a plainclothes officer entered his store and asked a few times for "the kit." Mosabber said he told the officer each time that he didn't know what he was asking for.

Finally, he said, the officer asked for a glass pen and a copper scrubbing pad. Mosabber said he sold those items separately.

Owner frustrated

"I'm really frustrated about my business," said Mosabber, who said he has owned the store about a month and was robbed two weeks ago. He said the previous owner already carried the products.

Luke Lirot, a Clearwater attorney who represents tobacco shops including Purple Haze Tobacco & Accessories in St. Petersburg, said police need better evidence that retailers intended to sell paraphernalia. He said clerks' presenting the items together isn't enough.

"If people want to use drugs, they will use grapefruits, toilet paper rolls and hubcaps," Lirot said. "There's no way you're going to deny someone who has a drug problem the paraphernalia to use that drug."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Stephanie Garry can be reached at sgarry@sptimes.com and 727 892-2374.

[Last modified January 24, 2008, 23:43:12]


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