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    Prosecutors drop man's drug paraphernalia case

    The police raid was almost three years ago. The judge dismissed key evidence a year ago. The trial was two weeks away.

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 30, 2000


    LARGO -- Randy Heine says he's a legitimate businessman who just wants police to leave him alone.

    But Pinellas sheriff's detectives say the owner of the Tobacco Emporium is the leading seller and manufacturer of drug paraphernalia in the county.

    Two weeks before Heine's scheduled trial on marijuana possession and paraphernalia charges, Pinellas prosecutors unexpectedly dropped all charges against him.

    The move comes a year after a circuit judge threw out key evidence in the case because of flawed police search warrants served against Heine.

    Neither Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe nor his assistants with information about the case returned calls for comment Friday.

    In court papers, McCabe's office said the charges were being dismissed because Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Lauren Laughlin "suppressed critical evidence needed to support these counts, making (a) successful prosecution unlikely."

    Heine, 49, who is challenging U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Largo, for the 10th District seat, said he was targeted by police for political reasons.

    "I didn't do anything wrong in the first place," said Heine, who was free on bail pending trial. "We knew from Day One that this was a travesty. I've never done anything illegal and I've never sold anything that was illegal."

    Heine's Clearwater attorney, John Trevena, said, "It's extremely rare for prosecutors to dismiss charges that have been pending for nearly three years. In fact, it's probably unprecedented."

    Heine sold and manufactured tobacco pipes that he and his attorney say can be sold and used by consumers legally.

    Although police say the pipes are commonly used to smoke illegal drugs, such as marijuana, Heine says that they can also be used to smoke legal tobacco products. As a result, he said, they are not what prosecutors define as illegal drug paraphernalia.

    A January 1998 police raid and seizure of his inventory, Heine said, nearly bankrupted him. He said he has never reopened his pipe-manufacturing plant and has lost $2-million in profit.

    The dismissal may have had more to do with a police search warrant than it did the definition of what is and isn't drug paraphernalia.

    Sheriff's deputies raided Heine's home, Tobacco Emporium store and a factory where he made pipes in January 1998. Deputies said they found exactly what their search warrants predicted: drug paraphernalia and marijuana. But Laughlin threw out much of the evidence that was seized, ruling in an October 1999 opinion that the search warrants contained "a reckless disregard for the truth ... (and) a gross, material misrepresentation of fact."

    The ruling said that police failed to tell the judge who approved the search warrants that an informant had told them that Heine no longer was growing marijuana. As it turned out, the informant was wrong, authorities say. Police did find marijuana at Heine's home. But that didn't matter.

    Police, the judge said, cannot raid a home or business on a hunch that a suspect is breaking the law simply because he has done so in the past.

    The judge threw out evidence that included 2 pounds of marijuana that police said they found growing in Heine's home.

    The case also may have been jeopardized by Sheriff's Detective Ken McLean, one of two deputies who prepared the search warrants against Heine.

    After Heine's arrest, McLean's supervisors said they discovered that he had lied to obtain a search warrant in another, unrelated drug case.

    McLean admitted he lied and was forced to resign, and he later pleaded no contest to a perjury charge and was sentenced to two years' probation.

    Not all evidence against Heine had been suppressed. Evidence that deputies found at his Tobacco Emporium business was not, including evidence of marijuana residue police said they found in a trash bin.

    "But I don't think prosecutors ever wanted to put McLean on the stand," Trevena said.

    Charges that Heine sold fraudulent drug-testing products also were dropped.

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