By JONAY CORLEY
Two Tyler County men are facing federal drug charges after deputies from the Tyler County Sheriff's Office and agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration busted what they believe to be a "bath salts" lab near Wick in September.
Phillip James Hamilton, Jr., age 35, of MIddlebourne, and Steven L. Kloh, age 34, were indicted on Dec. 15 on charges stemming from a three-count indictment returned by a Federal Grand Jury early last week.
Count one of the indictment alleges Hamilton and Kloh conspired to distribute Methylenedioxypyrovalerone hydrochloride, also known as "MDPV" and N-Methyl-N-ethylcathinone, also known as "4-MEC." Both substances are commonly referred to as "bath salts."
Hamilton was named in count two of the indictment charging him with the distribution of Methylenedioxypyrovalerone hydrochloride, also known as "MDPV," on Sept. 6.
Hamilton and Kloh were named in count three of the indictment charging them with aiding and abetting the possession with the intent to distribute Methylenedioxypyrovalerone hydrochloride and Methyl-N-ethylcathinone, both commonly known as "bath salts," on Sept. 6.
"Bath salts are an emerging threat in our communities that pose significant health risks when taken," U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld, II noted.
Although this indictment is the first of its kind in the Northern District, both Ihlenfeld and Tyler County Sheriff Earl P. "Bob" Kendle, Jr. agree it won't be the last. They vow to "aggressively pursue those who engage in the sale of bath salts."
Sheriff Kendle stresses that although bath salts are sold under a seemingly innocent name, the public should know these designer drugs are anything but harmless. "It's a common misconception that the bath salts people are abusing are like the ones sold by Avon or over the counter. In reality, it is a highly addictive drug."
Typically, the designer drug is distributed in small, independently owned retail establishments such as adult stores, gas stations, head shops, convenience stores and skateboard shops. The products, as well as their raw chemical components, are also sold on many Internet sites and are often packaged in such a way that they appear to be authentic beauty and household goods.
Bath salts are known to produce side effects such as elevated heart rate, hypertension, irritability, extreme paranoia, delusions of super-human strength and invincibility, hallucinations, suicide, and aggressive and violent behavior. Sheriff Kendle, who has observed people under the influence of the drug, says the side effects are unlike any he's ever seen. "I've been in law enforcement for many years, and I've never seen anyone do what people do under the influence of bath salts."
Hamilton had his initial appearance on Dec. 15 and was released on bond. Kloh is currently in the state's custody. They will appear for their formal arraignment tomorrow before Magistrate Judge James E. Seibert.
If convicted, the men face a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment and a fine of $1,000,000 on each count of the indictment.
The case will be prosecuted by the Assistant United States Attorney John C. Parr. The case was investigated by the Tyler County Sheriff's Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Sheriff Kendle says his department needs the public's help to combat this growing problem. "Anyone with information, anonymous or otherwise, is asked to contact my office at 304-758-4229," he remarked. "This is just another battle in the war on drugs."
Editor's note: It should be noted that the charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations and not evidence of guilt, ad that each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.