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December 5, 2013

Local store busted for synthetic marijuana distribution

PRYOR, OK — An investigation just three months shy of being two years long, ended with John, Robert and Nancy Gates being charged with multiple felony counts.

John and Robert Gates are brothers and co-owners Gates Drive-Thru in Pryor. Nancy Gates is Robert's ex-wife and the employee typically in charge of store ordering.

All three are charged with unlawful possession of a controlled drug, synthetic marijuana, with intent to distribute. The synthetic marijuana contained AM-2201 and IR-144, both classified as controlled dangerous substances. They were charged with conducting gambling, also a felony. Additionally, the threesome is charged with knowingly concealing stolen property, namely a 9mm handgun that had been reported stolen.

Following a lengthy investigation, formal charges were filed Monday. The affidavit filed in the case recounts months of investigative work by Pryor Police Department.

April 2012, the first entry in the affidavit, reports an undercover officer purchasing a package of “Johnny Clearwater's Blueberry Hill.” The item, packaged as potpourri, was rung up through the store's cash register and hand-delivered to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation lab for examination. Lab results indicate that it was AM-2201.

The same procedure was done again in May 2012. This time the officer purchased “Johnny Clearwater's Juicy Lucy.” The OSBI also reported AM-2201 in this package.

The next entry recorded in the affidavit is a year later, May 14. On that date, Judge Rebecca Gore signed a search warrant. The officer entered the store and attempted to purchase two packages of Scooby Snax.

“When I entered the door, the employee was selling two packets of potpourri at the drive-thru. The buyer used a credit card to make the purchase,” according to the officer's statement in the affidavit.

“The employee stated that she had sold five packets of potpourri before me entering the store. She stated she had run some of the sales through the cash register,” the officer's statement continues. “She advised me that Nancy Gates orders the potpourri and that Robert Gates stocks the potpourri on the weekend and stores it at his residence.”

The officer states that the employee said the store sales of potpourri was about 75 percent of the store’s total revenue.

Nancy Gates arrived at the store and was shown the search warrant.

“The employee would not tell me which companies she ordered it from. She stated that she received cigarettes for ordering the potpourri for John Gates,” the affidavit alleges.

“John Gates stated that it was different potpourri and that it was not being sold to be smoked,” the officers statement continues, prior to asking Gates to open the store's safe.

From the safe the officer seized roughly $50,000, two firearms and the potpourri.

The affidavit inventories the items as including a loaded .45 caliber semi-automatic LLAMA, a loaded Jennings Bryco 9mm semi automatic, $50,000 cash and 808 packages of suspected synthetic marijuana.

Per the search warrant, John Gates' vehicle was searched leading officers to find a “Ruger 9mm semi automatic handgun along with handwritten notations of potpourri and beer sales, handwritten notations of borrowed money and letters of drug information.”

Law enforcement then retrieved a total of $700 from two slot machines.

On July 23, officers turned over 40 miscellaneous packages of suspected synthetic marijuana to the OSBI lab. Lab results showed that batch contained XLR11 and IR-144.

Pryor Police Captain Steve Lemmings said police are anticipating additional charges on three employees. He said the lengthy surveillance was partially due to waiting for lab results.  

This was not the store’s first bust. Law enforcement seized 90 pounds of synthetic marijuana from the store in May. The synthetic marijuana is packaged as potpourri and being marketed to teens and young adults. The side effects range from hallucinations, anxiety, paranoia, seizures, spikes in blood pressure, increased heart rate, vomiting and psychotic episodes.

The threesome was arrested Monday and bonded out the same day. Each posting a $5,000 bond.


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