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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Drug devices seized in raids

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

Ten O'ahu convenience stores that display and sell what authorities say are drug paraphernalia were raided by state and federal agents yesterday, a move that federal prosecutors call a "warning shot across the bow" of other businesses engaged in similar sales.

Federal agents and Honolulu police conducted simultaneous raids on convenience stores, including McCully Market, to confiscate drug-related paraphernalia.

Officials say this glass pipe and wire mesh are part of the evidence seized at the Y.T. Market at 465 Kapahulu Ave.

Photos by Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo said that because no state law prohibits the sale of drug paraphernalia, federal penalties will be imposed against the 10 people, mainly business owners, who were arrested during yesterday's raids.

"The sale of drug paraphernalia may be allowed under state law, but it violates federal law — and it is a felony," Kubo said.

Federal penalties stemming from drug paraphernalia charges can amount to three years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and forfeiture of property and money associated with the sale of the illegal goods.

"I consider the sale of drug paraphernalia to be just as serious as selling drugs to our residents," Kubo said.

He said federal and state agencies will continue to actively seek out businesses in Hawai'i that display and sell drug paraphernalia. He said more search warrants will be used and could bring more arrests.

Law enforcement agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Honolulu Police Department seized more than $45,000 worth of inventory. They said the items included 849 crack pipes, 759 ice pipes, 116 digital scales, 763 butane torches and 1,002 marijuana pipes.

According to the DEA, drug paraphernalia comprise any legitimate equipment, product or material that is modified or manufactured for making, using or concealing illegal drugs. They also include bongs, rolling papers, hitter boxes used to store and smoke marijuana, and everyday devices like pens and lipstick holders that have been modified to accommodate the use of illegal drugs.

Some of the businesses raided yesterday are: The Pump Liquor in Waipahu, Chubby's Pantry in Pearl City, Nani Mini Market in Kalihi, Brudda's Market on North School Street, Nu'uanu Liquors and Sundries in Nu'uanu, McCully Market on McCully Street, Date Street Grocery on Date Street, and the Y.T. Market on Kapahulu Avenue.

Most of the businesses are "mom-and-pop" type establishments. At least one is owned by a husband and wife.

The 10 people were arrested on federal charges of selling drug paraphernalia. They were Yong C. Tanaka, 59; Seon H. Kim, 48; Yeong E. Chung, 31; Sang M. Chung, 66; Sung K. Medeiros, 55; Edwin Medeiros, 57; Yong Kim, 55; Nan H. B. Chong, 53; Jong Y. Baik, 45; and Byung D. Hwang, 50.

The investigation that culminated in yesterday's arrests began in September when undercover HPD officers began purchasing drug paraphernalia from businesses. During each buy, the officer had to establish, through conversation, that the store owner or employee knew what the pipes or other products were used for.

Hawai'i and 16 other states — including Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota and North Carolina, do not have state laws specifically prohibiting the sale or possession of the bongs, glass pipes or other devices that could also possibly be used to smoke tobacco, but federal laws prohibit their possession and sale everywhere.

HPD Capt. Kevin Lima said police cannot arrest individuals for possession of paraphernalia if no drug residue is found in the device. He said the presence of an illegal drug in the device is necessary to charge someone for paraphernalia possession under state laws.

"We're showing the public that the federal government will prosecute," Lima said.

Keith Kamita, head of the state Narcotics Enforcement Division, said Gov. Linda Lingle will ask the Legislature this session to change drug paraphernalia laws to make them similar to federal laws. Kamita said it will be part of the governor's package of legislative proposals.

Kubo said previous attempts to amend state drug paraphernalia laws have failed.

As the drug culture in America began to spread in the '60s and '70s, "head shops" and "hemp shops" made their appearance and marketed a wide range of drug paraphernalia, presumably to be used strictly in connection with the consumption of tobacco.

Some stores have tried to avoid violating federal drug laws by labeling a bong a "water pipe."

Today, with the Internet, manufacturers have expanded sales, and, according to the DEA, the business of selling drug paraphernalia is a multimillion-dollar industry.

In February 2003, a series of nationwide raids dubbed Operation Headhunter and Operation Pipe Dream resulted in the arrest of 55 people, leading Attorney General John Ashcroft to declare that the leading suppliers of drug paraphernalia in the United States had been shut down. No raids took place in Hawai'i.

Several tons of product was seized in the raids, and the 18 companies targeted accounted for more than a quarter of a billion dollars of the drug paraphernalia retail market.

Before the 2003 busts, federal drug paraphernalia laws were rarely enforced, which led to the rapid expansion of the industry.

Many groups, such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, oppose the Bush administration's policies regarding drugs and paraphernalia. The groups believe that the Justice Department is wasting its resources on a miniscule aspect of the drug trafficking problem.

Reach Peter Boylan at 535-8110 or pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.