Undercover in the Dragon’s Den: Virginia “Bath Salts” Investigation Nabs Fells Point Smoke Shop

by Van Smith

Published in City Paper, May 30, 2012

Last December, about two months after synthetic stimulants used in “bath salts” were put in the same class of federally banned substances as heroin and cocaine, two customers plunked down $675 for some at the Dragon’s Den Smoke Shop in Fells Point. They did the same in January, buying packets of powder branded as “Speedy Gonzalez,” “Incredible Hulk,” “Taz,” and, during the January visit, “Bugs Bunny.” Each time, the guy they bought it from, Carlo D’Addario, explained that some people smoke the stuff while others snort it, according to court documents.

Those two visits to the Dragon’s Den gave the “customers,” who were part of a drug probe and had recorded what transpired on audio and video, evidence for an indictment and search warrants. The court documents spell out how, since last July, law enforcers with the Augusta County, Va., Sheriff’s Office and the Richmond, Va., and Baltimore offices of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had targeted D’Addario, building a case that he is a source of now illegal bath salts sold in Virginia.

On March 1, the investigation culminated with raids on the Dragon’s Den and D’Addario’s home on Pot Spring Road in Timonium and the unsealing of the indictment, first filed on Feb. 22, against D’Addario and his co-defendant, a Virginia woman named Holly Renae Sprouse.

In the past two years or so, the sudden popularity of bath salts, which were lawful, taxed commodities typically found in convenience stores, gas stations, head shops, and the like, has coincided with a spike in medical emergencies reported as related to its abuse, including violent and self-destructive reactions that have grabbed headlines. The feds and many states have consequently outlawed them.

The banned compounds have names comprised of lengthy combinations of numbers and letters, but popularly they are known as MDPV, 4-MEC, and MDMC (also called methylone). (For the hard-core chemists out there, who probably already know this, they are related to cathinones, alkaloids found in the khat plant.) The effects of these designer drugs are said to be similar to other stimulants such as methamphetamine and ecstasy, and are described in a DEA fact sheet as “feelings of empathy, stimulation, alertness, euphoria, and awareness of senses.” One of them, methylone, was patented in 1996 as an antidepressant.

“First there was ‘K-2’ and ‘Spice,’” says Mark Campbell, supervisor of Virginia’s RUSH Drug Task Force, based in Harrisonburg, Va., referring to synthetic cannabis, which also became a craze, prompted scares due to reports of medical emergencies, and was listed as a controlled substance. “Now it’s ‘bath salts,” Campbell continues. “It’s the ‘in’ thing right now. The perception has been that it is legal and that there are no health issues, and that just couldn’t be further from the truth.” Users, Campbell says, tend to be young, and they don’t just snort or smoke bath salts, which come in powder form; they also “put it in a spoon, heat it up, and turn a solid to liquid” to inject intravenously, like heroin.

Campbell says the profit margin from dealing bath salts is “ridiculous.” The court documents in D’Addario’s case say that street prices range from $40 to $100 per gram, and that each gram contains eight to 40 doses. At those prices, the 20.6 grams allegedly sold by D’Addario for $675 in the undercover operation at the Dragon’s Den on Dec. 13, 2011, at $33 a gram, could have been quite profitable.

The take from the March 1 raids of the Dragon’s Den, according to court records, was prodigious: more than 100 containers—jars, packets, boxes, and the like—labeled with names such as “Dragon’s Breath,” “Bayou Blaster,” “Get Twisted,” “Zombie Matter,” and “Super Villain.” Among the items agents seized from D’Addario’s Timonium home are “suspected K-2 spice,” “tablets” of other drugs, a “tally sheet” of transactions, and an “undetermined” amount of U.S. currency in a “basement safe.”

D’Addario’s co-defendant, Sprouse, pleaded guilty on May 8 and her sentencing is scheduled for August. The factual statement attached to Sprouse’s guilty plea does not name D’Addario, but mentions her “Baltimore supplier” and says she was arrested twice last year—in August and October—in connection with bath-salts possession, and after the second arrest she began to assist law enforcers in their probe. If D’Addario does not plead guilty, but instead chooses to assert his innocence before a jury, his trial is scheduled to take two days starting June 28.

D’Addario’s attorney, Andrew Carter Graves, said he and his client would have no comment for this article. City Paper called the Dragon’s Den and spoke to a woman, who said she was the manager and called herself Chrissy. She offered to try to get in contact with D’Addario, whom she described as the shop’s owner, and put the call on hold. A few minutes later, a man picked up the phone, refused to disclose his first or last name, and explained, “We were told not to talk to you.” When asked who gave those instructions, he said, “the DEA guy in charge of the investigation.”

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