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Charlotte smoke shop owners charged with drug conspiracy

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Dan Burley
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com dburley@charlotteobserver.com

The owners of the High Life Smoke Shop on Central Avenue have been charged with conspiracy to distribute the synthetic drugs used to make bath salts.

The arrests came as part of a larger federal initiative called Project Synergy that targets people and businesses that sell synthetic drugs.

In North Carolina, High Life was one of four smoke shops targeted in investigations that stretch as far back as September 2011.

In all, 30 North Carolinians have been arrested in connection with the initiative, according to federal prosecutors.

The owners of High Life – Sonia Sudhir Thaker, 35; Imran Yaseen, 45; Gautam Savla, 33; Jeffrey B. Davies II, 34, and Poojan Patel, 28 – are charged with narcotics conspiracy involving synthetic cathinone. Cathinone is the key ingredient in synthetic bath salts, designer drugs that mimic the effects of cocaine and amphetamines.

Yaseen is from Mooresville; the others live in Charlotte. Federal prosecutors said the five sold the synthetic drugs under brand names like Red Dragon, Zombie Matter and Demon Free Ritual Sachet.

At least two of the owners also owned Dark Matter Inc., a company that manufactures synthetic drugs containing another banned substance called alpha-PVP, federal prosecutors said. Those drugs were labeled Zumos, Velocity and Xantopia and were marketed as dietary supplements sold at head shops and over the Internet, according to authorities.

Prosecutors said the drugs were stored in two Charlotte-area warehouses.

The smoke shop, which sits in an eclectic strip mall on Central Avenue in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood, was closed on Wednesday afternoon. Its door was locked and all the lights were turned off, except for a glowing neon hookah. No one answered the phone at a number listed for the shop. Several would-be customers tried unsuccessfully to go into the store.

The High Life Smoke Shop’s website claims: “Live the high life at low prices” and touts nearly 50 products, from Native American dream catchers and Phish Collector’s items to vaporizers and hookahs.

The website says that another store is opening in Asheville on Independence Day.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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