Investigators raided Coastal Food Mart, 1701 Turner McCall Blvd., and Silver Creek Mini Mart, 5729 Rockmart Road S.E., where employees allegedly sold copious amounts of medicines containing ephedrine, the main ingredient for meth, investigators said.
Coastal employee Pravinkumar Patel, age and address unknown, and Mini Mart employee Nilesh Ramanbhai Patel, 23, of Silver Creek, were arrested Friday as a result of the multi-agency investigation, authorities said at a press conference held Friday at the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office.
Also arrested was Rome resident Rupesh Patel, 31, who is employed at Mom & Pop’s Store in Lyerly, detectives said. Initial appearances and arraignments for the defendants will be held in Rome on Monday before a U.S. magistrate at the Rome Federal Building.
While no Polk County convenience stores were included in the sweep, Polk County Police Chief Billy Wills hopes that a new state law will help put a damper on the county’s rampant meth problem.
Starting July 1, a new state anti-meth law will require all stores to keep some drugs containing ephedrine behind the counter. Currently, shops can sell as many as three containers of certain meth-related medicines to a customer, according to Georgia law.
“Putting it behind the counter is a good move,” Wills said. “Trying to restrain production has got to help curtail some of the meth problem.”
Wills stated that as “Operation Meth Merchant” continues, however, Polk County could be included.
“The next wave could cover other counties,” he said.
According to arrest reports, investigators videotaped several transactions in which the men sold marked-up packages of Max Brand Pseudo 60s, a generic allergy medicine, to undercover agents.
In total, the operation netted the arrests of 49 people and 16 corporations associated with convenience stores Friday, along with the execution of 25 search warrants of stores and residences involved in the alleged crimes. It focused on stores in Catoosa, Chattooga, Floyd, Whitfield, Walker and Dade counties.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the GBI, the Internal Revenue Service and a number of local agencies collaborated on the 18-month investigation that began with calls from concerned citizens who suspected the stores were providing supplies for meth labs, said David Nahmias, U.S. attorney for Georgia’s Northern District.
All of the cooperating witnesses and undercover agents involved in the transactions plainly stated to the suspects they planned to use the medicine for meth, Nahmias said.
Many of the stores carried greater than normal stocks of the various medicines, and some even made a “meth section,” shelving the drugs with fuel, matches, antifreeze and other items commonly used to produce meth, the prosecutor said.
“They made it easy for potential buyers to just sweep in and get all the supplies they needed,” Nahmias said.
The investigation also seemed to supply evidence for a gray market for ephedrine in Northwest Georgia. Businesses, investigators said, cater to meth producers by supplying greater than normal quantities of the needed materials at inflated prices.
Pravinkumar Patel allegedly made hundreds of dollars by participating in this market, according to arrest reports.
In December an undercover agent allegedly paid Nilesh Patel $482 for 36 containers of Max Brand Pseudo 60s and two glass pipes at Coastal.
Then three months later, an undercover agent paid $300 for another 24 packages of the drug, according to the arrest report. Undercover agents also made two similar purchases from Nilesh Patel in Silver Creek, according to the report.
Vernon Keenan, director of the GBI, said the state hopes the businesses indicted in the case will have to forfeit their assets.
Some 25 of those arrested in Friday’s raids had the last name Patel, and Nahmias said some suspects are resident aliens who could face deportation if convicted. “We follow the evidence wherever it leads us,” he said.
“Operation Meth Merchant” is not finished, Nahmias said. “If you’re engaged in this unlawful activity, you should think today it was them, tomorrow it will be you.”
The following suspects have been charged with selling ephedrine or other products knowing or having reason to know that the buyer’s intended purpose for the product was to manufacture methamphetamines. Federal officials would not divulge where the suspects are being held. The list is organized based on where the convenience stores are located.
Nilesh Ramanbhai Patel, 23, Silver Creek; employee of Silver Creek Mini Mart, 5729 Rockmart Road S.E., Silver Creek, Pravinkumar H. Patel, age and address unknown; Coastal Food Mart, 1701 Turner McCall Blvd., Rome
Chattooga County Karen Flarity, 48, Mentone; Shantilal Patel, 50, Carrollton; Nikesh Patel, 32, Marietta; Parul Patel, 29, Cloudland; employees of BJ’s Food Mart, 12510 Highway 48, Cloudland, Rupesh Patel, 32, Rome; Kumsumben Patel, 23, Summerville; Pat Allen, age unknown, Gaylesville; Ashley Knight, 19, Menlo; Mom & Pop’s Store, 10898 Highway 114, Lyerly Bharatkumar Patel, 52, Riverdale; Nilimaben Bhart K. Patel, 45, address unknown; employees of Pop’s Country Store, 6465 Highway 48, Menlo Kamlesh Patel, 35, Summerville; Vipul Patel, age unknown, Calhoun; Reese’s Mini Mart, 1360 Highway 48, Summerville
Catoosa County Sameena Fathima, 36, Fort Oglethorpe; Ashraf Baig, 45, Fort Oglethorpe; Mohammed Ahmed, 49, Ringgold; Mini Mart, 141 Highway 41, Ringgold Malvika Chiraq Patel, 38, Cleveland, Tenn.; Matthew Samuel, 23, Chattanooga, Tenn.;1840 LaFayette Road Hasmukh Thanki, 49, Rossville; Gita Hasmukh Thanki, 42, Ringgold; employees of Quick Stop/Lakeview Superette, 805 Lakeview Drive, Rossville Alpesh Patel, 29, of Rossville; Ashaben Patel, 23, Rossville; 1800 LaFayette Road, Fort Oglethorpe
Dade County Mangesh Patel, 55, of Chattanooga, Tenn.; Falgun Patel, 28, Chattanooga; Tobacco and Beverage Mart, 12062 S. Main St., Trenton Vipul Ramanbhai Patel, 27, of Rising Fawn; Sue’s Market, 3209 Highway 11 South, Rising Fawn Tonya Layman, 32, and Judy Higdon, age unknown, both of Trenton; employees of Hartline’s Grocery and Hartline’s Deli, 3064 Highway 31, Trenton
Jigneshkumar B. Patel, 27, of Tifton; Tobacco Outlet, 1109 N. Main St., LaFayette Vajrasree Kamarajuqdda, 45, Fort Oglethorpe; an employee of Rossville Smoke Shop, 512 Chickamauga Ave., Rossville Mitesh Laxmanbhai Patel, 27, of Ringgold, and Laxenmanbhai Patel, 55 of Rossville; Ross Thriftway, 1119 LaFayette Road Balvedbhai Patel, 41, Chattanooga, Tenn., Rekha Remesh, 47, of Nashville, Tenn.; Famous Market and Tobacco Store, 3721 Chattanooga Valley Road, Flintstone Pradipkumar V. Patel, age unknown, Rossville; Govinbhai Patel, 72, Rossville; Jayshree Patel, 50, of Rossville; Jiffy Mart, 1240 Mission Ridge Road, Rossville
Baldwinder Parmar, 47, of Marietta; Jagwinder Kaur, 47, of Calhoun; Prabhjeet Singh, age and address unknown; 41 Food Mart, 4501 S. Dixie Road S.E., Resaca Sidhharath Patel, age and address unknown,; Sudhirkumar Patel, 45, Dalton; Deep Springs Grocery/Superette, 1610 Beaverdale Road N.E., Dalton Prahladbhai H. Patel, 47, of Dalton; Myra’s Grocery and Tobacco, 2290 Waring Road N.W., Dalton Harshadkum Patel, 26, of Shelbyville, Tenn.; Rameshbhai Patel, 54, Dalton; Varnell Market and Tobacco, 300 W. Main St., Varnell Ghanshyambhai Patel, 23, Dalton; Daksha Jani, 32, Dalton; Tibbs Road Convenience Store, 813 N. Tibbs Road, Dalton Satishkumar Patel, 27, Cochran; Visal Patel, 22, Dalton; Creekside Grocery, 4100 Tibbs Bridge Road, Dalton