Up in Smoke

Valley glass blowers and head shops fear prosecution, as Operation Pipe Dream shuts down a local manufacturer

In a predawn raid on February 24, 30 local agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, acting on a directive from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Pittsburgh and Attorney General John Ashcroft, roused three local business owners from their beds and charged them with felonies.

Mary Louise Stone, 58; her 38-year-old son, David; and Eric Rodgers, 32, were charged with three felony counts relating to the unlawful sale of drug paraphernalia. The inventory at their glassware and ceramics business, Stone Artworx including a wide variety of glass and ceramic pipes, candy dishes, Christmas ornaments and dildos was seized.

The local arrests were part of a nationwide investigation known as Operation Pipe Dream; 1,000 law-enforcement agents participated in synchronized busts around the country, targeting manufacturers and distributors of glass pipes and bongs. The raids resulted in 55 indictments, from Eugene, Oregon, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

David Stone lost much of his glassware in a recent DEA raid.
Jackie Mercandetti
David Stone lost much of his glassware in a recent DEA raid.
Confiscated merchandise from Stone Artworx sits at a DEA warehouse.
Jackie Mercandetti
Confiscated merchandise from Stone Artworx sits at a DEA warehouse.

Now, Valley head shop owners are worried they may be the next to feel the federal stings. And it soon may be hard to find a glass pipe in the Valley, as supplies dry up with the crackdown on glass blowers and nervous head shop owners reduce their inventories.

Even now, Web sites for popular bong and pipe manufacturing companies, such as Jerome Baker and Omnilounge, have been shut down. After the February 24th raid, customers found themselves staring at a large American flag and the words: "By application of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, the website you are attempting to visit has been restrained by the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania pursuant to Title 21, United States Code, Section 853(e)(1)(A)."

The February bust was not David Stone's first encounter with the DEA. Stone's attorney, Nick Hentoff, says his client ran a tint shop in Phoenix for 12 years, servicing car dealerships and the federal government darkening the windows of undercover DEA vehicles.

Stone purchased what would become Stone Artworx two years ago through a brokerage firm, and secured a Small Business Association loan, putting up his and his mother's homes as collateral. The past two years have not been easy. A fire in the first year of operation destroyed $1 million in lava lamps, and Stone concentrated heavily on pipes to get his company back on its feet. He branched out into glass sex toys and dildos, which would guarantee a steady stream of customers, Hentoff explains.

"His goal was to be the largest manufacture and designer of ceramic and metal products," says Hentoff. "Pipes were a small part of that."

Although Stone continues filling orders for dildos for catalogue companies such as Adam and Eve, he has had to let go all 22 employees, and he fears he may lose his home. Stone, his mother and his business partner face three years in prison and $250,000 in fines, if convicted.

"It's very frightening when you have the full weight of the U.S. government come down on your head," says Hentoff.

Glass has become the material of choice for smokers, and the glass blowing industry has boomed in recent years.

"When I first started blowing glass five years ago, there were maybe four or five of us here in the Valley," says a man who blows and sells $30,000 worth of pipes and bubblers from the garage of his Scottsdale home each year. "Now, I would say there are two to three hundred of us."

The glass blower, who didn't want his name used for fear of prosecution, was introduced to glass blowing through a friend, who would blow pipes on the porch of his apartment. The glass blower was working for Chase Manhattan Bank at the time.

"I would go to work every day, and my friend would just kick it on the porch for a few hours, and he was making more money than I was." He soon quit and began blowing glass full-time.

Today, he sells to a few local shops but sends the bulk of his pieces to stores in New York. At least he did prior to February 24, or "Black Monday," as it is known among glass blowers.

"I'm a little leery about sending anything through the mail, and I really haven't been trying to sell much. Most of us are just laying low to see what happens."

He monitors an Internet glass blowing forum and says reactions from glass blowers have been varied.

"People don't know what to do. They're scared; they don't know where this is going to end. Many people have stopped making pipes altogether. Others are making 10 times as many while they still can."

He says he'd find the situation almost laughable if the potential charges weren't so serious.

"Here you've got Ashcroft bragging about taking down a $58 million industry. He's putting thousands of people out of work. What happened to encouraging private business?"

He takes an ornately swirled blue bubbler off a shelf. The pipe is stunningly intricate, the result of 18 hours of work. He'll sell it, he says, for around $300, probably to a collector. (Some pipes and bongs can go for more than $1,000.)

Glassware is artistic and ornamental, he insists. What people do with his products once they purchase them should not be his concern and certainly not something he should be arrested for.

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