Suspects of Convenience

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That two store owners had sold Mini Thins in bulk to men they'd been told were "cooking" meth, and that two other stores may have been selling Mini Thins to cooks, apparently was the catalyst for the cops to broaden the scope of the probe.

"After these transactions were completed," detective Swain Granieri said in court documents, "it was decided that other, non-affiliated convenience-type stores should also be contacted with attempts to purchase large quantities of over-the-counter medications containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine."

After last September's raid, authorities explained in court documents why they'd targeted mom-and-pop shops and not large chain or convenience stores.

". . . [Officers have] learned that Mini Thins and related products are not known to be sold by any pharmacies or health-care facilities. Conversely, over-the-counter drugs are being sold by privately owned convenience stores and liquor stores.

"The officers had a basis for not contacting corporate chain stores in their undercover roles. They had no basis to believe that these stores were selling large quantities of precursor chemicals knowing that they would be used to manufacture methamphetamine."

But other than the first two targeted convenience stores--Full Mini Mart and A-1 Food Store--the police also had "no basis" to believe that any store owner "knew" that someone buying over-the-counter drugs in bulk was a meth cook.

Furthermore, over-the-counter medications containing the same amount of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine as Mini Thins do remain available at the big stores. An ex-meth cook told New Times ("Methology," December 18, 1997) that, as recently as the spring of 1997, he'd send friends on "drug store runs" to collect pills from which to extract precursors.

Two men who have turned state's evidence in the still-pending Groves case spun a similar tale last month in interviews with defense attorneys.

"Did they go to stores to buy it?" a lawyer asked one of the men, referring to the meth cooks and to the ephedrine/pseudoephedrine pills.

". . . It was the pharmacies that were in Wal-Mart," the man replied.
The man was referring to pre-1997, when many local meth cooks relied almost solely on chain stores for their precursor drugs.

"Did you ever change your stores between July of 1995 and April of 1997?" a defense attorney asked.

"Yeah," the man replied. "There was a liquor store over on Glendale and 59th Avenue called A-1 Market. And they sold the Mini Thins by the basketful. You can buy as many as you want. . . ."

The game was on.
From mid-March through July 7, the Mini Thins undercover team tried to sting as many mom-and-pop convenience stores as possible.

They met with some great successes, such as their trip to Metro II Liquors, at 43rd Avenue and Glendale in Glendale. Its owner bit hard, asking the narcs on tape if they could funnel some meth back to him after they cooked it with chemicals he'd helped to provide.

When it was over, the undercover team had bought 129 cases of Mini Thins and similar products at 21 stores, enough ephedrine/pseudoephedrine to make pounds of methamphetamine.

In their investigation, the police came to focus on one wholesaler, Iraqi immigrant Frank Younadim. During the sting, detectives bought more than 20 cases of Mini Thins products traced to Younadim. The police also learned Younadim's distributor had shipped 80 cases to the Scottsdale man in April 1997 alone. A search of Younadim's storage locker and other locations later yielded more than 50 cases of the products.

That wasn't against the law. But prosecutors alleged that Younadim listened in at one store as the undercover team struck a deal with a retailer. They claimed he's criminally culpable because he must have heard the cops say they were cooking dope with the pills.

(But Younadim's attorney, Bruce Feder, asked detective Granieri last December, "Is it your belief during that conversation, it was specifically discussed that the medications being purchased were for purposes of manufacturing methamphetamine?" Granieri answered no.)

Younadim, 38, was the only wholesaler charged in the case. Those who sold the Mini Thins to Younadim, and the other distributors who sold the precursor drugs to convenience stores, have avoided prosecution.

The drug cops have said in court documents that their game plan was improvisational: Because they had prior information on only a few stores, they'd drive around Phoenix and sometimes Glendale, looking for mom-and-pop shops at random to approach.

"We would determine if they sold the [Mini Thins], and upon receiving an affirmative answer we would determine whether they would sell large quantities of that product," Swain Granieri told a defense attorney. ". . . I certainly believe a case is a large quantity."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin