Suspects of Convenience

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After September's raid, police released a list of the 34 independent convenience stores that hadn't bitten. Twenty-five of those stores, however, didn't carry Mini Thins.

Police reports indicate that employees (or owners) at two of those 25 stores told the narcs they could get Mini Thins, but were leery of the suspicious-looking trio. One clerk/owner asked the undercover team if they were cops, and refused to take the dialogue to the next step.

Police have said they erased audiotapes of those efforts that didn't hit pay dirt, so it's impossible to compare them with those that did.

The Alyas Case
May 21, 1997, was a big day in the Mini Thins investigation. The undercover team stopped at 16 small independent convenience stores, including 13 for the first time.

Five stores that day, including the E-Z Stop market, would be added to the list of those already stung by the undercover team.

Parts of the secretly taped dialogue between Amir and Fay Alyas and Detective Tommy Kulesa are inaudible. But it's clear Kulesa pushed the couple hard after seeing a few jars of the Mini Thins on a shelf.

"Do you ever sell, like, cases?" he asks Amir Alyas.
"No, cases no," Amir replies. "That's all I got on the shelf over there."
Kulesa then struck up a conversation with Fay Alyas, as her husband tended to other customers during the late-afternoon rush hour.

"I need like a whole bunch for the ephedrine in 'em," he tells her.
"Mm, hmmm," she replies.
"But that's all you got, huh? Do you ever sell a lot? I need more than that."

"How many you need? I can make you order."
"I need like a case, like 144 bottles."
"144! . . . What they call it, the drug . . ."
"Yeah, the drug people. Yeah."
"No, no, the administration of the drugs. . . . They prohibit this."

That should have ended things right there. But Kulesa wouldn't take no for an answer.

"Yeah, what we do is we take the ephedrine out, we make drugs with it, that's what I'm doing."

Kulesa and Granieri chat with each other for a few moments, then Kulesa turns back to Fay.

"I need to get as many bottles, if it's possible," he then tells her.
"But it's $4.99 a bottle. Is that okay?"
After Kulesa says it is, she pulls two more 12-bottle packs of Mini Thin Two-Way Action tabs from behind the front counter, and tells him she can get more from her distributor in a week.

"A couple cases, too," Kulesa urges.
"Oh, you buy them by the cases?" Fay Alyas asks.
"Yeah, I buy 'em by the case."

"Let me look around and I'll get one case for you," Fay Alyas tells the narc. ". . . Two weeks ago, [the distributor] came by and said, 'Do you still want Mini Thins?' I said, 'No, I got enough.'"

She rings up the total, $192.30, including tax, then puts the money that Kulesa hands her into the cash register.

The undercover team had been in the store for nine minutes.
To the cops, Fay Alyas was a drug dealer waiting to happen. She finds that idea, well, almost funny.

"I kind of hear [Kulesa] say, 'We make drugs,'" she says, "but I don't pay attention because it's not my business. He notice we are stupid people about drugs. Why he take advantage of us? I'm afraid they're going to steal. 'I'll get one case for you' is talk to get them to leave."

(The Alyases' command of English is deceptively flawed. The couple sometimes don't comprehend when people speak too fast or unclearly. But they rarely let on, choosing to mask linguistic shortcomings by smiling or nodding in agreement.)

The first sale consisted of 36 bottles.
Police reports show that was the only time the couple sold the narcs any Mini Thins. But the team returned to E-Z Stop four more times in the next six weeks, trying to interest the Alyases in selling them "cases."

The second visit came June 2.
Fay Alyas tells Kulesa, "I can't get them," referring to the Mini Thins. She tells him she called a lot of people, but no luck. (Fay says she was just trying to pacify the persistent customer.)

On this trip, the cops bought a 12-tablet box of Actifed--which contains pseudoephedrine.

A week later, the drug warriors returned yet again to E-Z Stop, where the Alyases' 11-year-old son, Brandon, was hanging out with his mom and pop.

"I'm still waiting [for the Mini Thins]," Fay tells Kulesa, adding she'll be happy to buy some more Actifed for him.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin