BUCKHANNON -The city of Buckhannon wants a piece of the proverbial pie.
Members of Buckhannon City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a motion authorizing City Attorney Dave McCauley to send a letter to U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II requesting that a portion of the money realized from the seizure of assets during a sting conducted at Hot Stuff, Cool Things stores in Buckhannon and Clarksburg be allocated to the Buckhannon Police Department.
The letter was prompted by Councilman Tom O'Neill's observation at council's Nov. 7 meeting that the federal government had distributed $706,472.13 to the Harrison County Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force.
In a draft of the letter presented at Thursday's council meeting, McCauley delineates the police department's "substantial involvement" in investigations of Hot Stuff, Cool Things in Buckhannon - as well as its "ensuing assistance" in the April 18, 2012, raid conducted in the city.
On that date, Hot Stuff, Cool Things' locations in Buckhannon and Clarksburg were closed by a multitude of law enforcement authorities by order of Chief U.S. District Judge John Preston
The stores were alleged to be major suppliers of hallucinogenic bath salts and synthetic marijuana.
"The Buckhannon Police Department activities included several controlled purchases of contraband by Buckhannon police agents, as well as undercover work with confidential informants," McCauley's Nov. 21 letter reads, noting that the contraband was forwarded to the West Virginia State Police Forensic Lab. "These operations were commenced in November of 2011 and continued through February of 2012, when Chief (Matthew) Gregory was made aware of the federal investigation."
The police department's investigations during that span of time were spurred by "many incidents stemming from the sale of 'bath salts'" at the Buckhannon Hot Stuff, Cool Things location, the letter states.
McCauley also notes that most of the city police department's officers were dispatched to assist state and federal authorities during the April 18, 2012, raid.
"Hundreds of hours of our officers' time were expended on the 'Hot Stuff, Cool Things' activities prior to and including the activities of April 18, 2012," the letter asserts.
McCauley's letter goes on to note that Jeffrey Paglia, the owner of both stores, "completely and steadfastly" failed to pay a business and occupation tax that the city imposes upon retailers "despite what our City officials have come to learn were considerable sales at the Buckhannon location."
McCauley also emphasizes the City Council's efforts to rid the Upshur County community of drugs by adopting what he deems "the most substantial bath salts ordinance in West Virginia" in March 2013. The letter also highlights a forthcoming "drug house" ordinance, which will require landlords to evict individuals engaged in the use and sale of illegal drugs.
"With a small police department of but nine members including our police chief, it is difficult to manage the many problems arising here that are attributed to drug use and peddling," the letter concludes. "Our city will be greatly appreciative of receiving any much needed funds to facilitate our own war on drugs here.
"I appeal to our federal government to consider an allocation to our city police of a portion of those funds realized from the seized assets of those who have perpetrated so much damage upon our community."
Saying he believed the letter had "an excellent tone," City Councilman Dave Thomas made a motion authorizing McCauley to forward the letter to Ihenfeld, which was seconded by Councilwoman Pam Cuppari before being passed
"I think it's one of those 'don't-ask-don't-get' kinds of situations," McCauley remarked upon the motion's passage.
Councilman Tom O'Neill said he is grateful that the letter is being sent.
"It's extremely disappointing that property used in peddling drugs in our community is being seized from our community and proceeds from those sales are being given to the Harrison County Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force, which is a worthy organization, no doubt, but we've got needs in this community," O'Neill said. "I mean, think of what could be done with the city police department with just a fraction of those funds."
O'Neill, who is an attorney, suggested that "there are grounds for further action" if the city doesn't "get any satisfaction through (McCauley's) letter."
"I imagine that the U.S. attorney has a great deal of discretion as to the disposition of seized funds," he said, "but that discretion is not unlimited, and I would suggest that equity would require that at least some of that make its way back to the community from which it originated."
Paglia, 49, of Lost Creek, was indicted in federal court in Elkins on multiple counts of drug trafficking, maintaining a drug-involved premise and the structuring of monetary deposits.
U.S. District Judge Irene M. Keeley subsequently sentenced Paglia to seven years and three months in prison, and ordered him to serve three years on supervised release after completing his sentence. Paglia is currently serving his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Elkton, Ohio, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website, which describes the prison as a low security facility housing male offenders. Paglia is scheduled to be released Dec. 9, 2019.
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at IMT-Kuba.