Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 30, 2013

Alleged W.Va. bath salts dealer wants trial delay

VICKI SMITH,Associated Press
Associated Press

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — A manager who prosecutors say handled daily operations at two West Virginia shops that sold illegal bath salts wants his trial delayed, and new court documents say he was skimming from his employer in an enterprise that often generated more than $20,000 a day.

John Skruck's trial on more than two dozen drug-related charges was to begin May 12, but his lawyers said in a motion for postponement that he's not ready to proceed. Defense attorney Thorn Thorn said he's received more than 10,000 pages of discovery —1,000 since mid-March — and needs three more months to prepare.

Thorn also complains he only got a list of the government's intended witnesses about 10 days ago.

U.S. District Judge Irene Keeley hadn't ruled as of Tuesday.

A pretrial memorandum by federal prosecutors, meanwhile, suggests it was Skruck — not owner Jeffrey Paglia — who ran the Hot Stuff Cool Things stores in Buckhannon and Clarksburg before federal authorities raided and closed them last April.

Authorities called the stores a major distributor of hallucinogenic bath salts in north-central West Virginia and noted that Paglia planned to open a third store in Fairmont.

Paglia will be sentenced in July on one count of drug conspiracy and one count of structuring monetary transactions to evade reporting requirements. Two of his other employees are to be sentenced June 10. But Skruck, who functioned as general manager, is facing the most charges under a 27-count superseding indictment filed in February.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob McWilliams's memo to the court says Skruck not only set up a system for Paglia to skim from the stores' profits but then skimmed a second time for his own gain.

Prosecutors say Skruck and Paglia met in a Buckhannon bar that Skruck ran, but by August 2011, Skruck had returned to his home state of Texas to run several strip clubs. Paglia convinced Skruck to return and help him.

That same summer, authorities began doing surveillance and "trash pulls" at the stores, recovering cash register tapes and receipts that detailed what was being sold, including the type, weight and price of products.

They revealed the stores made about 5 percent of their money on "hippie" clothing sales and 95 percent from illegal drugs — sometimes more than $20,000 a day, McWilliams wrote. As time went on, however, Paglia distanced himself and focused on investing in real estate and equipment.

In November 2011, Skruck moved into a church that Paglia had purchased and had drugs delivered there for both his local and Texas operations — without Paglia's knowledge, McWilliams said.