(Updated at 12:55 p.m.) The hearing for two Pottstown store owners accused of selling synthetic marijuana has been postponed after county prosecutors decided to amend the charges against Rafie L. Ali, 35, and Mohamed K. Himed, 26.
More details to come.
EARLIER VERSION OF THIS STORY
NORRISTOWN — The co-owners of a Pottstown store accused of allowing synthetic marijuana to be sold from the store will go to trial this week in Montgomery County Court.
But first, Rafie L. Ali, 35, of the 400 block of East High Street, and Mohamed K. Himed, 26, of the Bronx, N.Y., co-owners of the Achi Store at 315 E. High St., their lawyers and prosecutors will have to select a jury to weigh the evidence in the case.
Jury selection began on Monday but by day’s end the parties were unable to empanel a jury from the 50 potential jurors available for the process. Judge Steven T. O’Neill, who is presiding over the trial, will begin the selection process again Tuesday morning with a new group of potential jurors.
Once the jurors are selected, First Assistant District Attorney Kevin R. Steele, who is being assisted by prosecutor Nicholas Reifsnyder, and defense lawyers James P. Lyons, who represents Ali, and Lawrence Fisher, who represents Himed, will give their opening statements to the jury.
Ali and Himed each is charged with corrupt organizations, delivery of a controlled substance, and possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance for their alleged roles in the sale of synthetic marijuana, or K2, to undercover detectives at the store in May 2012. An officer purchased two containers of K2 from the store on May 22. One package was labeled “Dead Man,” and the other “Power Diesel,” according to court papers.
Armed with a search warrant, authorities subsequently seized more than 30 vials of K2, more than 30 crack pipes, 13 bowls used for smoking marijuana, more than $1,000 cash and a handgun, according to court papers.
K2 is a Schedule I synthetic cannabinoid, which is believed to mimic the effects of cannabis. A Schedule I drug is one that currently has no legitimate medical purpose under Pennsylvania law and has a high potential for abuse.
The arrests of Ali and Himed marked the first time that a store owner was charged in Montgomery County with selling K2, under a state law that went into effect in August 2011 and criminalized such activity.
Earlier this year, Ali and Himed won their bids to bar prosecutors from combining their trials with that of Roger Tracy Malloy, a Pottstown man who was the driver of a vehicle involved in a double-fatal crash after allegedly using the drug which authorities claimed was purchased at the Achi Store. During a hearing in December, Ali and Himed, through their lawyers, claimed combining their trials with that of Malloy would be prejudicial to them.
Lyons and Fisher argued to O’Neill that their clients have not been charged with any vehicular homicide-related crimes and that evidence of the fatal crash would only prejudice jurors against Ali and Himed to the point they couldn’t receive a fair trial.
Steele had moved to combine the trials of Ali and Himed with that of Malloy, arguing blood evidence of Malloy’s alleged K2 use and evidence of remnants of K2 allegedly found in Malloy’s car are elements of the drug delivery-related charges lodged against the store owners.
The arrests of Ali and Himed were an outgrowth of the investigation of the 11:30 p.m. May 21 double-fatal wreck on State Street between Ninth and 10th streets in Pottstown. Authorities alleged the driver of the vehicle, Malloy, 27, of Pottstown, was driving under the influence of K2, which had been purchased at the Achi Store, at the time of the fatal crash.
Under existing state laws, authorities could not charge Ali or Himed with homicide-related charges in connection with the alleged drug sales and their alleged link to the fatal crash.
When authorities learned that the K2 Malloy smoked was allegedly purchased at the Achi Store, they launched an undercover investigation of the store during which an officer purchased K2 from the store.
Malloy, of the 300 block of North York Street, is awaiting trial on charges of vehicular homicide while driving under the influence of a controlled substance in connection with the crash that claimed the lives of James N. Crawford, 28, of Pottstown, who was Malloy’s housemate, and Rachael Witt, 15, a ninth-grade student at Pottstown High School, passengers in the gold Lincoln Continental allegedly operated by Malloy.
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This story was originally published on The Mercury’s website, www.pottsmerc.com.