Lehigh man admits to distributing synthetic drugs to Montco stores

NORRISTOWN — An Allentown man has admitted to running a business involved in the illegal distribution of synthetic drugs and drug paraphernalia, primarily to gas stations and convenience stores in Montgomery and Lehigh counties.

Kenneth Zak Grossman, 54, of the 800 block of Chew Street, pleaded guilty in Montgomery County Court on Thursday to felony charges of corrupt organizations, possession with intent to deliver synthetic cannabinoids and conspiracy in connection with incidents that occurred between October 2011 and July 2012.

President Judge William J. Furber Jr. deferred sentencing so that court officials can complete a background investigative report about Grossman, who according to court documents, was president of J & L Wholesale Distributors Inc., the target of an investigation authorities dubbed “Operation Bowls, Bongs and Beyond.”

“He admitted that he was running a corrupt organization that was selling synthetic marijuana and also devices to smoke and ingest that marijuana such as pipes and bongs,” said Assistant District Attorney Jason Whalley, explaining the nature of Grossman’s plea. “He was running this enterprise, distributing synthetic marijuana, in and around southeastern Pennsylvania and the state of Delaware, so he was the main guy in this operation.

“His warehouse was supplying some smaller shops in the areas and then they would distribute it for sale,” Whalley explained.

Grossman, who remains free on bail pending sentencing, faces a possible maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison on the charges. Whalley indicated prosecutors will seek a jail sentence against Grossman.

Grossman was one of 15 people from Montgomery, Berks, Lehigh and Northampton counties charged in connection with the operation when it was dismantled by authorities in September 2012. The arrests included several convenience store owners or operators in Schwenksville, Upper Perkiomen and Upper Frederick. Other shop owners or those who allegedly operated a subsidiary of J& L previously pleaded guilty to related charges or are still awaiting trial.

The arrests followed a year-long investigation of J & L Wholesale Distributors, Inc., a warehouse located on Hanover Avenue in Allentown and allegedly owned by Grossman.

At the time of the arrests authorities alleged such distribution operations are troubling to law enforcement because the items are packaged in a way to appeal to young people. During a 2012 news conference announcing the arrests authorities displayed packages of synthetic marijuana labeled “Scooby Snacks” or containing “Batman” logos.

Law enforcement officials have alleged that abuse of such synthetic drugs by young people can lead to violent acts, serious injuries and deaths. A Pennsylvania law banning the sale and possession of synthetic drugs, commonly referred to as “bath salts” and synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic marijuana, took effect in August 2011.

With the charges, authorities alleged the store owners and operators “purchased the products for the purpose of financial gain while disregarding the danger the products pose to the general public.”

During the investigation, on July 25, 2012, authorities executed warrants on J & L and its subsidiary and associates and seized numerous packets of suspected synthetic cannabinoids and two tractor trailers full of drug paraphernalia, including thousands of pipes, bongs, grinders, digital scales and packaging materials, according to court papers.

Authorities also identified 20 bank accounts and safety deposit boxes associated with the distributor and key members of the alleged narcotics and paraphernalia trafficking ring, ultimately freezing and seizing $901,725 in suspected proceeds of illegal activity, according to court documents.

In September 2011, authorities in Montgomery and Lehigh counties began separate initiatives targeting the distribution of synthetic drugs, focusing primarily on where the items were being sold, including gas stations and convenience stores. Using undercover detectives and informants, authorities purchased quantities of synthetic cannabinoids and drug paraphernalia from numerous gas stations and convenience stores in the two counties, according to authorities.

In speaking with store owners and examining the evidence, authorities realized that the illegal drugs in the local establishments were coming from the same distributor, J & L, authorities alleged.

During an undercover operation, detectives created a fake business in Souderton and detectives posed as shop owners who wanted to buy the products from J & L. and its subsidiary, “Insense Specailties” (sic), according to court documents. Authorities alleged the businesses were formed in the fall of 2011 after synthetic drugs became illegal in Pennsylvania.

Follow Carl Hessler Jr. on Twitter @MontcoCourtNews