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Drug enforcement agents from Pittsburgh, PA., wait around one of their vehicles Monday morning following searches of area homes and businesses.

VSC Online Photo by Kevin J. Kilmer.


By Debbie Schmidtknecht, Staff Writer

Eleven businesses and personal homes associated with Vincennes entrepreneur Marvin Barmes were searched this morning by from the Drug Enforcement Agency to look for drug paraphernalia and evidence that these items are being illegally shipped to other states.

A few of the sites that were searched include Barmes Wholesale, 114 Main St.; Barbaraīs Gift Shop, 120 Main St.; Second Sight Wholesale (formerly Wannabeez Gift Shop), 119 N. Second St. Barmesī home, and the houses of his grown children working with the family business.

As of 11:30 a.m. today, police said drug paraphernalia was found and was being seized by agents.

Search warrants were obtained from a federal judge by the Philadelphia Field Division of the DEA, Pittsburgh District Office, said Vincennes Police Chief Robert Dunham. The businesses have allegedly been shipping drug paraphernalia to Pennsylvania which is in violation of federal law, the chief said.

Drug paraphernalia is any type of item used to ingest drugs, Dunham said. On the Barmes Wholesale Web site, items such as acrylic, ceramic and glass smoking pipes are for sale as well as metal hand pipes and bullets (an item used to snort drugs). It is Dunhamīs understanding that DEA officers will pack up three semitractor loads of paraphernalia, computers and any other type of evidence which would indicate that paraphernalia shipping took place.

No arrest warrants had been issued as of this morning. But that could change based on what DEA agents find during the seizures, Dunham said.

Attempts were made to contact Marvin Barmes this morning for comment, however, phone calls remained unanswered.

Dunham said he has been talking with the DEA in Pennsylvania for about 2 1/2 months regarding paraphernalia shipments from Vincennes. DEA officers have been in Vincennes prior to today "running surveillance," he said.

"A DEA officer working a case in Pittsburgh was led back to Vincennes," Dunham said. "Shipping apparently starts here and then its fingers reach out all over the country. Even though we havenīt been able to do anything locally with wholesalers, they have broken the law in other states which brings those investigative agencies to us to help us with our problem."

At 3:30 a.m. today, 80 federal, state, county and city police officers met at city police headquarters for a "briefing" on todayīs scheduled activities. A command post was set up at the rear of police headquarters at 105 Broadway St., just across the street from one of the seizure sites.

Beginning at 6 a.m. today, city police cut off traffic to five blocks of Main Street because the area contained six businesses owned and operated by Barmes that were being searched. Second Street between Main and Broadway streets also was blocked because of another search.

"What we have done is supply manpower to the federal agencies in an effort to try and clean up drug paraphernalia wholesale," Dunham said. "This is another dent in the drug wall. It is real hard to take when you fight a drug war for so many years, then see this stuff put together and sold next door to us. This is a biggie in my book. This has been a sore spot with the community for many years."

"Even during my years as a police officer, we would get lots of calls from people all over the country wanting to tell us that the drug business was being run from Vincennes, Indiana," said Vincennes Mayor Terry Mooney. "People wanted to know why paraphernalia was coming from Vincennes and why we werenīt doing anything about it. A young man recently commented in a letter to the editor in the Sun-Commercial that this was the head shop capital of the world."

Head shop is a slang term for a business selling drug paraphernalia.

Debbie Schmidtknecht can be reached at 812-886-9955 and by e-mail: dschmidtknecht@suncommercial.com .

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Agents remove inventory from six businesses owned by Barmes
By Debbie Schmidtknecht, Staff Writer

 

A U.S. postal inspector enters Barmes Wholesale Monday afternoon after an early morning raid by Vincennes Police and drug enforcement agents.

VSC Online Photo by Kevin J. Kilmer.

 

 

Federal agents this morning began loading inventory into semi-trailers from six businesses owned by Vincennes businessman Marvin Barmes.

Vincennes Police Chief Robert Dunham said that items considered to be drug paraphernalia are being confiscated by agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. Other items were not being removed, he said.

Barmes allegedly is in violation of a federal law which prohibits the sale of, and offering for sale, drug paraphernalia, Dunham said.

However, Barmes has not been arrested and as of noon today Barmes has not been charged with any crime.

Dunham said a DEA agent in Pennsylvania discovered what he considered illegal activity while working a case in Pittsburgh. He was working a drug case when he discovered an invoice from Barmes Wholesale. The DEA has been working with Dunham for the past 2 1/2 months to secure search warrants on Barmesī property.

DEA officers arrived here Monday and issued 11 search warrant on all businesses owned by Barmes as well as his home and the houses of his grown children who work with the family business. U.S. Customs agents also are involved because the drug paraphernalia was allegedly shipped through the mail.

An affadavit for probable cause was filed by the Pittsburgh office of the DEA, which allowed agents to enter and remove items they believe are in violation of federal law, provided search warrants are issued.

Barmes owns Barmes Wholesale, 114 Main St., where there is a shipping department; Barmes Woodworking and Cabinets, 24 N. First St.; and Barbaraīs Gift Shop, 120 Main St. He also is associated with Second Sight Wholesale (formerly Wannabeez Gift Shop), 119 N. Second St.

The search warrants were obtained from a federal judge by the Philadelphia Field Division of the DEA, Pittsburgh District Office, Dunham said. The businesses have allegedly been shipping drug paraphernalia to Pennsylvania which is in violation of federal law.

Bruce Teitelbaum, an assistant U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, said it is a federal crime for anyone to sell or to offer for sale drug paraphernalia across state lines. It also is illegal for a person to use the U.S. Postal Service or any other means to ship drug paraphernalia, Teitelbaum said.

While it is not illegal in Indiana to have drug paraphernalia, it is illegal in Pennsylvania, Teitelbaum said. It is against the law to have drug paraphernalia in Indiana if it contains illegal substances.

Federal authorities are expected to take four or five semitractors full of Barmesī business merchandise back to Pittsburgh where they will be reviewed. Computers and any paperwork also will be reviewed at to see if criminal charges will be filed, Dunham said.

The penalty for selling or offering for sale drug paraphernalia can be up to three years in prison for each count, Teitelbaum said.

Federal statute defines drug paraphernalia as "any equipment, product or material of any kind which is primarily intended or designed for use in manufacturing, compounding, converting, concealing, producing, processing, preparing, injecting, ingesting, inhaling or otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled substance prohibited by law."

Acrylic, glass, stone, ceramic, wood and water pipes are considered drug paraphernalia, Teitelbaum said. So are carbonation tubes, smoking or carbonation masks, roach clips, "coke" spoons, chamber pipes, bongs, air-driven pipes (come with fans), wired cigarette papers and cocaine freebase kits.

Some of the controlled substances being ingested into the body using these methods are marijuana, cocaine, hashish, PCP and methamphetamine, Teitelbaum said.

When considering whether an item is drug paraphernalia, federal investigators look at whether oral or written instructions are given as to how to use the product, if there is national or local advertising, and whether the owner of the business supplying the product also sells tobacco for smoking, Teitelbaum said.

END

Barmes 'surprised' by DEA search; cash seized from home
By Debbie Schmidtknecht, Staff Writer

Vincennes businessman Marvin Barmes was surprised to be awakened Monday morning by 25 federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officers, but wasnīt shocked when they took his money.

"For a while I thought I was being held up by a bunch of hoodlums," Barmes said this morning from his home on Overhead Road near Fritchton. "They wouldnīt show me a badge or tell me their names."

The DEA officers were armed with weapons and a search warrant but Barmes said he was not allowed to see the search warrant until officers were done.

"The guy told me he would put it (the search warrant) on the table and I could see it when they were done," Barmes said.

When Barmes was able to look at the federally-issued document, he was able to determine that the agents were looking for "any books or records of any kind, computer hard drives or anything else they could use to charge me with something."

DEA agents entered Barmesī home about 6 a.m. Monday. He said that although DEA agents were quiet about what they were looking for, they were adamant about what they wanted him to do. They demanded he open a safe and if he didnīt, "they said they would tear it open," Barmes said.

"They told me that if I didnīt cooperate they would tear up the entire house," he said. "They also said that if they needed to, they would dig up every inch of the 17 acres I have out here. I just gave them the keys to everything so they wouldnīt bust the locks."

Divers from the Indiana State Police searched a pond on his property to determine if he had some kind of underwater storage unit. DEA agents ended up seizing $250,000 in cash from Barmesī home.

"We pay a lot of our bills in cash and we pay a lot of our independent contractors in cash," he said. "The IRS doesnīt like that. It makes it hard for them to tax you because there is no paper trail. Even though I do use the bank, I donīt use a lot of checks because I can look in the barrel where the money is and see if I have any to spend."

Barmes said he was unsure of the status of his money because DEA agents said it was "ill-gotten gains."

"Their problem is they believe the money came from selling drug paraphernalia," he said. "My only regret is that I canīt pay a lot of plain, hard-working people."

He does know he canīt pay his employees because he has no money and that people working for him will no longer have a job. Barmes said he was told by DEA agents that "I was out of business."

"It is my understanding they are taking everything out of my businesses and hauling it all back to Pennsylvania," he said. "After they go through everything, I guess they will decide if they will arrest me."

Barmes had not been charged with anything.

"But that doesnīt mean they wonīt be back for me," he said.

Barmes said it is no secret that his wholesale businesses ship all types of smoking devices throughout the country. But the DEA sees the items as drug paraphernalia, he said. "Drug paraphernalia" is considered to be anything used to ingest drugs.

On the Barmes Wholesale Web site and in catalogs, items such as acrylic, ceramic and glass smoking pipes are for sale as well as metal hand pipes and "bullets."

Barmes said that the catalogs specify the items are to be used for tobacco. He said it is not illegal for him to sell the items or ship them in Indiana, but he was told it is illegal to ship the items to certain other states because of the Interstate Commerce Act.

He said he knows that the DEA has invoices from boxes shipped from his businesses to Pittsburgh.

"That (the invoices) is why they came in to start with," he said.

DEA agents busted windows at Barmesī businesses on Main Street.

"They could have gotten keys to the joint before they started breaking windows," he said. They pulled everything out and just tossed it."

Barmes did go to the sidewalk across the street from the businesses where two people with him took pictures of the damaged properties.

"I guess you have to just roll with the punches," he said. "This too will pass. Now that I know how they operate, I will have to build the fences higher."

END

Debbie Schmidtknecht can be reached at 812-886-9955 and by e-mail: dschmidtknecht@suncommercial.com .

(reprinted with permission)