Store owner pleads in spice case

Published 1:07 am Thursday, June 2, 2016

Will ask Appeals Court if Bentley’s executive order was legal

Local convenience store owner Pravin Patel pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance, but was sentenced to probation and has the right to appeal part of his case to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

0602-spicePatel, who owns Stop and Go #5 in Andalusia, was charged after he was found to be in possession of synthetic marijuana, also referred to as “Spice.” Patel was arrested on Nov. 7, 2011, just two weeks Gov. Robert Bentley issued an executive order making the substance illegal.

According to a press released issued by the district attorney’s office, Alabama Beverage Control Agents provided a copy of the Governor’s Executive Order, which criminalized synthetic marijuana, to all Covington County store owners when the order became effective. A few days later, agents returned to Stop and Go #5 for a routine inspection and found 20 packets of spice hidden throughout the store. Agents also recovered 21 more packets of spice from Patel’s residence and vehicle.

Patel’s attorney, David Baker, said the material, which Patel legally purchased, and paid taxes on, was not out for sale.

“Following the spirit of the new law, he took it off his shelves (after the executive order),” Baker said. “When the ABC Board came to his store and looked around, they pulled a drawer open and found the substance. When they asked if he had more, he said, ‘Yes,’ and showed them.”

Presiding Circuit Judge Lex Short sentenced Patel to two years imprisonment. The sentence was suspended, and he was placed on probation for two years.

Baker said the judge’s order allows Patel to maintain his driver’s license, and to appeal.

“We are appealing on the issue of whether the governor did what he could legally do,” Baker said.

Normally, he explained, new regulations like this one pass both houses of the legislature and get the governor’s signature before taking effect.

“If the Court of Criminal Appeals says, ‘no,’ the governor did not have the authority, then Mr. Patel’s sentence will be overturned. If they say ‘yes,’ he will remain on probation. We are grateful the DA allowed him to do this this way.”

Assistant District Attorney Emmett Massey, who prosecuted the case, said, “I am pleased that Mr. Patel took responsibility for this crime. In order to make Covington County free of drugs, we have to stay ever vigilant from the streets to the stores. Spice has become an epidemic and is more dangerous than most realize. Just because something can be bought at a convenience store doesn’t mean it should be. Thanks to the thoroughness of our ABC Agents, citizens should know we mean business about getting this horrible stuff off the streets.”