Maker of bath salts, herbal incense sues Stoddard County officials

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Ripley County manufacturer and distributor of two synthetic drug products that will become illegal in Missouri next month is seeking more than $11 million in damages in a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court against a local prosecutor and sheriff for alleged civil rights violations.

Rodger Seratt of Naylor, Mo., says that Stoddard County Prosecuting Attorney Russ Oliver and Sheriff Carl Hefner failed to obtain search warrants before they seized hundreds of packages of suspected synthetic drugs from six businesses in their county last week.

Oliver said Tuesday the products, being marketed at bath salts and herbal incense, were voluntarily surrendered by businesses and calls Seratt's suit frivolous. When asked for details of how the products were surrendered, Oliver said he could not comment on that.

These types of products are generally known to mimic the effects of cocaine and marijuana when snorted or smoked, and will become illegal Aug. 28 under a recently passed Missouri law. Communities across the nation have sought laws to remove the items from shelves after reports of dangerous and even deadly side effects related to their use.

Oliver contends an existing law bans the substances in Missouri. The law relates to analogues that are substantially similar in composition and have similar effects on the central nervous system as the illegal product.

In an email sent Thursday, Oliver wrote the Stoddard County Sheriff's Department, with the assistance of Dexter police and Missouri State Highway Patrol, "seized as evidence numerous designer drugs from convenience stores in Stoddard County."

He is quoted in a news release from his office as saying, "Today we seized the evidence that will show these drugs were for commercial sale in our county."

Seratt said he had products at two of the businesses involved. He is acting as his own attorney in this case as well as separate cases filed against the State of Missouri and the City of Marion, Ill., in which he is attempting to stop laws banning synthetic drugs.

His business, incorporated as Siera Citra Inc. and marketed under Wildwood Botanicals, sells these products in southern Missouri and Southern Illinois. Seratt said he has sold the incense for three years and bath salts for three months.

Even while making plans to continue his business out of state, Seratt admits banning the products is a good thing. He acknowledged people can be harmed by use of the items.

"But it (the sale) is legal until Aug. 28 and it is wrong for law enforcement like in Stoddard County to make up a pretext like they did and break the law to stop something they don't like," Seratt said. "Everyone has to obey the law. That is what the law is about."

Seratt said if the law goes into effect Aug. 28, he will stop his sales in Missouri.

"I'm absolutely not going to break the law," he said, asking later, "Who are they going to run off next? Where's the line? There's a line between Gestapo Germany and the U.S. It's the U.S. Constitution and the constitution is very clear on what can and can't be done."

Oliver said he would not comment specifically on Seratt's suit as it is an ongoing court case. He added that he wanted to stop the sale of synthetic drugs in Stoddard County now.

"We've had kids going to the emergency room by the week," he said. "I know the manufacturers are making a lot of money doing business, but I'm willing to do this so no more parents have to face children going to the emergency room from this garbage."

Stoddard County's problem with synthetic drugs exploded in recent months, Oliver said.

"As far as local business owners, we are not," pursuing charges, he said. His office is investigating further, but Oliver said he could not provide other details about the case.

No court dates have been scheduled yet in the cases he has filed, Seratt said. His Stoddard County case asks for $6,000 in actual damages, $1 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages, as well as an injunction stopping authorities there from further seizures or the use of the statute cited by Oliver in his investigation.

Seratt said he personally does not like these types of products.

"This is not the best thing to do in the world, but it does make a little money," he said.

Seratt estimated he is doing between $30,000 and $40,000 per month in business, with profit margins of about 20-25 percent. Seratt added retailers make a larger profit margin than that.

The products are made by adding chemicals purchased on the Internet, a powder for bath salts and a chemical spray for incense, to mixtures he creates, Seratt said.

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