By The Associated Press - 11/26/05
MISSOULA (AP) — The owners of five pipe and tobacco accessory shops in Montana were indicted this month for allegedly distributing drug paraphernalia.
In May, Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided The Vault in Missoula, The Grateful Shed in Bozeman and three other shops in Kalispell, Great Falls and Billings. The names of the other shops were not released, and their indictments are sealed.
The agents seized pipes, cash, clothing and business records, forcing at least one of the shops to close.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Josh Van de Wetering said the raid was not part of a nationwide investigation, but he declined to comment on why the five shops were targeted.
‘‘We want to bend over backward to ensure that the people and the five businesses who have been indicted in Montana receive a fair trial,’’ he said. ‘‘Part of that means I can’t comment on why these guys are being indicted and no one else, or why they’re being indicted now and not before. I need to emphasize that they are innocent until proven guilty.’’
In Missoula, the seizure forced David Sil to close The Vault, a small pipe shop he opened about eight years ago.
‘‘It certainly ruined my life,’’ Sil said. ‘‘They took everything, including all records and tax information, employee benefit money, medical expense money, rent money and all operating capital.’’
Sil’s attorney, Martin Judnich, said his client is bewildered by the seizures.
‘‘David Sil was shocked to find out that after more than seven years at that location and without warning or provocation, the federal authorities seized essentially the entire store,’’ Judnich said in a statement.
Bob Holstine, manager of The Grateful Shed in Bozeman, said he also was surprised and perplexed by the raid. He said pipes and tobacco accessories are a small part of the business, which has been in operation for 15 years.
‘‘We’ve only got two glass cases of pipe tobacco stuff,’’ Holstine said. ‘‘But we sell more clothes than J.C. Penney.’’
An arraignment is scheduled for Dec. 1, at which time all parties listed in the indictments are expected to appear.