Busts for drug
net 10 arrests

Federal prosecutors arrested and charged 10 people yesterday for allegedly selling illegal drug paraphernalia at various liquor stores and mom-and-pop retail establishments on Oahu.

Honolulu police said the busts help to fill a loophole in local law, which doesn't allow state or county law enforcement agencies to arrest people for drug-related items -- such as pipes, scales and burners -- unless there is also drug residue.

"Just bringing a pipe to conferral (with prosecutors) and saying, 'We'd like to charge this person with a felony,' wouldn't be acceptable," said HPD Narcotics/Vice Capt. Kevin Lima. "You needed the drug."

Federal law, though, defines drug paraphernalia as items "primarily intended or designed for ... introducing into the human body an illegal controlled substance."

Using that definition, undercover Honolulu police officers, working with the U.S. Attorney's Office, have been purchasing alleged drug paraphernalia from various shops since September 2003.

The list of stores where search warrants were served includes Brudda's Market at 1331 N. School St., Date St. Grocery at 2441 Date St., McCully Market at 385 McCully St., Nuuanu Liquors & Sundries at 1627 Nuuanu Ave., Y.T. Market at 465 Kapahulu Ave., Nani Mini Market at 428 Kalihi St., Chubby's Pantry at 945 Kamehameha Highway, and The Pump liquor store at 94-866 Moloalo St. in Waipahu.

"This is a significant step to stopping this type of culture from continuing to thrive," said U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo. "All of these stores need to know that we will enforce federal law, and any past illegal practice stops now."

But defense attorney Bill Harrison called the arrests an "abuse of power." Harrison, representing one of the 10 arrested yesterday, said intent is something that cannot be assumed in court.

"Those (butane) torches, I have one of those," Harrison said. "They're windproof. I use those to light cigars on the golf course."

He added: "I think this is really an abusive power on behalf of the federal government, and they're targeting only the small immigrant mom-and-pop stores and none of the larger stores that carry the same item. I think it's really discriminatory and unfortunate."

Under federal law, selling or offering to sell drug paraphernalia is punishable by up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Kubo said property seizures are also an option.

Those charged are Yong Chin Tanaka, 59; Seon Hee Kim, 48; Yeong Eun Chung, 31; Sang Mo Chung, 66; Sung Kum Medeiros, 55; Edwin Medeiros, 57; Yong Kim, 55; Nan Ho Baek Chong, 53; Jong Yup Baik, 45; and Byung Don Hwang, 50.


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