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Thu, Jan. 23

Anatomy of a bust: Taking down the Zonka 'syndicate'

PRESCOTT - When officers with the multi-agency Partners Against Narcotics Trafficking (PANT) task force arrested four people in connection with selling pot-laced candy bars last month, it was the culmination of an investigation that began in April and led them to Phoenix and back to Prescott.

Christopher Lee Martin, 37, and Andrea Lyn Martin, 33, both of Prescott, were arrested along with Todd James, 40, and Christopher Goodrich, 39, both of Phoenix. They face various drug-related charges; Chris Martin, alleged to be the "chef" behind the chocolate "Zonka" bar production, and Goodrich, and James were also indicted on a count of operating a criminal syndicate.

In his affidavit to obtain search warrants, a PANT detective explained that in April he spoke with a person who had been arrested in another case, who told him that Chris Martin was making "a huge candy bar" with chocolate and marijuana that he called the Zonka bar and was selling it to stores and to individuals.

The detective began his investigation by looking at the Zonka website and found that the company offered 38 products. The website said, "The creator of Zonka bars is a chef and an Arizonian (sic) of 17 years." It also said "the secret to the sauce" is that "butane is not used in the extraction process."

The detective wrote that on May 9, a material informant bought a Zonka bar from Hippie Village Emporium on Walnut Street; that same informant told him Martin was cooking up the candy in Phoenix and that he was "making bank" (a large profit) selling them.

PANT sent the Zonka bar to the DPS Crime Lab for analysis.

Later in May, another informant said that Martin was making and selling the Zonka bars in Prescott smoke shops, the detective wrote.

In June, the detective went to the Green Cross Clinic on 12th Place in Prescott to get a medical marijuana card for himself. He was able to do that, he reported, after paying $300, despite the fact that he was given no medical exam and did not have to otherwise prove his need for it.

While there, the detective wrote, he saw more than 100 Zonka bars, and was given chocolate/marijuana covered strawberries with Zonka packaging on the way out.

He later went back and bought more Zonka bars.

In July, the detective obtained records from the state Department of Health that included names of medical marijuana "patients" and "caregivers."

He then talked with a person known as "Red" who supplied Zonka products, and was given the names and locations of three so-called "compassion clubs" in Phoenix where he could get them. Compassion clubs typically contend they are legal because they do not actually charge for the product, but instead charge an entry or membership fee.

The detective and another PANT detective checked out the clubs in August and obtained several Zonka products. While in Phoenix they looked at a copy of the New Times alternative weekly newspaper and found an ad for Zonka and one of the dispensaries they were investigating.

By this time, the detective reported, the lab results were back on the product he'd bought from the Hippie Village Emporium in Prescott, and they did contain a "usable quantity" of cannabis.

The PANT detectives went back to Phoenix a couple of days later, bought more Zonka products, and while at the Green Cross Clinic on Indian School Road, a employee "even rolled and gave (at no charge) a marijuana cigarette to (the detective)."

When they went to the Joint ReLeaf Compassion Club on East Roosevelt, the detectives were told that they "cannot keep (Zonka) in stock due to sales."

At the third Phoenix location, they bought Zonka candy for $10 and a gram of marijuana after being told to put $25 in an envelope and drop it into a box marked "Donations."

Four days later, a PANT detective went to the Hippie Village Emporium in Prescott, where the owner told him they were "in between (Zonka) vendors," a claim the detective didn't buy, because he had seen "the Chris Martin vehicle in the area" of the store, he wrote, adding that he was able to buy some pot anyway.

In September, PANT did surveillance on a person who drove to Prescott Valley "directly from Phoenix" and who "is known to be associated with Zonka bars and their distribution and sales."

A Zonka rep also sold a PANT detective more Zonka products early in September, even giving him a shipping invoice and price list with the levels of THC - the active ingredient - in each product.

***

On Sept. 12 and 13, PANT, along with Phoenix-area law enforcement, served search warrants on 10 locations in Yavapai and Maricopa Counties. They arrested the four suspects - the Martins, Goodrich, and James - and seized more than 20 pounds of pot, medical marijuana products, guns, vehicles, and $70,000 in cash, according to YCSO spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn.

They identified Chris Martin as the "chef" who cooked up the Zonka bars in a Phoenix kitchen, D'Evelyn said.

PANT Commander Bill Suttle was asked to comment on the arrests, but said he couldn't speak about them due to the pending cases. The detective, however, in the search warrant affidavit, explains the legal justifications for busting what the sellers contend is medical marijuana.

By law, he wrote, "There are no active medical marijuana dispensaries in the State of Arizona," and the Department of Health would not be awarding certificates until August 2012 at the earliest. He wrote that it is his understanding that there are currently no legal dispensaries.

While "compassion clubs" are seen by some as another option, and those with medical marijuana cards - about 22,000 in Arizona - can share their product with other cardholders, the detective pointed out that they could do so only "if nothing of value is transferred in return."

He went on to note that Zonka bars "do not fall under any sort of legal protection under the State of Arizona Medical Marijuana Law."

The detective said he was able to prove that the suspects are participating in or assisting a criminal syndicate because he could show they sold narcotic drugs "in partnership with those who manufacture and produce Zonka bar products."

All four of the suspects arrested are now out on bond. They will next appear in court later this month.

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