Baltimore Police said Friday that the investigation into an Old Goucher corner store they raided last month remains ongoing as substances seized continue to be tested, despite charges being dropped in the case.
Detectives still believe an illegal drug organization was operating there, said T.J. Smith, a police spokesman.
“This wasn’t a legal operation,” Smith said.
His comments came two days after prosecutors in Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby’s office dropped all charges against two employees of the Charles Village Discount Mart after they were told that initial police estimates of 16 pounds of fentanyl and 13 pounds of morphine being recovered during the raid were incorrect.
Those estimates had served as the basis for employees Ahmed Alraohani, 49, and Sharif Shaibi, 22, being held in jail without bail for nearly a month.
Melba Saunders, a spokeswoman for Mosby, said Friday that an assistant state’s attorney assigned to the case had called the police lab before a hearing in Alraohani and Shaibi’s cases on Wednesday and was told by a police lab tech that initial testing results — awaiting a supervisor’s approval — showed that the materials seized from the store had tested negative for illicit drugs.
“In pursuit of justice, and to be swift and fair to the defendants, we decided to drop the charges,” Saunders said.
Smith called the lab exchange a “miscommunication,” saying that while none of the material seized during the raid had tested positive as fentanyl or morphine as of Friday, the testing isn’t complete.
He said a large amount of powdery substance seized from the store has tested positive as a cutting agent, or a material often mixed with illicit drugs by dealers to increase volume or diminish potency. In addition, about 80 pills recovered from the store tested as Viagra and Cialis, prescription drugs used for erectile dysfunction and other ailments, he said.
Smith noted that police also seized large amounts of materials commonly used in the distribution of illicit drugs, including 10,000 gelatin capsules, 60,000 glass-top vials, 20,000 small baggies, 10 digital scales and several false bottom containers used for concealing things.
Based on that information, and other information that had spurred the investigation of the corner store in the first place, Smith said police are now consulting with Mosby’s office and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to assess what charges can be filed.
Smith said the since-reopened store — at the corner of W. 22nd and N. Charles streets — is not a licensed pharmacy, and could be charged with operating as one. He also said there are charges associated with possessing a “lookalike drug” — such as a cutting agent — with the intent to sell it as if it were an illegal narcotic.
Todd Edwards, a DEA spokesman, said the agency’s Baltimore office “has ongoing discussions between Baltimore [Police] and our DEA Diversion Investigators who will offer their assistance and expertise to determine if there were any federal regulatory violations.”
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Alex Leikus, Alraohani’s attorney, said Mosby’s office “acted appropriately when they learned that the substance that was brought to them by the police, and told to them was fentanyl, the number one hottest and horrible drug, wasn’t fentanyl.”
He said police “should have gotten it tested before these guys were arrested and put in jail for a month over the holidays.”
Fentanyl is a potent opioid many times stronger than heroin, and has become the leading killer in Baltimore — more than heroin and street violence. Even tiny amounts can be deadly.
The raid of the corner store drew widespread attention against that backdrop, and because police approached the suspected drugs with extreme caution, calling in crews in HAZMAT suits.
John Hammann, Shaibi’s attorney, said the claim that the seized materials were fentanyl and morphine was “the centerpiece of the whole case” and the reason his client and Alraohani were denied bail, and it was appropriate for the charges to be dropped when that was determined to be untrue.