ELYRIA — The men arrested at Shopway Food Mart, 175 Lake Ave., were allegedly selling spice, a synthetic form of marijuana.
The employees, Thaer Mustafa and Hesham Ayyad, were arrested Tuesday after police conducted a search. Officers at the Ohio Investigative Unit also searched Cakes, Candy and Flowers, 8 Chestnut St., as part of a food stamp fraud investigation involving both businesses.
Mustafa was charged with two counts of possession of a Schedule 2 controlled substance and three counts of trafficking in a counterfeit controlled substance, each fifth-degree felonies.
Ayyad was charged with two counts of possession of a Schedule 2 controlled substance and one count of trafficking in a counterfeit controlled substance.
No one at Cakes, Candy and Flowers has been charged, but according to a press release from police, employees at the store could be charged at a later date. Employees at Shopway Food Mart also face additional charges pending further investigation by the Ohio Investigative Unit.
Elyria police Capt. Chris Costantino said police have received numerous complaints about Shopway. Costantino said officers found the synthetic marijuana in the store and it was confiscated.
Ohio retailers were banned from selling K2, or spice, as well as synthetic recreational drugs marketed as bath salts, on Oct. 17, 2011, under legislation signed by Gov. John Kasich.
The drugs coated with chemicals provide a marijuana-like high when smoked, but the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported a dramatic rise in calls to poison control centers from the drugs. They have been linked to several reports of reactions, including hallucinations, paranoia, agitation and seizures.
Officers of the Ohio Investigative Unit also confiscated 12 EBT cards, or electronic food stamps, from Shopway.
Greg Croft, agent in charge of the Cleveland District Office for the Ohio Department of Public Safety Investigative Unit, said he could not comment on the specifics of the investigation, but he said Cakes, Candy and Flowers was working with Shopway and had committed food stamp fraud.
No EBT cards were found at Cakes, Candy and Flowers, but Croft said that didn’t mean a crime was not committed.
“Just because they aren’t in possession of a card doesn’t mean that they haven’t committed a crime,” he said.
Kitty Meszes, owner of Cakes, Candy and Flowers, denied food stamp fraud occurred at the store when contacted Tuesday, but she would not comment on the allegations.
Croft said there are several ways food stamp fraud can be committed, including accepting food stamp benefits on behalf of another person or exchanging food stamp cards for cash. Both Shopway and Cakes, Candy and Flowers were authorized to accept the EBT cards.
After Tuesday’s search, the Shopway building was condemned by the city after unsafe electrical issues were discovered.
Cascade-Furnace Block Watch coordinator Holly Huff said residents with whom she spoke were happy that police had taken care of what she deemed a major nuisance in the area.
Makenna Western, who lives across the street from Shopway, said that is not true, however. A number of residents are saddened by the loss of the store, she said.
“We lived there for years, and yeah, there have been some problems, but we’re upset that they closed,” she said.
Western said she considers the employees who were arrested “good people.” She said Mustafa and Ayyad have helped residents when they couldn’t afford food or other groceries, and she said they were kind-hearted.
Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or email@example.com.