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Major Drug Busts Across the Nation, with a DEA raid in Alpine, Texas

Rosa, Ilana, and Ariel Lipsen at the Brewster County Jail, May 8, 2014. (KRTS/Tom Michael)

On Wednesday, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) led a coordinated national action against the wholesalers and retailers of synthetic drugs. The raids were conducted in cities in more than two dozen states. That morning, DEA agents also appeared in rural Far West Texas.

UPDATE: We spoke with Laila Rico, spokesperson for the DEA who confirmed that the Alpine raid, as indicated in the report, was part of the national Project Synergy II.

May 7 was a long day for Ilana Lipsen, the owner of the Purple Zone in Alpine. Her shop was raided by by federal agents. Nationally, the DEA made more than 150 arrests and served 200 warrants across 28 states in a major crackdown on synthetic drugs. They were especially focused on links to Chinese chemical manufacturers, and their distributors in the U.S.

What did they find in the hookah lounge in Alpine? Listen to the podcast to hear the details.

Lilana describes her store: "We sell electronic cigarettes, accessories for electronic cigarettes, eJuice, novelities, organic body lotion, pipes, tobacco products, and we’re also a hookah lounge."

Her sister, Ariele, was at the shop on Wednesday morning. "And she called in a frantic frenzy saying that the DEA was there and they were breaking everything and to come to town. And I came to find 20 different police officers there, Homeland Security, Border Patrol, Brewster County Sheriff's Department, and Alpine Police Department."

Tom Cochran was a witness to it. He runs a screen-printing business along Holland Avenue and the Purple Zone is one of his clients. He was calling on them that morning when he stumbled upon a major police action.

"Yes this was Operation Synergy," says Ilana.

Was Alpine a part of the national operation?

At his office, Brewster County Sheriff Ronnie Dodson declined to talk, saying it was a DEA issue. KRTS News spoke with the senior federal agent in charge in Alpine who referred us to a public information officer in El Paso, but we have not yet received comment. And it’s not the first time the Purple Zone has run into the law. There are still state-level cases pending against them from Fall 2012.

Ilana is now sitting on the bench on the front lawn of the jail, with her mother. The bail bondsman, Joe Torres, steps outside. This means they won’t have to wait much longer. Soon, Ariel Lipsen appears. She looks tired, and she shows her family the cuts she incurred from her altercation with federal agents.

Ilana carries three pages listing seized property. Among them were all the Kratom products in the Purple Zone. The Food & Drug Administration considers Kratom to be: “a new dietary ingredient for which there is inadequate information.”

Although not a banned substance, the FDA issued an import alert for Kratom in February. Then in March, they issued a press release spotlighting an American manufacturer who voluntarily recalled all of its Kratom products.

Listen to the podcast reported by Tom Michael by clicking the link above.

Former KRTS/KXWT News Director