Ex-clerk sentenced in Spice sale case

A former Franklin gas station employee will spend a year on probation after he helped prosecutors build a case against the owners for selling synthetic marijuana.

Rupinder Singh, 30, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of possession of a synthetic drug and was sentenced to nearly a year on probation. He originally was charged with felonies for dealing a synthetic drug, which could have resulted in two to eight years in prison.

Singh, 615 Legacy Blvd., Greenwood, was working as a clerk at the Phillips 66 station in downtown Franklin, which police said was selling synthetic marijuana, commonly known as Spice. After police raided the gas station in 2013, he was arrested, along with owners Nachhattar Singh, Harinder Kaur and their son Veerpartap Singh.

When Rupinder Singh was arrested, he provided information about how the business was being run and pointed investigators to accounts where money from drug sales was being deposited, Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper said.

His cooperation helped the county build cases leading to guilty pleas by the owners and their son. The owners also agreed to settle a civil forfeiture case, where the county had sought to seize cash and property, and paid $88,000 in order to keep their business and other property. That forced the owners to sell, so the Phillips 66 gas station at 400 E. Jefferson St. is now under new ownership, Cooper said.

“(Singh) went back in and gave a full statement to police, led them to several of the accounts. One, he was an employee and not an owner and was doing what he was told to do, and cooperated with the police after the fact. He helped us with how the entire organization was being run,” Cooper said.

Rupinder Singh’s attorney Carlos Lam did not return phone calls Tuesday.

Nachhattar Singh, Kaur and Veerpartap Singh all pleaded guilty to felony charges of dealing a synthetic drug in March 2014 but have not been sentenced. Sentencing hearings have been delayed multiple times due to continuances requested by the defense and conflicts on the court calendar, Cooper said.

In December 2013, Franklin police and Indiana State Police raided the downtown Franklin gas station after a two-year investigation, which began after police received numerous complaints from nearby residents that Spice was being sold there. During the raid, police seized about 350 packets of Spice with a total value of about $14,000. The Spice was being kept behind the counter, and buyers had to ask for it, police said. If other customers were in the store, the clerks asked them to wait or come back later before making the sale.

Police were not able to make arrests at first because the substances weren’t specifically banned by state law. Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, helped change the law so that police could make arrests if people were selling substances that were similar to other synthetic drugs or were being represented as synthetic drugs, even if they did not contain the chemicals specifically banned in state law. The Spice case in Franklin was the first large-scale bust made under that new law.

The county also filed a forfeiture case against Nachhattar Singh, Kaur and Veerpartap Singh, seeking to seize any cash or property that was used or gained from drug dealing. The defendants agreed to surrender $88,000, with the Franklin Police Department receiving about $40,000 and the prosecutor’s office getting about $17,000. The case was handled by an outside attorney since the prosecutor’s office cannot ethically file those types of cases, Cooper said.

The forfeiture did not impact the pleas by the co-defendants, who all pleaded guilty to the charges as filed and did not negotiate plea agreements, he said.

The information provided by Rupinder Singh helped in both the criminal and forfeiture cases, and the large cash settlement in the civil case ensured the owners could not restart the drug-dealing operation, Cooper said.

“That was the goal, to put an end to it and to put them in a position to where they couldn’t start it back up again. We shut down the business,” Cooper said.