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Capitol Petro

Capitol Petro agreed in December to pay nearly $1.3 million for selling a product sometimes called synthetic marijuana at some of its stores, including this one at 2702 E. Washington Ave.

In the wake of a settlement last month with the owner of a chain of Madison-area convenience stores over the sale of so-called synthetic marijuana, the state Attorney General’s Office sent warnings Tuesday to other Dane County retailers about the consequences of selling the products.

In December, Farooq Shahzad, owner of Capitol Petro stores, agreed to pay nearly $1.3 million in civil forfeitures, assessments and costs as part of a consent judgment approved by a Dane County judge, settling a civil forfeiture case brought against him by the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

According to the judgment, Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn partially ruled in favor of the state Department of Justice in July, finding that Capitol Petro had violated state law by selling synthetic cannabinoids, sold variously as “Spice” and “K2” or “Kush,” at its Madison stores.

The consent judgment, signed by Bailey-Rihn on Dec. 21, found Capitol Petro and Shahzad civilly liable for 16,444 violations of state law for selling the products.

The judgment bars Capitol Petro from selling the product in the future.

Shahzad’s attorney, Andrew Erlandson, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Capitol Petro has paid $100,000 of the judgment so far, according to court documents, and will make another payment of $1.15 million at a later date. The company also agreed to pay $33,000 for the cost of investigating the case.

According to court documents filed during the case, on June 25, 2015, Madison police executed search warrants at Capitol Petro locations at 2702 and 3505 E. Washington Ave., seizing nearly all of the stores’ “Spice” inventory. Shahzad was issued municipal ordinance citations.

On Aug. 15, 2016, Internal Revenue Service agents and officers from other agencies executed search warrants at six Capitol Petro locations, which was followed by testimony by some Capitol Petro employees before a federal grand jury. To date, no indictments have been issued, although Shahzad’s attorney noted in an October 2016 court filing that his client had received a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Madison notifying him that he may be the target of a criminal investigation.

Maya Longfield, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said Tuesday that the office cannot comment on any pending investigation or matter that’s been before a grand jury.

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DATCP filed its forfeiture case against Shahzad and Capitol Petro on June 15, 2016.

Warnings issued

to other retailers

On Tuesday, Attorney General Brad Schimel sent a letter to 20 other convenience stores, tobacco shops and other retailers warning about the consequence of selling synthetic cannabinoids, according to a statement issued by DOJ.

“(DOJ) will aggressively pursue action against businesses who choose to sell synthetic cannabinoids,” states the letter, signed by Deputy Attorney General Paul Connell. “The business and you may personally be subject to a substantial civil forfeiture from litigation pursued by this office, as well as criminal penalties from appropriate officials.”

DOJ is not releasing a list of the businesses that were sent the letter enforcement because it is “sensitive information that will be used to conduct additional follow up investigative work by local agencies,” DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos said.

DOJ said that the products, sold sometimes as incense and potpourri, are “unpredictable and dangerous,” and while they contain compounds that are similar to the active chemical in marijuana, they have slightly different chemical compositions. The products are made in clandestine labs, DOJ said, “using an ever-changing number of new chemical formulae.” They can be highly addictive, and have been linked to harmful health effects, including death.

In court documents, DOJ cited the case of an Edgerton man, Ross C. Cotter-Brown, who struck and badly injured two Middleton girls in April 2016 while driving under the influence of the substance. In April, Cotter-Brown was sentenced to eight years in prison.

A former employee of Capitol Petro who gave deposition testimony in the civil forfeiture case, Lawrence R. Keehn, 53, of Madison, was charged in November with possession with intent to deliver synthetic cannabinoid, after police executed a search warrant at an apartment in July and found a large quantity of the products and $16,000 in cash. Keehn told police he sold the product because he saw how much his former employer made selling it, the complaint states.

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