Despite a last-minute request for leniency from the owner’s wife, the Westwego City Council voted unanimously Monday night to shut down a convenience store for selling illegal synthetic marijuana.
The council revoked the business license for Doanloan LLC, which operates the Westwego Grocery Store at 1215 Avenue H.
The store’s owner, Truc Pham, 52, was arrested twice this year for allegedly selling at least two kinds of illegal synthetic marijuana, including AB-Pinaca, which was declared a controlled substance in May.
Gerald DeSalvo, an attorney for the owner’s wife, Valerie Pham, told the council that the family has come to an arrangement in which the owner will not be involved in the day-to-day operations of the business. He said Valerie Pham was not involved in selling the substance and that the store is a crucial source of income for her and her four children.
The council, however, rejected the request, along with DeSalvo’s claim that Truc Pham may not have been aware that the substance had been declared illegal.
Councilman Glenn Green, who works for the New Orleans Police Department, said the rise in use of AB-Pinaca, its dangers and its designation as a controlled substance were well-publicized and Truc Pham had a responsibility to know what he was selling.
“Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” he said. “You’re an attorney. I shouldn’t have to tell you that.”
“That stuff has rendered young people dead,” he said.
DeSalvo said the AB-Pinaca was found only in a back storage area during a June 13 search, but Police Chief Dwayne Munch told the council there had also been a previous search of the property and an arrest.
Munch said informants who later made buys at the store told Westwego police that Pham was selling “mojo.”
During the first search, in January, the police said they found illegal synthetic marijuana on Pham and on the property, but the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office didn’t accept the charges because all of the materials weren’t seized for testing.
After getting a tip that Pham was selling illegal substances again, police executed the second warrant and seized all the synthetic marijuana, including the now-illegal AB-Pinaca.
The business is still operating, and Truc Pham has not yet been charged by the DA’s Office.
In other business:
- Mayor John Shaddinger told the council that a revised plan for the new City Hall building will be sent to them next week and that he’s ready to hold a special meeting to ensure the project can go out for bids Sept. 30.
The council already agreed to changes that would reduce the cost of the project by roughly $500,000, after bids received earlier this year were well over the $3.2 million budget.
The building, which will be located on Fourth Street, will take about a year to build once a contractor is selected. The existing City Hall on Avenue A was damaged by Hurricane Katrina and other storms.
- Munch accepted a proclamation from the council after Westwego was declared the 10th safest city in Louisiana by the real estate website Movoto.
Munch said Westwego was ranked second-lowest in property crimes and overall crime. He credited the dedication of his officers and the commitment of local residents to community policing.