By Vicki Smith
A Clarksburg man who prosecutors said ran two West Virginia shops that sold large quantities of illegal bath salts will stand trial May 14, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
John Skruck, 56, had sought to delay his trial on more than two dozen drug-related charges. Defense attorney Thorn Thorn said he’s received more than 10,000 pages of discovery — 1,000 since mid-March — and needed three more months to prepare.
Thorn also complained he only got a list of the government’s intended witnesses about 10 days ago.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob McWilliams countered that the defense has had access to many documents for months, including interviews with a potential witness that have been available for about a year.
U.S. District Judge Irene Keeley agreed after a hearing in Clarksburg.
McWilliams also said two witnesses are federal Drug Enforcement Administration chemists whose names have been on their lab reports for months. The defense has long known it would need its own expert witnesses to counter their testimony, he said, so there is no justification for a delay.
A pretrial memo, meanwhile, suggested it was Skruck — not owner Jeffrey Paglia — who ran the Hot Stuff Cool Things stores in Buckhannon and Clarksburg before federal authorities raided and closed them last April.
Authorities called the stores a major distributor of hallucinogenic bath salts in north-central West Virginia and noted that Paglia planned to open a third store in Fairmont.
Paglia will be sentenced in July on one count of drug conspiracy and one count of structuring monetary transactions to evade reporting requirements. Two of his other employees are to be sentenced June 10. But Skruck, who functioned as general manager, is facing the most charges under a 27-count superseding indictment filed in February.
McWilliams’s memo to the court said Skruck not only set up a system for Paglia to skim from the stores’ profits but then skimmed a second time for his own gain.
Prosecutors said Skruck and Paglia met in a Buckhannon bar that Skruck ran, but by August 2011, Skruck had returned to his home state of Texas to run several strip clubs. Paglia convinced Skruck to return and help him.
That same summer, authorities began doing surveillance and “trash pulls” at the stores, recovering cash register tapes and receipts that detailed what was being sold, including the type, weight and price of products.
They revealed the stores made about 5 percent of their money on “hippie” clothing sales and 95 percent from illegal drugs — sometimes more than $20,000 a day, McWilliams wrote. As time went on, however, Paglia distanced himself and focused on investing in real estate and equipment.
In November 2011, Skruck moved into a church that Paglia had purchased and had drugs delivered there for both his local and Texas operations — without Paglia’s knowledge, McWilliams said.