The owner of a Springfield convenience store has pleaded guilty to multiple charges of selling synthetic drugs, including bath salts, from his store.
Muhammad A. Bajwa, 54, lives in Fairfield County but owns and operates the Quality Food Mart, 2160 E. Main St. He and another store employee, Aziz Zia, 38, were indicted on multiple drug trafficking charges in January after an investigation into synthetic drugs being sold from their store, said Clark County Sheriff Gene A. Kelly.
“This was, I think, a win for our community,” Kelly said. “We saved lives and we saved people from becoming seriously injured from the effects of these drugs.”
The Springfield News-Sun went to the Quality Food Mart Friday to ask Bajwa about his guilty plea. He denied an interview.
The investigation into the bath salts and synthetic marijuana sales at the store began after Kelly received an email from a concerned mother who’s child was buying the drugs from the store, he said. Sheriff’s detectives began an undercover operation and discovered Bajwa and Zia would sell the drugs when their informants would go in and ask for the “good stuff,” which was kept under the counter, Kelly said.
After the initial investigation, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office narcotics unit, with the assistance of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, completed a raid on the store in August of 2013. Agents found synthetic marijuana, hundreds of smoking devices, digital scales, $7,200 in cash, handguns and boxes of counterfeit Ugg, Coach, Louis Vitton and Gucci shoes, according to court documents. Bajwa and Zia were indicted on charges after the raid.
On Thursday the pair pleaded guilty before their trial was set to begin next week. Bajwa pleaded guilty to five counts of aggravated trafficking in drugs and one attempted possession of a controlled substance charge. He faces a maximum of 18 months in prison and a $2,500 fine for each charge.
Zia was originally charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, conspiracy to engage in a pattern of corrupt activity and two counts of aggravated trafficking in drugs. The details of his plea agreement were not available Friday.
Neighbors who live near the Quality Food Mart said they were aware of the illegal activity that had been happening at the store and are glad the case is closed. One neighbor, Amy Cupps, said she hopes the guilty plea means drug activity and users will leave her family-friendly streets.
In 2011, a state law went into effect in Ohio banning the sale and use of synthetic drugs, also known as “analog” drugs. Kelly said man-made narcotics such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana were prevalent between 2011 and 2013 when this case began, but now the shift of street drug use has turned to heroin, which is cheaper to buy.
Bajwa will be sentenced Sept. 11, according to court records.
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