February 27, 2015

Cedar Rapids man sentenced for selling lethal dose of heroin

gavel-thumbnailAn eastern Iowa man will spend more than 30 years in federal prison for selling heroin that caused a death.

Thirty-five-year-old Ramon Cortez Freeman of Cedar Rapids pled guilty in November of last year to distribution of heroin resulting in death, three counts of distributing heroin and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Freeman admitted he dealt heroin to another person in January of 2014 and that person died from using the drug. Investigators say the heroin Freeman was distributing was around 70 percent pure, while historically heroin distributors had peddled heroin that was only one percent pure.

They say the more pure forms of heroin have led to more overdoses and deaths in eastern Iowa. Freeman was sentenced to 365 months in prison on the death charge, 240 months on the heroin distribution charges, and 120 months on the firearm charge. The sentences will run concurrently. He was ordered to make nearly 10-thousand dollars in restitution to the family of the overdose victim.


Bill to ban sales of powdered alcohol in Iowa advances

Stephanie Strauss of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Commission testifies before a House subcommittee.

Stephanie Strauss of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Commission testifies before a House subcommittee.

A bill to ban powdered alcohol in Iowa has cleared its first hurdle in the Iowa House.

Stephanie Strauss of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Commission said the bill would prohibit bars and retailers in the state that are licensed to sell alcohol from selling “Palcohol”  — a product developed by a company based in Phoenix, Arizona.

“This is an emerging issue,” Strauss said this morning. “Last year about this time a product was approved at the federal level for sale in the United States and then that approval was quickly reversed. Since that time, states have been deciding how they want to regulate this new product.”

Palcohol is not available anywhere today. A handful of states have already banned it and Iowa is among 17 other states where legislation is pending to prohibit the sale of powdered alcohol. Representative Ken Rizer, a Republican from Cedar Rapids, led the subcommittee that reviewed the issue this morning.

“I want to commend…the Alcoholic Beverages Division for having your finger on the pulse of trends across the United States and by taking timely action to protect all Iowans,” Rizer said.

Supporters of the ban say the product could be mixed with alcohol rather than water or juice, creating a very intoxicating brew, plus — since it’s powdered — some will be tempted to try to snort it. Representative Steven Holt, a Republican from Denison, was one of three members of a House subcommittee who endorsed the Palcohol ban early this morning.

“Normally, I’m an individual who believes the less government the better, but I just see so many opportunities for abuse of this product and safety from the standpoint of our young people that I’m supportive of this bill,” Holt said.

Representative John Forbes, a Democrat from Urbandale, was the third member of the subcommittee. “The problem you run into with products like this is you can mix it into different concentrations and especially with younger children it can be more easily concealed and taken into schools and put into soft drinks and things like that,” Forbes said.

The bill is scheduled to be considered in the House Commerce Committee this week.

Mark Phillips — the creator of Palcohol – has posted a video on his company’s website, calling critics of the product “completely ignorant.” Phillips argues Palcohol “would be painful” to snort because of the alcohol content. And Phillips said each four-inch-by-six-inch packet contains one-shot of vodka or rum in powdered form — something he said will be “perfect” for campers, hikers and travelers who will be able to pack the lightweight powdered form of alcohol rather than cart around heavier liquid forms of alcohol.

Critics, however, point to the way Phillips touts Palcohol as a light weight alternative to liquid alcohol, saying the sale of Palcohol would add to the “convenience-store approach” to getting high.

Branstad rapped for comments about getting cannabis oil from Illinois

Joe Bolkcom

Joe Bolkcom

The main sponsor of last year’s legislation that decriminalized possession of cannabis oil for treatment of chronic epilepsy says Governor Branstad offered “false hope” last week when Branstad suggested Iowa patients might be able to get the product in Illinois.

Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, says he spoke with a key Illinois legislator involved in drafting that state’s law. “You have to be a resident of Illinois and you’re not allowed once you’re certified as a patient in Illinois to take your medicine out of the state,” Bolkcom says. “So it would require that Illnois change their law and allow that to happen and he believed the chances of that are absolutely zero.”

Parents of children who suffer from chronic epilepsy say the Iowa law which decriminalized possession of cannabis oil as a treatment for their children is meaningless because they can’t get it here and they can’t go to another state to get it and bring it back. Governor Branstad last week said there might be “the possibility of working with a neighboring state” where cannabis oil is going to be produced and distributed. He noted a firm in the Quad Cities intends to submit a bid to the state of Illinois, seeking to be a distributor of the product.

“Obviously the Quad Cities (is) right across the river from Iowa…maybe that’s a possibility of something we could do,” Branstad said. “But that’s all speculation.”

The Illinois lawmaker who sponsored that state’s medical marijuana law told the Associated Press last week that Branstad was talking “total nonsense” and Senator Bolkcom says the governor’s statement is “astonishing”.

“We need people to engage in a thoughtful discussion about that and not simply throw out really uninformed, irresponsible ideas that provide hope to people where none exist,” Bolkcom says. “The governor and the people that work for the governor need to do more homework on this issue so that when they make statements, they have some basis in fact.”

Bolkcom says sometime in the next week a bill that would set up a system in Iowa for growing marijuana and producing the non-intoxicating cannabis oil for dispensing to epileptics here will be introduced in the Iowa Senate.

“It’s ironic that Senator Bolkcom is criticizing Governor Branstad for exploring opportunities to improve and fix the law that Senator Bolkcom authored,” Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said in a written statement. “Governor Branstad empathizes with the families who are exploring treatment options for their loved ones and will continue having discussions with other states’ leaders to explore solutions.”

The State of Minnesota is currently reviewing bids and will designate eight providers of medical marijuana for residents in Minnesota as treatment for a number of conditions, including epilepsy as well as glaucoma, Crohn’s Disease and chronic pain associated with a terminal illness. According to the latest timetable, eligible patients in Minnesota will be able to buy medical marijuana starting this July.

Former pharmacy owner in Des Moines sentenced on federal charges

The former owner of a Des Moines pharmacy will spend two years in prison for illegally selling prescription medication. Fifty-three-year old Mark Graziano was also ordered to pay restitution of state and federal taxes of $577,500 for his guilty pleas to charges of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and tax evasion.

Investigators say Graziano sold hundreds of thousands of pills containing the powerful painkiller hydrocodone out the back door of Bauder Pharmacy during a five-year period.

Graziano agreed to turn over property such as sports memorabilia and cars to be sold off to pay his restitution. He will have to serve three years of probation once he gets out of prison.


Governor wants more details on raising speed limit to 75

Governor Terry Branstad answers media questions as Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds listens.

Governor Terry Branstad answers media questions as Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds listens.

Governor Terry Branstad says he’s not ready to take a stand on raising the speed limit to 75 miles-an-hour on rural interstate highways. “I want to look at the impact that would have on public safety and fatalities on our roads,” Branstad says.

Seven Republican Senators have introduced a bill that would raise the limit on some stretches of roadway above the current 70 miles-an-hour maximum. “I know a number of western states have done that, but I would want to get more information before making a decision on that,” Governor Branstad says.

The Republican governor also says he is waiting to see any final legislation before determining if he would sign off on reducing the penalties for possession of marijuana. A bill to reduce the sentences of first-time offenders for possessing trace amounts of marijuana is working its way through the Senate and supporters say it would help address racial disparities in Iowa’s prison system.

Branstad, a Republican, says he wants to see the final legislation, and says it’s one part of the effort to deal with the racial disparity issue. “We have been working with the African-American community to address the concern about the disproportionate number of African-Americans who are in the corrections system,” Branstad says. “I think our parole board has made great progress also in reducing the disparity and we have been able to increase paroles at the same time reduce recidivism. So, I am really encouraged about the collaboration between the parole board and corrections in addressing this issue.”

Branstad made his comments at his weekly meeting with reporters.



Governor open to working with other states to make cannabis oil more available

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad says he is open to looking at changes in the state law that would make it easier for parents of to get ahold of cannabis oil used to treat sick children.

The people who pushed for the law allowing them to possess the oil in Iowa, say it is too tough to get and bring in from other states and they would like to see Iowa manufacture the marijuana oil here.

“There might be a possibility that we could work something out with a neighboring state in dealing with this, but I want to be careful that we avoid unintended consequences,” Branstad says. “…We want this to be available for the children with epilepsy that it could help, but we also don’t want it to get into the hands of other people who are not authorized to have it.”

Branstad says approving the manufacture of marijuana brings a whole lot of things with it. He says the governor of Colorado has said there are a lot of unintended consequences and he wished the legalization of medical marijuana hadn’t happened in his state, “When you get into the manufacture and distribution, which they are now doing in his state, there are a lot of issues that they really weren’t prepared for.”

Branstad says Iowa could possible work something out with Illinois, which passed a law which allows for the production of medical marijuana. He says Illinois is still working through the process.

“There is a firm in the Quad Cities that is intending to bid on this, so I guess we have to see what happens there. Obviously the Quad Cities is right across the river from Iowa, so I thought if Governor (Bruce) Ruaner approves this and they go forward with this, maybe that is a possibility of something we could do,” according to Branstad. Branstad says the state has to be cautious in whatever changes are made to the law.

“And again, as I said, this is an area that I think we need to be very thoughtful and very careful about. We want to do what we can to try to help the families, but we don’t want to create a lot of unintended consequences like what they are facing in Colorado,” Branstad says. Branstad says he’s not sure if anything will get done in this session, but says the possibility is there to work with a neighboring state.

Audio: Governor’s news conference. 28:45.

Council Bluffs man sentenced to prison on meth and gun charges

Iowa is one of the nation’s leaders for volunteerism but an official with the Iowa Commission

A western Iowa man will spend more than 10 years in federal prison on drug and gun charges. Forty-eight-year-old Ronald Wayne Shenk of Council Bluffs was arrested after an investigation and a search of his residence in April of 2014 turned up more than two pounds of methamphetamine, ten guns and more than 10-thousand dollars in cash.

Police also found drug paraphernalia that included digital scales, multiple cell phones, drug notes and surveillance equipment.

He pled guilty in October and has been sentenced to 120 months in prison for conspiracy to distribute meth along with a consecutive 60-month sentence for possession of firearms in relation to drug trafficking.