Special Report: The Tilted Scales of Justice

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The owner of Papa Joe’s Smoke Shop lost $80,000 worth of merchandise and approximately $1 million in sales from his two locations following a raid in 2016

Since then, the charges against Bob Chianelli and his employees that accused them of selling drug paraphernalia were dismissed. But the $80,000 worth of merchandise seized, including glass pipes, still remains in police custody. 

The Virginia Beach Police Narcotics Unit raided the shop on South Lynnhaven Road in August of 2016. Surveillance video obtained by 10 On Your Side shows police entering the shop, while customers appear startled. 

Chianelli says, “Those are customers we have never seen again.”

Shortly after the raid, 10 On Your Side walked through the shop with Chianelli’s son Robert. He looked around at the empty shelves. “This is our glass gallery, or was the gallery. We just finished stocking it, and now it is completely empty,” he said. 

Police did not find any drugs or illegal substances in the shop, but that didn’t stop customers from being afraid to go to the stores, Chianelli said. 

Before the raid, the combined sales at both the Virginia Beach and Norfolk location of Papa Joe’s between August 2015 and August 2016 reached $3.465 million. The year after the raid, the combined sales at both shops dropped to $2.425 million. 

“People stopped coming. People were afraid to go to the stores. They thought there was some criminal activity going on in our store,” Chianelli says. 

10 On Your Side asked him if there was criminal activity going on in the stores. Chianelli shot back, “Heck No! There was no marijuana or illegal substances found in our shops.”

Chianelli alleges that the police only target him. The shop was accused of selling drug paraphernalia back in 2010 as well. 10 On Your Side spoke with Virginia Beach police about this accusation, who provided us with a list of 12 charges from the last three years. 

Seven of them involved Papa Joe’s, but the other five charges listed involved other stores in the city. In one of the cases, police were looking for counterfeit clothing, but found “several smoking devices” and the other case where counterfeit clothing was again the target, police found “263 smoking devices.” All charges in those two cases and the case of Papa Joe’s were dropped. 

However, police still refused to give back the thousands of dollars of merchandise, citing that the glass pipes being sold are defined in State Code 18.2-265.1 as drug paraphernalia. Chianelli was still fighting this in court on July 23. 

“That’s what they say, but it is not used for drug use, and it is no different than what the dozen of shops in Virginia Beach that sell the same products,” said Chianelli. 10 On Your Side obtained several pictures from other stores in the area that currently sell the same type of glass pipes that were taken from Papa Joe’s. 

A sign that states “any mention of illegal substance will result in refusal of service, and you will be asked to leave” greets Papa Joe’s customers. 

Greg Surber, who prosecuted the case, said “I believe the sign shows they know what they use this stuff [the glass pipes] for.” He says it’s an open and shut case, “Look, the Virginia Code clearly defines drug paraphernalia and what is defined as drug paraphernalia includes water pipes and bongs that were seized from Papa Joe’s.”  

10 On Your Side spoke with Senator Frank Wagner, who is a vocal supporter of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and dropping the drug paraphernalia law from the State Code.

Wagner says, “If the charges are dropped, then the property should be returned to the rightful owner, and that should have been done a long time ago, and I don’t understand why there has been this delay.”

10 On Your Side looked into how much this two-year legal battle with Papa Joe’s has cost the city attorney’s office to fight. Since the city attorney’s are salaried, we found the total cost was $22 for two witness subpoenas. 

It’s costed Chianelli $150,000, not including the $1 million in sales. He says, “22 dollars. It is an insult they would only tell you $22 dollars. I mean don’t we have more pressing matters in the city that need the city’s resources and attention?  $22 dollars.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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