Fugitive in major W.Va. 'bath salts' case arrested in New Mexico

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U.S. marshals Saturday captured fugitive John Skruck, accused ringleader of the nation's largest synthetic hallucinogen case, at his hideout in the mountains of New Mexico.

Authorities had been hunting for him ever since he failed to show up for his federal trial in Clarksburg, W.Va., last May.

Mr. Skruck, 57, a Texas strip club owner, faces more than two dozen drug counts connected to the sale of illegal "bath salts" at Hot Stuff and Cool Things stores in Buckhannon and Clarksburg, where customers had been lining up to buy the drugs.

Marshals in New Mexico, working with their counterparts in West Virginia, tracked him to San Cristobal, about an hour from the Colorado border, in the northern mountains of the state. They said they took him into custody without a fight.

Mr. Skruck had been living in Michigan and had received permission to travel to Youngstown, Ohio, for a family function prior to his trial.

He didn't come back and disappeared.

Prosecutors had previously argued that Mr. Skruck was a risk to flee and a danger to the community and asked that he be locked up pending trial.

The charges against him could send him to prison for decades. A federal grand jury said Mr. Skruck, who according to prosecutors previously ran prostitution rings from his strip clubs in Laredo and Waco, Texas, distributed bath salts from West Virginia head shops owned by Jeff Paglia.

Mr. Paglia pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate, as did two underlings.

The investigation began in spring 2011, when a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force began hearing about bizarre behavior involving bath salts users, in addition to a spike in strange crimes and medical emergencies.

West Virginia has had more incidents related to bath salts use than any other state, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Wheeling. Harrison County -- where customers had congregated every morning to buy bath salts at Mr. Paglia's shop in Clarksburg -- led the state in 2011.

Mr. Skruck will appear Monday before a federal magistrate in New Mexico to start proceedings to return him to West Virginia for trial.


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