Former 'bath salts' fugitive appears in W.Va. court

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Former fugitive John Skruck, alleged leader of the nation’s largest synthetic-hallucinogen operation, appeared in a West Virginia courtroom Tuesday and waived his right to federal detention and bond revocation hearings.

Mr. Skruck, 58, was arrested last month in New Mexico.

After Mr. Skruck made a brief appearance in U.S. District Court in Clarksburg, the same magistrate who initially let him go in April over the objections of federal prosecutors remanded him to federal marshals to await trials for drug distribution and laundering money.

Prosecutors have also filed notice that they will use his flight against him to show “consciousness of guilt” that could add to his prison time.

Marshals hunting him for eight months tracked him to remote mountains near San Cristobal, N.M., and captured him Jan. 18 without a struggle.

Mr. Skruck is accused of running head shops in Buckhannon and Clarksburg where customers bought hallucinogens nicknamed “bath salts.”

The owner of the stores was Jeff Paglia, who planned to open a third in Fairmont. He had met Mr. Skruck at a Buckhannon bar that Mr. Skruck ran, and the two began a partnership.

Mr. Skruck brought along Derrick Calip, an employee at one of the strip clubs he operated in Texas, to manage the West Virginia operation. He later brought in a second employee from Texas, Jeremia Phillips, to do the bookkeeping and run a website for the stores.

Mr. Skruck then began to manage the stores, according to prosecutors, while Mr. Paglia turned to investing the profits in real estate and equipment purchases.

Federal agents said the stores brought in as much as $20,000 a day, and the U.S. attorney’s office in Wheeling said the businesses were responsible for a spike in medical emergencies among drug users in a state already overwhelmed by prescription drug abuse and heroin overdoses.

Mr. Paglia, Mr. Phillips and Mr. Calip have all pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the U.S. attorney’s office.

First Published February 25, 2014 3:19 PM


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