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Bath salts suspect on the run

CLARKSBURG - A Clarksburg man charged with selling illegal synthetic drugs at two West Virginia shops was on the run Tuesday as his trial was set to begin, and U.S. marshals were dispatched to hunt him down.

Jury selection was supposed to begin Tuesday morning for the trial of 56-year-old John Skruck, but he failed to appear before U.S. District Judge Irene Keeley in Clarksburg.

The Exponent Telegram says Keeley issued an order for his arrest. The trial will continue this week if Skruck is captured by Wednesday afternoon, Keeley said. If not, she'll reschedule for early September.

Prosecutors say Skruck ran the Hot Stuff Cool Things stores in Buckhannon and Clarksburg for owner Jeffrey Paglia before federal authorities raided and closed them last April.

Authorities called the stores a major distributor of hallucinogenic bath salts in north-central West Virginia and noted that Paglia had planned to open a third store in Fairmont.

Paglia will be sentenced in July on one count of drug conspiracy and one count of structuring monetary transactions to evade reporting requirements. Two of his other employees are to be sentenced June 10.

But Skruck, who functioned as general manager, is facing the most charges under a 27-count superseding indictment filed in February.

Late last week, Keeley approved a motion to handle four counts related to money laundering in a separate trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Shawn Angus Morgan said they could prompt Skruck to use a defense the court had prohibited him from using on the drug charges-claims that he believed the sale of bath salts was legal, and the profits were therefore legally deposited.

Morgan argued such a defense could confuse jurors.

Prosecutors say Skruck had not only set up a system for Paglia to skim from the stores' profits but then skimmed a second time for his own gain. They say the stores made about 5 percent of their money on "hippie" clothing sales and 95 percent from illegal drugs, sometimes more than $20,000 a day.

The two men met in a Buckhannon bar that Skruck ran, but by August 2011, Skruck had returned to his home state of Texas to run several strip clubs. Paglia convinced Skruck to return and help him with the shops.

On Friday, prosecutors notified the court they planned to introduce evidence about Skruck's "bad character" and question witnesses about a laundry list of activities, including his roles in a 2005 kidnapping, the beatings of women and a prostitution ring in Laredo, Texas.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob McWilliams said he would also bring up both charges and convictions for offenses including: prostitution at a Waco, Texas, strip club; property theft; assault causing bodily injury; driving on a suspended license; driving while intoxicated; and delivery of alcohol during prohibited hours.

The memorandum also notes the Internal Revenue Service has no tax returns from Skruck from 2008 through 2011.



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