Pubdate: Mon, 20 Oct 2003
Source: Arcata Eye (US CA)
Contact:  2003, Arcata Eye
Author: Terrence McNally, Eye Business Editor


Back from the East Coast, former 101 North Glass co-owner Jason Vrbas is
beginning to decompress after his future hung in the balance for eight
months. Last Tuesday, Vrbas, partners Ryan Teurfs and Gabriel Watson were
handed down sentences in Pennsylvania for convictions surrounding the South
G Street business' glass pipe making and distribution. 

All three faced federal indictments for manufacturing paraphernalia,
distributing paraphernalia and conspiracy to manufacture and distribute
paraphernalia and a potential sentence of three years prison. "The end
result was good," Vrbas sighed on Sunday. After the trio's attorney Timothy
Wykle and Attorney General John Ashcroft's Department of Justice made their
closing arguments, five minutes of deliberation resulted in the verdict: six
months of house arrest, three years probation and 100 hours of community
service. Vrbas' worst nightmare of doing time in a federal prison was not

That was eight months and many thousands of dollars after early morning
February 24 when Vrbas was awakened by pounding at the door. He assumed he
was being summoned to an emergency. "I came running into the living room,"
he recalled. "I thought the house was on fire." But after opening the door,
he was thrown onto his front yard and surrounded by about 10 agents in
military dress with rifles trained at his head. Vrbas concluded that what he
had thought were flickering flames outside his home were flashlights. "I was
asking, 'What's this about?'" he said. 

Handcuffed, Vrbas was dragged back inside, where an agent explained that he
had been served a Drug Enforcement Administration federal search warrant and
had been issued three felony indictments. "I thought they were at the wrong
house," he said. 

Within minutes, Humboldt County Sheriff Deputies were searching his Arcata
home and Vrbas was transported to the Humboldt County Correctional Facility.
Donning an orange jumpsuit and rubber slippers, Vrbas briefly met Teurfs and
Watson in a waiting room. "They were pretty freaked out," he said. The
partners, however, had been arrested at their homes and had not undergone

Vrbas began calling family and friends to inform them what happened,
received a visit from Attorney Wykle and spent the night in the jailhouse's
maximum security holding tank clutching his glasses and asthma inhaler. 

The company's South G facility, which employed 29 people and been in
business since 1997, had been raided, much of its content confiscated. By
midmorning a circle of workers stood outside sharing scattered information.
At their arraignment the following day, the threesome entered Eureka's
federal court shackled - but greeted by a courthouse stuffed with
supporters, many with signs bearing "Free 101 North " On February 26, they
were released with the knowledge that a preliminary pleading awaited a month
later 3,000 miles away. 101's assets had been frozen, their employees locked
out, paychecks bouncing and health benefits lost. 

101 North had been caught up in Ashcroft's "Operation Pipe Dreams" which
arrested nearly 50 accused marijuana paraphernalia manufacturers nationwide
The feds said that 101 was selling pipes online - an accusation Vrbas says
is false. "We sold only to retail stores who had retail permit numbers," he
said. "And there were no sales over the Internet." 101's website posting was
limited to a catalog, Vrbas said. 

After "not guilty" pleas in Pennsylvania, the owners later learned that
they'd be returning in October for trial. The company was reorganized under
the aegis California Glass. 101 had made glass pipes, jewelry, ornaments and
beads. California Glass dumped the pipe-making end of business. Benefit
shows were organized to assist jobless workers. 

"It was the waiting," Vrbas said was the worst part of the experience.
"Eight months on hold." All three plea bargained, and plead guilty to a
single felony - conspiracy to sell; and offer for sale drug paraphernalia. 

Vrbas is attempting to get his life on track and is enrolled at Humboldt
State University to get a business degree. "I'm definitely out of the
business," he said about having anything to do with drug paraphernalia.
Friends and acquaintances stop him on the street, expressing their outrage
and disbelief that convictions can result from manufacturing pipes.
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