Bring Back Hope The effort to renew the local option sales tax for the Escambia County Public School District has some opposition. At the “Stop the Violence” press conference held on June 16 at St. John Divine Missionary Baptist Church, two ministers spoke against the district’s closing of several schools in their neighborhoods since the tax was last renewed in 2007.
St. John Divine is located across the street from Spencer-Bibbs Elementary School that was closed in 2011 by Superintendent Malcolm Thomas.
Dr. Joseph Marshall, the pastor of St. John Divine, told the crowd at the press conference, “Whenever like landmarks like Spencer-Bibbs are taken away, crime comes in.”
Marshall said that the closures of schools take hope out of a neighborhood. “When hope is taken away, then soon thereafter drug houses, prostitution havens and other opportunities start to fester and rise to the forefront,” he said. “Anger manifests itself.”
He added that the culture of the county must change. Standing with Mayor Ashton Hayward, Commissioner Lumon May and other ministers, Marshall said, “We are here to say we see it. We want it to stop. We are also here to say we need to help in making this sociological change so that hope can remain a part of everyone’s outlook.”
Pastor Lonnie D. Wesley, III of Greater Little Rock Baptist Church thanked Hayward, May and Sheriff David Morgan for their support and efforts and challenged those in attendance.
“But we, this community, play a more important part,” Wesley said. “There are a lot of things coming up on the ballot—people and items. Vote against those things that are wrong and holding up the fight for our children.”
He asked them to vote against the renewal of the local option sales tax and questioned how Thomas could not find the money to keep Spencer-Bibbs, but has the funds to make it a training facility.
“We are looking at millions of dollars being put in Spencer-Bibbs,” he said, “What would have happened to the students at that school if those funds had been put in the curriculum instead of getting rid of (Spencer-Bibbs)?”
Wesley added, “Now something else comes up to get more millions to build more schools somewhere else. Vote against it. It’s helping the problem, not our community.”
Spice Ring Pleas Guilty The president of The Psychedelic Shack, Inc., Crystal Hope Henry, entered a guilty plea on June 5 in Mobile, Ala. federal court, according to a release issued by the U.S. Department of Justice.
According to the release, Henry and her co-conspirators manufactured and distributed at least 20 tons of products containing the chemical compound XLR11. The products, which were actually smokable synthetic cannabinoids (SSC)—commonly referred to as “spice,” were marketed potpourri under names such as “Bizarro,” “Sonic Zero,” “Neutronium” and “Orgazmo.”
The company Henry worked for, ZenBio, operated a call center in Robertsdale and from Dec. 1, 2012 through April 30, 2013 took in over $29.6 million. Her attorney argued at the time of her arrest a year ago that she was only a bookkeeper.
Henry faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Monies seized from her in June of 2013 have also been administratively forfeited.
According to filings with the Florida Secretary of State, ZenBio, LLC had two other managers – Victor Nottoli of Hillsborough, Calif. and Joseph C. Finley of Milton, Fla. N Nottoli also had trouble with the Department of Justice
On May 15, Nottoli pleaded guilty in California to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and one count of causing at least 24 tons of misbranded smokable synthetic cannabinoids (SSC) to be introduced into interstate commerce.
According to court documents, between April 1, 2011, and June 26, 2013, Nottoli generated more than $20 million by distributing the spice products throughout the U.S. and from his six smoke shops.