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Gas station reopens as drug case proceeds, agreement reached

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A Franklin gas station that was shut down twice after a drug raid is again open while the owners face criminal charges and a civil lawsuit trying to permanently seize the property proceeds.

Owners of the Phillips 66 gas station, 400 E. Jefferson St., reached an agreement with prosecutors to keep the store open. While it is open, police and prosecutors will monitor it; and the four people charged with dealing synthetic marijuana, or Spice, no longer work there on a daily basis.

The gas station was raided on Dec. 18 after police said a two-year investigation showed owners and employees were selling synthetic marijuana, or Spice. Owners Nachhattar Singh and Harinder Kaur, their adult son Veerpartap Singh and relative Rupinder Singh have been charged with multiple counts of dealing a synthetic drug.

The gas station reopened within two days of the initial raid after police returned keys to employees of the business, but it was shut down again Dec. 27 after Judge Lance Hamner ordered it closed. The owners and prosecutors reached the agreement on Jan. 3, allowing the store to reopen again.

The shop was shut the second time because Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper didn’t want the owners to sell inventory or take on new debt because Franklin is trying to seize the property and the business as part of a forfeiture lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks to seize the gas station property and the inventory because, under state law, police can seize property that is used to deal drugs.

Under the agreement, the business can stay open but cannot take out new debt, the owners agreed to set aside $9,000 in a trust, and police or prosecutors can inspect the gas station’s bank account and financial records at any time. Next, the owners have to settle the civil lawsuit, such as by agreeing to make a large cash payment, within 90 days of both sides receiving all the information and evidence from the Franklin Police Department that was found in the investigation and raid.

But no one knows yet when that 90-day timer will start because police are sorting through all the paper files and electronic information seized during the December raid. So both the criminal and civil cases are stalled for now until police finish that work.

“As soon as we get that information, we can resolve the forfeiture case. We are at a standstill until the Franklin Police Department copies and gives to us all of the items they took,” Kaur’s attorney Carrie Miles said.

Police seized computers, cellphones, financial records, ordering records, accounts of transactions, security video and other property that investigators are reviewing to determine what information is relevant to the case and what is not, Franklin Detective Sgt. John Borges said.

Franklin has turned over electronics to Indiana State Police so that data can be downloaded. Officers are sorting through paper records to decide what needs to be copied. Investigators also are working with other police agencies to find out whether additional gas stations owned by Nachhattar Singh and Kaur were involved in selling Spice, which could lead to racketeering charges, Borges said. They own six other gas stations in Indiana, none of which is in Johnson County.

“It can literally be weeks before we have that information. It’s something that just has to run that course. It’s very difficult to predict a time frame,” Borges said.

In the civil case, attorney Doug Cummins, who is representing the prosecutor and Franklin Police Department, will try to prove that the gas station was being used to sell synthetic drugs, which would allow Franklin to permanently seize it and its inventory. The owners could settle the case with a cash payment or other type of arrangement.

The civil case could finish before any of the four people facing drug charges goes to trial in the criminal cases, Cummins said. A settlement or judge’s decision against the owners in the civil case wouldn’t be evidence that any defendant is guilty of the drug dealing charges, he said.

The civil and criminal cases are handled separately but are related because both stem from the Franklin police investigation, said Andy Roesener, who is representing Veerpartap Singh. Since attorneys are representing the defendants in both cases, one case may influence the other, he said.

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