On the morning of May 7, 2014, a law enforcement team headed by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) broke down the door of The Purple Zone, a smoke shop in the small rural community of Alpine, Texas, owned by a 29-year-old named Ilana Lipsen. With their weapons drawn, the agents turned the security cameras against the wall and tore the store to pieces. Lipsen’s sister, Arielle, who happened to be on the premises at the time of the raid, was (according to Arielle and several witnesses) pinned to the ground by the butt of an agent's rife, tearing the skin on her neck.
The agency says the raid was just one of a series of nationwide enforcement actions carried out that day, with the goal of taking down purveyors of synthetic drugs who funnel their proceeds to Middle Eastern terrorists—and that Lipsen was a prime suspect. As a Jew and avid Israel supporter, however, she hardly fits the profile of an Islamic terrorism financier.
Lipsen suspects the real reason for the raid stems from when she ended a brief sexual involvement with Brewster County District Attorney Rod Ponton, who has been carrying out a personal crusade against her for the past few years, prompting federal law enforcement agents to pursue a fruitless and expensive crusade against her smoke shop—turning life for Lipsen and her family into a living hell. (Rod Ponton declined to be interviewed by reason.)
Ponton was elected Brewster County District Attorney (which includes Alpine) in 2012 and started using state resources to go after Lipsen for allegedly selling “spice,” or synthetic cannabanoids. He accused her of “singular incorrigibility” and “poisoning the youth of the town." In 2014, he convinced the DEA to include the Purple Zone in its "day of raids," even though the 2012 raid had already turned up no evidence that she was selling illegal drugs.
Following the botched 2014 raid, the DEA immediately attempted a cover up. At the behest of the U.S. Attorney's office, a judge strong-armed Lipsen into signing a letter absolving the agency from any wrongdoing by asserting that she and her sister had attacked the DEA officers first. For his part, Ponton strong-armed the local paper for writing a balanced take on the raid because he thought the Lipsens were not credible witnesses.
The Purple Zone was first raided in 2012, when police seized “spice” packets, which Lipsen sold as potpourri in the store's incense section. “You can buy these products online or in any gas station or smoke shop in Texas,” says Lipsen. Though lab tests revealed no banned substances, Ponton moved to indict on the grounds that the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986 makes it illegal to sell and possess substances that are “similar to controlled substances.” The basis of the indictment was the finding of 3 chemicals not banned in Texas at the time they were seized, but banned by the federal government a year later.
Lipsen agreed to a plea deal in September in exchange for serving no jail time. To date, she's lost over $100,000 on legal bills and seized property, and wants to get on with her life. "I never wanted to aggravate anybody," says Lipsen. "I don’t do this for fun. This isn’t a hobby, this is how I support myself. This is how I live.” Of her relationship with the town of Alpine, “I love it here, but it’s become toxic.”
Reason TV contacted the Drug Enforcement Administration's El Paso Bureau, the Alpine Police Department, the Brewster County Sheriff's Department, and the National Border Patrol Council Local 2509 for comment. In each case, calls and emails went unreturned. Management at the Alpine Avalanche offered no comment.
About 10 minutes.
Written and Produced by Anthony L. Fisher. Camera by Todd Kranin. Additional camera by Fisher. Additional graphics by Meredith Bragg.
Music: "Wet Socks" by Jahzzar (http://www.betterwithmusic.com
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