DEA

Sex, Spice, and Small-Town Texas Justice

A rogue prosecutor makes the war on drugs personal.

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On the morning of May 7, a law enforcement team headed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) broke down the door of The Purple Zone, a smoke shop in the small, rural community of Alpine, Texas, owned by 29-year-old Ilana Lipsen. With their weapons drawn, officers pointed the security cameras at the wall and tore apart the store. Lipsen's sister, Arielle, who happened to be on the premises, was pinned to the ground by the butt of one agent's rifle, according to witnesses.

Next, DEA officers raided a nearby apartment also owned by Lipsen. When her tenant, Nicholas Branson, asked to see a search warrant (which they didn't have), a gun-wielding agent reportedly replied, "What are you, a fucking lawyer?"

No illegal substances turned up at either the store or the apartment.

Why did the government go after The Purple Zone? The DEA says the raid was one in 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. It also says that Lipsen was a prime suspect. But as a Jew and avid supporter of Israel, she hardly fits the profile of an Islamic terrorism financier.

A more likely reason: Brewster County District Attorney Rod Ponton is Lipsen's jilted ex-lover, and has been carrying out a personal vendetta against her for the past few years. He prompted federal law enforcement agents to pursue a groundless and expensive crusade against her smoke shop, turning life for Lipsen and her family into a living hell. (Ponton declined to be interviewed by reason, and denied the charge.)

Shortly after moving to Alpine at age 18, Lipsen had a brief affair with Ponton, who at the time was a lawyer in private practice. After their tryst ended, she says she caught him driving slowly by her house "like he was stalking me."

After Ponton was elected district attorney for the county that includes Alpine, he started using state resources to go after the smoke shop owner, publicly accusing her of "singular incorrigibility" and "poisoning the youth of the town."

The first raid on The Purple Zone was in 2012, when police seized "spice packets," or synthetic cannabinoids, 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 illegal substances, Ponton later moved to indict Lipsen 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: three chemicals in the potpourri that were legal in Texas at the time they were seized but would be banned by the federal government a year later. Lipsen was arrested and brought up on felony charges.

In 2014, Ponton convinced the DEA to carry out another raid on The Purple Zone. When the bust turned violent, the DEA 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 of any wrongdoing by asserting that she and her sister had attacked the DEA officers first.

Lipsen agreed to plead guilty to charges stemming from both raids in exchange for serving no jail time. To date, she's lost over $100,000 on legal bills and seized property. Now she's ready to move on with her life and is selling The Purple Zone. Of her relationship with the town of Alpine, Lipsen says: "I love it here, but it's become toxic."

NEXT: Bernard Kerik: Anti-Police Rhetoric "Has the Potential to Rip America at its Seams"

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  1. Is this more of that anti-police rhetoric that I hear is tearing our country apart?

    1. Hey, don’t break the law, breathe easy.

      Er . . .

      1. And if you are walking down the street while BLACK, NOT breaking the law… How are you justifying THOSE MURDERS BY COPS WITH IMPUNITY?

    2. At the seams, in fact.

  2. The Age of Capitalism is Over!

    That document I held was written only a few years after the French had gotten over the idea that the divine right of kings was an inescapable reality. The revolutionaries had executed their king for his crimes and were then trying out other forms of government. It’s popular to say that the experiment failed, but that’s too narrow an interpretation. France never again regressed to an absolutist monarchy and its experiments inspired other liberatory movements around the world (while terrifying monarchs and aristocrats everywhere).

    Dumb bitch has apparently never heard of Napoleon or Charles X or Louis Philippe or Napoleon III.

    Americans are skilled at that combination of complacency and despair that assumes things cannot change and that we, the people, do not have the power to change them. Yet you have to be abysmally ignorant of history, as well as of current events, not to see that our country and our world have always been changing, are in the midst of great and terrible changes, and are occasionally changed through the power of the popular will and idealistic movements. As it happens, the planet’s changing climate now demands that we summon up the energy to leave behind the Age of Fossil Fuel (and maybe with it some portion of the Age of Capitalism as well).

    So when climate change fizzles, what comes next?

    1. So when climate change fizzles, what comes next?

      Anthopogenic magnetic field change.

      1. Anthopogenic magnetic field change.

        Caused by electric motors, transformers, and power generation in general. And the only way to stop it is to invest in new magnet technologies to maintain the current polarity.

          1. No no no, this could be good. We could put huge electromagnets at each pole, both creating opposing fields, and hire a team of TOP. MEN. to keep them properly balanced so the Earth doesn’t topple end over end into the sun!

            At the same time, we can put incredibly massive air conditioners in the building, blowing outwards, to keep the polar ice caps cold so they won’t melt!

            It’s a win-win!

        1. Pish posh. Just use your sonic screwdriver and reverse the polarity of the neutron flow

    2. Salon. Fuckin’ commie rag.

      Typical for a lefty. Except for the generalities about change there is not one single bit of truth in there. I wonder what that stupid little twit would be doing if not for fossil fuels and the economy that keeps her fed, clothed, housed, and safe.

    3. All had the SAME kind of popularity andsuport that Bush had. Until he didn’t. AFTER being caught lying to us, forcing the surge to cover his as, Stop Lossing 82,000 troops (almost 200 killed or wounded) had the CIA go trolling for torture victims after having the CIA INVENT the WMD hoax… then CRASHING THE ECONOMY THROUGH SHEER NEGLIGENCE…

      Bush was as loved as Louis and Marie.

    4. Denver is going to have it’s SECOND 40 DEGREES BELOW NORMAL cold snap this winter, and with 80 days left until SPRING, expect MORE RECORD COLD across the NATION.

      it’s happening in Siberia too!

      You ready for another Andrew or Sandy? Those USED to be once a century storms. Now they are once a DECADE!!!

      Global warming is ‘fizzling’ into exactly what 99% of the INTELLIGENT PEOPLE ON EARTH say it is. An UNEXPECTED, PREDICTABLE, MAN MADE permanent CHANGE in the Climate.

      WHY has theRED Legislature in Virginia made it a CRIME to use the words “sea level changes”, “climate change” and” Global warming” in the Virginia Assembly?

      BEcause they are as frigging stupid as you are!

  3. Reason #4435721058475842386578276984325874287652 why the War on Drugs is evil on only evil people prosecute it.

    1. hehehehe Right on.

      An ultra DEA agent was chosen to write the details of the Colorado Retail Marijuana Laws.

      A 26 page Application process that costs about $25K and asks you for Elementary School References.

      Marijuana is LESS DANGEROUS than beer & wine, yet a Felon can have a liquor license. but a JAT WALKER can’t open a pot shop.

      thisi s the kind of ReeferMadness stupidity a VERY UNINFORMED America has. And 60% of us think POT should be legal and non violent offenders should be pardoned.

  4. Yet you have to be abysmally ignorant of history, as well as of current events, not to see that our country and our world have always been changing

    And yet, the sort of people who are Salon’s primary target market fetishize stasis, and expend vast amounts of energy fighting change of every variety.

  5. But, we don’t live in a police state.

    1. I think in most senses of the term, yes, we do.

      1. We may be headed that way, but in this country police who go too far still get critcized, and the critics mostly don’t disappear between two days, never to be heard from again.

        We DO need to get a leash on this, though, and the effort is going to result in a lot of whinging form a lot of interest groups. Get innured to it.

  6. I guess this is the little-appreciated corollary = “Never let crazy stick it in You

    1. I wonder if feminists are okay with rape if it’s done by the state?

      1. The State is their strap-on

      2. Any chick with a women’s studies degree will have achieved her maximum potential when she makes me a sammich and brings me a beer.

        1. which one of you cute little cupcakes wants to come home and cook me a nice meal and give me a blowjob

        2. Any woman stupid enough to believe all the bullshit she learned in women’s studies is stupid enough to swallow me.

  7. “The DEA says the raid was one in 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.”

    Jesus Fucking Christ. It’s a parody of a parody.

  8. With their weapons drawn, officers pointed the security cameras at the wall and tore apart the store

    HATE!

    When her tenant, Nicholas Branson, asked to see a search warrant (which they didn’t have), a gun-wielding agent reportedly replied, “What are you, a fucking lawyer?”

    DOUBLE HATE!

    Lipsen’s sister, Arielle, who happened to be on the premises, was pinned to the ground by the butt of one agent’s rifle, according to witnesses.

    LOATHE ENTIRELY!

    /The Grinch

  9. The entire plot of this story seems like it was lifted straight out of a Thomas Pynchon novel.

    I’m serious

    – the idea that the Texas DA is the jilted ex-lover of the young jewish-hippy who runs a smoke shop and uses the DEA to persecute her? i think that was pretty much “Vineland“.

  10. What is the scope of Ponton’s denial? This is from October, responding to an earlier article:

    “8. I never had sex with Ilana Lipsen. In fact, she has told members of my family I never had sex with her. This article is the first I have ever heard of this ridiculous lie.”

    So, Mr. Ponton, did you have an affair? “Hey, I never boned her!” Yeah, that isn’t suspicious.

    Suppose they *didn’t* have sex. OK, Mr. Clinton, did you date, have dinner together, have romantic conversations, kiss, etc? I think that his narrow denial suggests an answer.

      1. “Ponton denies that he had sex with Lipsen and calls it a ridiculous lie. He also says that the report was the first time he had ever heard that lie while also saying that his family said that Lipsen had told them that she had never had sex with him.”

        I wonder what the Texas Bar ethical rules are regarding this?

        1. Can you actually be “in a relationship” with someone if there is no sex? I don’t see why not, but I’m sure sex is what defines a “relationship” to many people.

          1. It is more important to note that he said he had never heard the allegation before reading the story about it and at the same time claims that she had told his family, presumably in the past, that she had never had sex with him.

            It is very obviously a lie. He had sex with her. They had a relationship.

            As I recall she says she went to his horse ranch with friends and they had a one-timer. She had regrets and he took it badly.

            The guy is a creep and a liar. I wonder if he will be re-elected.

    1. He also doesn’t deny that she dumped him.

      So I’m going to guess that they had a romance (which may or may not have involved sex), that she broke it off, and that he didn’t take it well.

      Otherwise, why doesn’t the guy just say, “This woman is a fantasist, I never dated her or even met her socially!” OR, “sure we dated, but I broke up because she was nuts and never thought about it again until I learned she was a criminal, at which point I congratulated myself on my good judgment!”

      I’m going to guess there are witnesses who saw Ponton and Lipsen dining together, walking down the street holding hands, whatever. Or at least he thinks there may be such witnesses. So he wants to be able to say later, “I never denied dating her, I just said we never had sex, how dare you insinuate I was trying to mislead the public?”

      1. Oh, and why were the prosecutor’s relatives talking to a drug dealer about the prosecutor’s social habits?

        1. I CANT COMMENT ON A PENDING INVESTIGATION ABOUT THAT LYING SLUT

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  12. It’s a beautiful day for drinking stout and gardening.

    I’m gonna lay down some Red Sister and Agapanthus, and see how they hold up in this frosty weather. It could get below 60 tonight!

    1. Ya wanna come up and shovel my deck?

    2. Nice to see you posting again, seems like you’ve been away for awhile.
      Happy New Year!

  13. Wow dude why didnt I ever think of that?

    http://www.AnonWayz.tk

  14. If cameras always help police officers, why do they always “forget” to turn them on, fiddle with them so they’re not running, or turn them away from their activities? Seems like they’re doing themselves a disservice, denying themselves all that ‘help’ they would normally get from those cameras. You know. Get what I’m saying?

    1. Yes. Yes I do get what you’re saying.

      The “cameras are good for police as well as the public” canard sort of reminds me of the “no we absolutely do not have ticket quotas” canard, when you know they have quotas. Cameras might be good for “good” police (or when a bad cop is being good), but they sure as fuck aren’t good for bad ones, which is why they haven’t been universally adopted with no way to disable them.

    2. Why don’t people notice that if cops are intellectually or ethically incapable of managing even a small appliance like a camera why should they be entrusted with investigations?

      1. Or firearms?

  15. OT:
    All of the copsucking on the NPR comment threads led me to post the story about the GA SWAT team flashbanging a baby. Here’s the no-shit response I got from one of Dunphy’s cousins:

    The baby should have checked himself into Child Services (or maybe have had a responsible adult do that for him), since he was living in a meth lab/drug house. His parents compromised his safety and well being with their illegal activities and are now trying to shift the blame to someone else. The parents should go to prison. The child, oh well, he is the victim of poor parenting. He will run his own drugs some day. The cycle continues. It is no wonder the prisons are full of these id i ots.

    I have ZERO fucking hope for humanity.

    1. NPR?

      Do they know it’s a “baby of color”? Because that’s the only thing that seems to get the interest of NPR listeners.

      Go back and tell them it was a Baby of Color, and that might tweak their outrage meters.

  16. New Washington Post Poll Finds Racial, Partisan Patterns in Attitudes Towards Police

    “There is a 2-to-1 gap between whites and blacks on whether police are adequately trained to avoid the use of excessive force, and slightly larger differences on whether the police try hard to maintain good relations with varied community groups and whether they are held accountable for any misconduct…

    Eight in 10 white Republicans say the killings of Brown and Garner were isolated incidents, while more than 6 in 10 white Democrats say they are part of a broader pattern.

    Over half of white Republicans say they approve of the grand jury decision not to indict in the death of Garner, but only a fifth of white Democrats approve.

    Almost twice as many white Republicans as white Democrats say they are confident that police are held accountable for misconduct, and twice as many say they are confident that police are adequately trained to avoid the use of excessive force.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/…..ml?hpid=z1

    1. New Washington Post Poll Finds Racial, Partisan Patterns in Attitudes Towards Police

      Yep, thanks WaPo. Let’s just keep hammering on this race thing. It’s no an accountability issue, it’s race.

      1. But there are significant racial differences in who thinks current accountability is adequate and those who think it is not. That’s worth reporting on I guess, though I agree with you it’s a bit disappointing the way they led with and configured the entire survey around the issue of ‘are cops fair to all races’ rather than attitudes about police practices generally.

        1. Of course there are, as long as people of color are involved.

          There’s no surprise that Red Staters don’t have any problem with the police.

          What I’d like to see, is the overall support of police across all groups an how it’s trending.

          I believe the police are losing support among their traditional groups.

          Democrats have always believed that the police are racist, but see no overall problem with police tactics as long as they’re applied equally.

          Plus, it’s a little exhausting where the MSM tends to pick the dodgy cases on the edge and making them into national outrages, while ignoring the clear-cut cases of horrifying police abuse because the players don’t fit a narrative.

          1. “Plus, it’s a little exhausting where the MSM tends to pick the dodgy cases on the edge and making them into national outrages, while ignoring the clear-cut cases of horrifying police abuse because the players don’t fit a narrative.”

            Yeah, let’s promote the case where the deceased was a robber and there are conflicting eyewitnesses accounts about whether he was trying to take the cop’s gun.

            Never mind the baby-burnings, the highway robberies disguised as “asset forfeiture,” and the wrong-door raids on people the cops themselves admit were innocent. Nobody would be interested in *those* cases.

            No, let’s rally around the robber and then get surprised that there’s such division!

            1. When you see the kind of division you are talking about it isn’t there by accident. They choose those cases on purpose precisely because of the division it foments.

        2. “…it’s a bit disappointing the way they led with and configured the entire survey around the issue of ‘are cops fair to all races’ rather than attitudes about police practices generally.”

          What are you talking about? That is their job.

      2. Unfortunately, Paul, it seems the media is incapable of not looking at everything through their idiotic KULTUR WAR lens. And when it comes to police brutality, there are only two KULTUR WAR positions: Institutionalized Racism or Cops Keep Us Safe From Stuff They’re Heroes.

    2. Over half of white Republicans say they approve of the grand jury decision not to indict in the death of Garner

      I’m surprised that it’s close enough to say ‘over half’. Lots of conservaderps love some negro beating, as long as they look like they’re up to no good. I’d like an age breakdown. I bet support for the police drops amongst the younger Republicans. I would also like to see numbers for independents.

  17. Washington Post article: “Stop blaming mental health for gun violence. The problem is guns.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/…../?hpid=z18

    It’s basically ‘we can’t blame much of our gun violence on the mentally ill, so it must be availability of guns.’ She doesn’t seem to address why there are such low gun violence rates in so many communities where gun restrictions are the lowest in the nation and so much in areas where they’re the strictest, of course.

    1. Washington Post article: “Stop blaming mental health for gun violence. The problem is guns.”

      that kid that shot up Sandy Hook, normal dude. Hunnert percent.

      1. School shooters tend to be nuts, but not every nut is a school shooter.

      2. And with CONTROLLED KILLING TOOLS, he never would have had the CHANCE to kill. Neither would the other hundreds of school shootings have been possible.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L…..ted_States

        Beginning in 1764… and &$ in the 2 years since Sandy Hook.

        All that blood ON YOUR GUN TOTING/GUN RIGHTS/NRA poster child hands.

        IN the building of a monument to national stupidity, GUNS are the scaffolding.

    2. The “availability of guns” argument always makes me roll my eyes. They imply–or sometimes state outright–that guns are easier to get today than in times past. Wrong! Heck, in my Dad’s day you could mail-order them from the Sears Roebuck catalog and have them brought by the postman to your front door, no questions asked.

      1. And at that time everyone had guns in the home. My father grew up in post-depression west Tennessee dirt poor. They had guns – he and his friends carried their 410s or a bolt-action 22 with them to elementary school so they could hunt small game for meat along the way. At least in the middle of the country there was just no such thing as a home without a gun or three.

        Up through the 70’s there was pretty much no such thing as a pickup truck without a gun rack in that region.

        So no, I don’t really think you could argue that guns are easier to come by now. Or more common.

        Of course, the current murder rate is probably half of what it was in the 70’s. Not sure about the comparison to the 1940’s though. …..Wikipedia says that it was about a third less than in the 70’s, but a third more than now.

        1. Or to paraphrase Larry Pratt (I think):

          In 1933, a fifteen-year-old could walk into a hardware store, buy a belt-fed machine gun and all the ammunition he could carry, pay in cash, and walk out the door. Shockingly, mass shootings were rare!

          1. IN 1934, he could NOT and mass shootings were AMAZINGLY non existant OUTSIDE of WHITE GANG Criminal Enterprise.

    3. Kimberly Yonkers does not give half a shit about crime, gun violence, people’s health or safety. She wants what all gun-grabbers want; a disarmed and helpless populace beaten down by the constant threat of being victimized by both thugs on the street and thugs from government offices.

      I recommend that she go fuck herself with a chainsaw.

  18. Those guys dont seem to have a clue over there.

    http://www.AnonBay.tk

  19. Interestingly, a Google search of this asshat brings up mostly two news sources: bigbendgazette.com, which seems to be mouthpiece/cheerleader for Ponton, and the similarly named bigbendcourier.com, that seems to want to nail his ass to the wall. Is one or both of these just websites, or are they actual dueling newspapers in this one-horse town?

  20. Ponton? That asshole again?

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  27. A) Is the DEA Really THAT stupid and THIS corrupt and THIS rIdiculous?

    B) WHY isn’t this DA in jail, or in front of the Bar getting his ticket REVOKED?

  28. I’m no fan of the DEA, but I get suspicious of the accuracy of an article when I read “The judge strong-armed Lipten into signing a letter….” with no explanation of how Lipten was strong-armed.

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  30. Sorry, you’re wrong on this one. I’m all for legalizing weed and stopping the war on tobacco, but I’m 100% OK if they throw anyone selling synthetic drugs in jail for as long as they want. It is NOT a victimless crime to sell this crap. Synthetics are not safe, they are poison.

    1. I agree with you… but yeah, we gotta legalize the pure organic (relatively) safe stuff first.

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