Grocery closed, owner arrested

Residents of the South Street neighborhood were flummoxed Wednesday and Thursday when they went to get sundry items from Forest Park Grocery, only to discover the business was closed.

Resident Darlene Hetrick said she had showed up Wednesday evening and was stopped at the store entrance by an ordinary looking man who flashed a badge and told her she couldn’t come in.

She said she had noticed a lot of cars in the parking lot at 500 South Street but since they were unmarked, she had no inkling something was going on.

“I had a $3 Scratch ticket and I wanted another ticket,” Hetrick said.

Wednesday marked the end of a four-month investigation into alleged pseudoephedrine peddling by Forest Park’s owner and operator, Khalid A. Ali, 42. Bremerton Police’s Special Operations Group (SOG) had been watching Ali for a while and, on Wednesday, finally arrested him for conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine.

He was arraigned Thursday afternoon.

SOG Sgt. Larry Hill said police operatives had bought dozens of bottles of pseudoephedrine products from Ali, despite a state law that limits such purchases to three bottles per person.

Pseudoephedrine, a primary ingredient in many types of cold medication, is also a major ingredient in home-cooked meth-amphetamine.

“The store’s been there for a long time and it’s got a lot of loyal customers,” Hill said. “It just happened to be doing some business that wasn’t exactly legal.”

Port Orchard police, who participated in the bust, keep a close eye on Forest Park Grocery and the vicinity as it reportedly tends to attract criminals. The grocery store, however, had had a near-spotless record, particularly with the state Liquor Control Board.

The board completes regular tobacco and liquor compliance checks of every business in the state with a liquor or tobacco sales license. The idea is to make sure businesses are not illegally selling controlled products to minors. Forest Park Grocery has passed every check done in at least the last year and a half.

However, as part of the arrest process, the board has levied an emergency 30-day suspension of Forest Park’s liquor license. Whether the business gets its license back will depend on the outcome of the court case against Ali.

Hill would not provide details in SOG’s investigation of Ali. All he would say was that SOG was simply following investigative leads in Bremerton that led officers to Ali. The fact that the final subject of its investigation worked in Port Orchard was irrelevant.

“As we know, crime has no boundaries,” said Port Orchard police Chief Al Townsend.”

Hill said he doesn’t know anything about the continued closure of the store. The warrant only applied to Ali — anyone else would be welcome to open the store and conduct business as usual. The woman who rents the store’s upstairs apartment from Ali said she had been in touch with Ali’s uncle, but did not know whether anyone was coming to take Ali’s place as manager.

“As far as we are concerned, he can open if he has the ability to,” Hill said.

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