Bong makers busted

Chris Hill, founder and owner of Florida company Chills, was sentenced to prison in August after accepting a plea bargain for various charges related to distributing drug paraphernalia.
Until his bust, Hill’s Chills was a small-business success story. Founded in 1993, the pipe and tobacco accessory distributor expanded quickly, getting mentioned in Inc magazine as one of America’s 500 fastest-growing companies. Hill was chosen in 2001 as one of America’s top 500 young businessmen by the National Republican Congressional Committee, and was in the running for Republican Businessman of the Year.

In August 2001, DEA agents seized Chills pipes from three Iowa tobacco shops. Iowa has a well-earned reputation of strictly enforcing federal paraphernalia laws, and the agents found Chills pipes in stores which had pro-marijuana posters and books. Federal agents then travelled to Florida to raid Hill’s home and business, bearing a warrant issued in Des Moines, Iowa. Hill was handcuffed in front of his two infant daughters and his home and vehicles were seized.

The prosecuting US Attorney cited Chills‘ logo, which features a space alien with the words “World Domination,” as evidence of a criminal conspiracy to take over the world. Hill responded that the prosecutors had been watching too many James Bond movies. “Maybe I should get a little white cat and shave my head,” joked Hill. “Next time, Mr Bond!”

But there won’t be a next time for Chris Hill. Facing a potential 20 year sentence, in August 2002 Hill accepted a plea bargain, agreeing to 14 months in a minimum security prison camp at Elin Air Force Base in Florida, plus five years probation. Hill also suffered a $500,000 fine, along with the loss of his warehouse building and manufacturing equipment.

Chills remains in business, although they have stopped selling pipes and have limited their product line to rolling papers and smoking accessories only. Hill has also stated that he might have to file for bankruptcy from prison.

Chills isn’t the only pipe-maker to get busted by federal agents. In September 2001, Barmes Wholesalers in Indiana was raided, and large parts of its inventory seized. The action against Barmes was launched by a District Attorney in Pennsylvania, after Barmes pipes were found during a raid on a local hemp store.

Under federal US law, merely making, distributing, or selling non-traditional pipes is enough evidence to be found guilty of paraphernalia offences.

? Chills: www.chills.com

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