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Published: Wednesday, 10/16/2002

Zippers raid challenged as politically motivated

A raid more than four months ago on a Toledo business that markets an alcohol-gelatin shot called Zippers is being challenged in Lucas County Common Pleas Court because authorities are being accused of providing inaccurate information to obtain a search warrant.

A motion filed yesterday asks for a hearing before Judge William Skow to evaluate testimony and evidence used to obtain a search warrant served June 25 at BPNC, Inc., 333 North 14th St.

BPNC, which owns the trademark for Zippers, claims authorities gave false and misleading statements, resulting in an illegal search and a violation of the company's Fourth Amendment rights.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety's investigative unit and local law enforcement officers raided the company's offices in the Seagate Business Center. Items such as computers, documents, and vehicles were confiscated.

The company has not been charged.

Because its packaging somewhat resembles Jell-O snack packs, Zippers received criticism in April from substance-abuse professionals who were concerned that Zippers could be mistaken as a product for children.

After the search, Earl Mack, agent in charge of liquor enforcement investigations in northwest Ohio, said BPNC was investigated because of the perception the product was marketed to youths.

In the motion, BPNC claims the Ohio Department of Liquor Control was politically motivated in obtaining the search warrant and wanted to put the company “out of business.”

“Significantly, the affidavit contains no facts suggesting BPNC had engaged in the illegal and criminal marketing of Zippers to children,” the motion states.

John Weglian, chief of the special units division of the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office, said discussions have been held with attorneys for the company's owners. “We explored possible ways of resolving the problem, “ he said.

Former Genoa High graduates Brian Pearson and Nick Costanzo formed BPNC in 1998 to market the packaged gelatin shots. A distillery in Virginia makes and distributes the product.

The company still is in business, but Mr. Pearson said sales of Zippers have taken a nose-dive since the raid, and distributors in Columbus and Cincinnati have dropped the product.

“It has been real tough on us. We have had companies quit distributing the product, which is what the liquor control officials wanted,” he said.

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