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Burden of Proof

Should the 'Lancaster Grannies' Face Prison Time for Selling Iodine?

Aired September 18, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today, on BURDEN OF PROOF, they're called the "Lancaster Grannies": three grandma sisters plus one grandpa who run a feed store in Los Angeles county. But now, drug agents have busted them over their sales of iodine crystals.

It's commonly used to treat ailments in horses and purify water, but officials charge it can also be used to make a deadly drug: speed. And the grannies are being tried for failing to gather personal information on those who buy the product.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARMITTA GRANICY, DEFENDANT: And I leave the store to go out to get a car license. How many little knickknacks are going to be missing when I get back?

ALISON BLOON, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think this law makes people, ordinary citizens, police informants without ever getting paid for it, and without ever being protected.

JUDGE RANDOLPH ROGERS, L.A. COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT: The vast majority of warrants that I'm woken up to sign in the middle of the night are for methamphetamine cooks. It is just about an out-of- control problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

For more than four decades, Granicy's Valleywide Feed Store has sold farming supplies and other general items to the citizens of Lancaster, California. But, the proprietors of the store found themselves in criminal court last week, because they sell a product used to treat hoof disease in horses.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Now, the product is iodine crystals, sold for $16 in tiny jars. But, it has other sinister uses as well, like making methamphetamine. But defendant Armitta Granicy says she wouldn't know what a drug dealer looks like, and isn't prepared to be on the front line of the government's war on drugs.

Armitta, also known as Granny Mim, joins me here, today in Los Angeles. And, also here in L.A.: Robert Sheehan, a defense attorney for the Lancaster Grannies.

VAN SUSTEREN: And here in Washington, Brian Jones, former federal prosecutor Sol Wisenberg and Sarah Kimball (ph). And in our back row, Heather Carson and Bridget Grage (ph).

COSSACK: And, also joining us here in Los Angeles, former state prosecutor Paul Meyer.

Well, Granny Mim, I want to go right to you, and hear exactly what happened. Now you have -- tell us -- you have a feed store in Lancaster, California, and you sell iodine crystals. How did you get in all this trouble?

GRANICY: Well, I got into this trouble because I told the policeman it was a bad law, and he asked me for all -- to do all of these different things in a row.

And I think the part of the code that is not being also added into this is: We don't only have to take this information, then we have to ask them: What are they going to do with it? They tell us, we write that on the invoice, then we have them sign the invoice, and then the last thing that goes on the invoice is our signature, saying: Yes, this is what is right.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, what brought about this law? I mean, how is it that you're selling these iodine crystals but the law is relatively new, is it not?

GRANICY: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, how did it come about?

GRANICY: Go ahead. I'm sorry.

VAN SUSTEREN: When did it come about?

ROBERT SHEAHEN, ATTORNEY FOR "LANCASTER GRANNIES": The law came into effect January 1st, 1999. These people had been selling iodine legally for 40 years and other farm products, and then all of a sudden -- all of a sudden, with the law on January 1st, 1999, there were these rigid, absolutely ridiculous reporting requirements.

COSSACK: Well, Granny Mim, why -- what is so wrong about keeping these requirements?

I mean, look, if you were selling weapons, you would have to keep records of who buys the weapons. And I suppose there's other things. Prescriptions, we have to keep track of prescriptions, and they say that this iodine can be used to create methamphetamine.

What is wrong with keeping these records?

GRANICY: I do not want this kind of information in my store on my customers.

COSSACK: Well, why not? GRANICY: It's a violation of their privacy. It's -- the last thing the code says is this any policeman at any time can come into my store and demand to see those records. He does not have to have cause. He does not have to show me anything. He doesn't even have to be a narcotics officer. It's just any policeman any time.

Like, he could come today; he could come tomorrow; he could come the next day, and just demand the records.

COSSACK: All right, well, let's go the phones.

We have Dr. Dean H. Peterson on the line who's a veterinarian from the great state of Wisconsin.

Dr. Peterson, these iodine crystals, is there any -- what are they used for?

DR. DEAN H. PETERSON, LARGE ANIMAL VETERINARIAN: Well, they are primarily were used by the farrier industry to -- to burn out infection in the bottom of a horse's foot.

The veterinarian industry doesn't use it very much but the farrier do buy it and then when they have bad bacterial infection on the bottom of a horse's foot called thrush, they will cut it out as much as they can with a knife -- hoof knife, and then they'll pack that area with the iodine crystals, and then they'll pour some tincture of turpentine on top of it and it activates the iodines to give a chemical reaction that burns and cauterizes the infection out of the bottom of the foot.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dr, Peterson, how common is it to use this as the solution for that problem?

PETERSON: It's getting less common as I talk to my farrier friends because the product is getting less accessible, harder to reach because of the methamphetamine problem. There's a lot of farrier supply houses that are not carrying it, and if they are carrying it they are not advertising that they are carrying it and they're making sure that they -- that the client who is buying it they know is a farrier.

COSSACK: Dr. Peterson, how much crystals do you need to fight these infections, and what would be a proper amount to buy?

PETERSON: They usually buy -- the farriers only buy two or three, vials at a time because it depends on the business, how busy they are, but one farrier told me that one vial would last him for three to six months,

VAN SUSTEREN: Sol, what do you make of this prosecution? Is this an example of a good, solid, legitimate prosecution in your view, or is this overkill?

SOLOMON WISENBERG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I would say it is overkill, the epitome of overkill. Particularly, I understand, they sent a S.W.A.T. team to surround the store, and they put some of these ladies, at least, in jail for four hours.

We have what is a best, a minimal white collar-type -- minimal level white collar-type crime where they know there's absolutely no way that these ladies are a threat to flee the jurisdiction and they are in jail for four hours. So, both in the method in which it was carried out and the actual prosecution I think is overkill.

You know, Greta, I don't know, if they are so concerned about the product, and I understand that there's a legitimate concern, why don't they embargo it? Why don't they say to this store: you can't sell this product, or why don't they say we're going to bring it into drugstores now and regulate it more like drug and do it that way. I think this is way overkill.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. Up next, a 20-month-old law has the Lancaster Grannies in trouble with the law. But, will keeping track of iodine crystal sales help keep drugs off the street?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log onto CNN.com/burden. We now provide a live video feed, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. If you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show, and even join our chat room.

COSSACK: Here in Los Angeles, protesters have taken to the street in support of the "Lancaster Grannies." Three grandmas and a grandpa are facing charges for not documenting buyers' information on sales of iodine crystals in their feed store.

Well, Paul Meyer, you're a former prosecutor here in the state of California. Is this a bright, shining day for the prosecution in the state of California that they have to come get these criminals?

PAUL MEYER, FORMER STATE PROSECUTOR: Well, the way they came and got these criminals may not be the brightest shining day for the prosecution, but you have to look at the law itself. I think that the doctor, the veterinarian, gave us a slight overview when he was describing the problems with the meth labs and the reason that some of these things are not being stocked. It's really a balancing test.

What you're looking at is the state's interest in trying to stop these meth labs, which in -- by the way, are very dangerous. A meth lab can be run out of a garage, a home, children can be around. And when things go wrong, they go very wrong. You can have fires, you can have arson. In fact, people have been killed in these labs. So I understand the state's interest in attempting to protect themselves. It's a balance. Now...

COSSACK: But, Paul, look, there is -- it is true what you say about methamphetamine labs, but there are legitimate purposes for this iodine crystals. And, you know, I suppose one of the suggestions we've heard is why doesn't the state embargo? Why do they force legitimate people to become record keepers in areas that they clearly don't want to do?

MEYER: Well, it's very interesting because banning the substance itself would alleviate the problem, but wouldn't that be a greater intrusion? For example, if the people in this case were not even able to buy the iodine crystals, or let's say they just decided not to order them anymore, I think that would tend to be a greater intrusion than asking them if they can keep track of who's buying them. After all, it is their choice. They don't have to sell it out of their store. But on the other hand, it is something that you really want to consider.

VAN SUSTEREN: Armitta, I must admit that, reading through all these materials, it looks like this was a little bit of a grudge match, and unfortunately you chose to have a match with someone who has guns and SWAT teams and the like. Is it a little bit of that, do you think? Is this a little bit of a grudge match between the two sides?

GRANICY: I'm sorry, I misunderstood what you...

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think this was -- I mean, do you think that maybe you tweaked the sheriff's office a little bit too much on this and that's why they came back with the SWAT team and the weapons?

GRANICY: Are you talking about me, myself?

VAN SUSTEREN: You and your sisters, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

GRANICY: Well, now, point of fact, they have never spoken to my sisters. I know that it's come out that they have talked to all of us, but they have never spoken to Ramona and Dorothy. There is one policeman, Deputy Holdman (ph), who is very unhappy with me because, in the letter that they sent out, they would be out bi-weekly to pick these things up so that we would not have them in the store. And my curiosity is, how many meth labs have been destroyed because of the information on a receipt that someone signed?

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it that you object to the paperwork, or is it that you object to sort of snitching on buyers? or I mean, like, what sort of -- where do you draw the line? Why is it that you say no?

GRANICY: I...

SHEAHEN: Greta, if I could step in for a second.

VAN SUSTEREN: Could I just get -- let me have Armitta and then I'll get right to your answer to that for me.

Armitta, what...

GRANICY: OK, where do I draw the line? Is that what you're... VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, is it, you know, is it the paperwork and sort of the problem of having to keep up with it, or do you just fundamentally disagree with the concept of reporting your buyers, or your customers?

GRANICY: I disagree with all of it, and I don't like the paperwork either. I don't like paperwork, period. But mainly I feel it's an intrusion on privacy.

VAN SUSTEREN: Robert, you wanted to get in, I think?

GRANICY: I think that's bad.

SHEAHEN: Yes, Greta, all I wanted to say is we should not succumb to this argument that the war on drugs requires this. This is preposterous. They sent out a SWAT team, they've spent hundreds of hours prosecuting these grandmothers. It's insane. If they had spent half that time prosecuting real drug dealers, they might have some arrests.

COSSACK: Robert, how much of this iodine crystals does feed stores sell? I mean, we've heard information now that, you know, clearly farriers don't need very much of it, so, you know, how much do they sell.

SHEAHEN: Well, they sold a reasonable amount over a period of time. And starting in 1999, their sales did start to increase a little bit, but nothing appreciable.

MEYER: What I picked up -- this is Paul Meyer -- what I picked up in looking at some of the briefing was that apparently the amount sold had been triple that of other stores in the area and had been continuing to increase. I think it should be...

VAN SUSTEREN: Is that, though, Paul -- have others stopped selling it because of the paperwork and whatever, and so that would necessarily increase the flow into Armitta's store, or not?

MEYER: Well, you know, that's one way of looking at it. The other way is word might have spread that these people are not keeping track of who's buying it and therefore it's an easy place to get it. I think the grandmothers are sweet people and very nice. But when we balance the state's interest in attempting to curb the flow of these meth problems, this slight intrusion -- and I do say slight -- is understandable.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't think a SWAT team is -- I wouldn't exactly call that slight. But let me ask Sol something.

Sol, if...

GRANICY: Can I say something?

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, go ahead, Armitta.

COSSACK: Yes, go ahead. GRANICY: Could I say something here?

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes.

GRANICY: We have heard this over and over. And I would like to see the other stores' records. I mean, we are just throwing things out there saying this is going on, this is going on, but no one has produced records showing that to be true when we know, in fact, it's not. So I would like to see the records.

COSSACK: And when you say "not," what do you mean not what, I mean, that no one else is keeping records?

GRANICY: No, no, no, no, I'm talking about the amounts that we sell more than three times the amount. Oh, I'm sorry.

COSSACK: No, that's all right, go ahead. Is that -- you don't believe that you sell more than three times the amount of everybody.

GRANICY: Absolutely not.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, we're going to take a quick break. Up next, if convicted of the misdemeanor charge against them, Granny Mim, her husband and her sisters could face jail time. Would that change store policy at Granicy's Feed Store? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN Q&A)

Where did former Atlanta Olympic security guard Richard Jewell meet his former wife?

At a police raid. Jewell is now a police officer in Jefferson, Georgia.

(END Q&A)

VAN SUSTEREN: This November, Ramona Beck, Armitta Granicy, Robert Granicy, and Dorothy Manning face trial for failing to collect information on crystal iodine buyers at their store. If convicted of the misdemeanor, they could be fined, or even spend time in jail.

Sol, if you were the judge in this case -- I know you've already said that this is overkill, but let's assume the worst for these defendants, they get convicted -- what would you do with them?

WISENBERG: I believe that they'll be -- I would fine them, and I believe that's what would happen. They are going to be fined. But I think you might very well find a judge making a blistering attack on the prosecution, because, as I said, with such a minimal, minimal possibility for slight imprisonment in a situation like this, it was just outrageous to jail them, outrageous to send a SWAT team out.

VAN SUSTEREN: Robert, is this a jury-demandable offense?

SHEAHEN: I'm sorry, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you get a jury for this, and what's the penalty?

SHEAHEN: You can get a jury for it. The penalty is up to one year in jail for this.

COSSACK: Robert, what's wrong with this law? I know that you made a motion to have it dismissed. The judge denied it, and perhaps you're going to appeal. But what's wrong? Is it unconstitutional?

SHEAHEN: The law is unconstitutional, Roger. It's void for vagueness. Everything about it is wrong...

VAN SUSTEREN: What's vague about it? Wait a second. Wait. Let's back up for a second. I may not agree with the prosecution, Robert, but it says you've got to provide this information if you sell this product. What's vague about that?

SHEAHEN: It's vague because it exempts certain iodine sales of under $100. All of these sales...

VAN SUSTEREN: What's vague about that?

SHEAHEN: ... were under $100.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, then that's not vagueness. That's a factual issue of whether or not they violated the law.

SHEAHEN: Greta, it's the words that are used. Tincture of iodine is not a commonly known word. It's not clear what it means, whether they exempt tincture without telling us exactly what tincture is. Also, keep in mind in this case that what they're requiring is that, for example, one of the ladies in this case is elderly and is cancer-stricken. She's able to work part-time at the store. They want her to get up from her seat at the store and follow any iodine purchaser out into the parking lot and write down that iodine purchaser's license number, and then be subjected to reprisals if that turns out to be a meth dealer who later gets prosecuted.

This is not -- this is not good police work. They're subject -- they're in danger.

COSSACK: Granny Mim, let me ask you: Do you have a great many people out there where your store is in Lancaster supporting you? And I know that you're wearing a shirt. Perhaps we can put that shirt up on the screen for our viewers. And tell us about the community support you're getting.

VAN SUSTEREN: And could you bring one for Roger out in California?

COSSACK: Yes. Roger wants to wear one of these.

GRANICY: Yes. Our community is standing behind us, yes.

COSSACK: And what are they doing?

GRANICY: They're picketing and they come to court every time we go.

VAN SUSTEREN: Paul, what's the argument in favor of, you know, a penalty in this case if you were the prosecutor? What do you say?

MEYER: Well, you've got to question the present penalty -- it seems like these women were jailed. I think there is disagreement even among the prosecution about whether that was initially necessary.

But let me ask you the next question: What do you do the day after this case is over, the judge gives them a fine, $100, $500, whatever fine it is? The next day they're back at work, someone comes in and wants to buy, and they don't keep the records.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, from what I understand...

COSSACK: Paul, what...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... they'll get them for repeat offenders.

COSSACK: Paul, what happens if you don't -- what happens if you buy it on the Internet?

MEYER: Well, that's interesting. The Internet, of course, is governed by the federal government and the FCC. But think about how you buy something on the Internet: You give them a credit card, you give them a shipping address, and by that practice records are kept. I think in that situation that's something that's going to have to be worked out between the state and the feds.

COSSACK: But there's no policing of that. You know, you give them somebody else's credit card and you give them a post office box. Now, what do they know?

MEYER: Well, at least they know where the stuff went and they'll know who paid for it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Armitta, what are your sisters saying about this prosecution? Are they scared or angry? What's their view?

GRANICY: Oh, they're very angry, very angry.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you think is going to happen to you?

GRANICY: What do I think is going to happen to me?

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes. Do you think you'll be found guilty?

GRANICY: I have no clue. I know what I think is right and I know what I think is wrong, and the rest I leave in the Lord's hands. So I really don't know what's going to happen.

COSSACK: What happens if they say, Armitta, you've got to start keeping records or we're going to have to put you in jail even though we don't want to?

GRANICY: Oh, we have already started taking records.

COSSACK: And you are doing records now?

GRANICY: Yes.

COSSACK: In the way the law wants you to do it?

GRANICY: Yes.

COSSACK: And they still want to go ahead and prosecute you?

GRANICY: Oh, absolutely. Yes.

COSSACK: Robert, have you spoken to them in terms of why are we going forward?

SHEAHEN: We have. The prosecution is adamant on this case. They say basically that these grandmothers failed to comply with the law a year ago, prior to ever consulting with counsel about it, and the prosecution wants every grandmother to be convicted, wants every grandmother to have a criminal record, and is going to ask -- last I heard they're going to ask for jail time for every grandmother.

We intend to go to trial. They'll be exonerated.

COSSACK: Paul.

MEYER: Yes. I do have a large question about whether they'll be exonerated. If a jury is asked the question did they or did they not follow the dictates of this particular law -- would we even be here today if this was a motorcycle shop that was selling out the back door?

It seems to me these are very nice people. They've got a great defense team. But if you take away the outrageous nature of perhaps the way they were originally arrested and you look at the law itself, that's what's going to land in the jury's lap, and I think they're going to have to make a decision based on that.

COSSACK: All right. I'm afraid that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching.

Today on CNN's "TALKBACK LIVE," should you stay together for the sake of the children? Which is worse: the long-lasting damage of divorce or the hardships of a troubled marriage? Weigh-in, tune-in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time.

VAN SUSTEREN: Join us tomorrow for BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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