Originally published in the Charlotte Sun Herald March 21, 2012
PUNTA GORDA — It was business as usual at Tom’s Discount convenience storeTuesday afternoon until the store clerk got arrested by a state official for allegedly selling contact lenses to his customers.
‘Of all the items in the store, I get arrested for contact lenses?’ Nadi Jabari, 33, said of his arrest.
The shop, located at 618 Cooper St., is known to locals as the ‘Punta Gorda Walmart’; it’s part beauty-supply store, part head shop and part convenience. Customers can purchase anything from a hair weave to brass knuckles to bongs.
Around 2 p.m. Tuesday, a woman identified herself as state policewoman Sandy Hillard of the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco and told Jabari, of the 800 block of Burland Street, Punta Gorda, that he was under arrest for practicing as an optician without a valid license and dispensing optical devices without a prescription.
The bust was part of an undercover sting by the FDABT. About 20 minutes earlier, Hillard reportedly entered Tom’s Discount posed as an undercover customer. She browsed items in the store and approached the counter where she and Jabari engaged in casual conversation, a report states.
She asked Jabari if he had contact lenses for sale, and Jabari allegedly pointed to a display case on the counter containing Hollywood Brand contacts .
Hillard told Jabari that she was glad he had them for sale because the location that she used to purchase contact lenses recently had gotten ‘popped.’ She told Jabari that getting a doctor’s prescription and purchasing contacts from the doctor is ‘too expensive,’ the report states.
After Jabari was arrested, Punta Gorda police officer Bonnie Sills transported him to the Charlotte County Jail. He was released after posting $3,000 bond.
Sills told the Sun in a phone conversation that the FDABT requested the assistance of local law enforcement to transport Jabari for ‘safety reasons,’ because their state-issued vehicle has no partition separating the prisoner from the law officers.
Jabari told the Sun he had no idea selling contacts was illegal, and that he was only doing his job. Jabari was back at work behind the counter at Tom’s Discount on Wednesday.
Both Jabari and the store’s owner, Taher ‘Tom’ Shriteh, said they have been selling the colored contacts for years. Shriteh said he has ordered them from a wholesaler in Texas since 2000.
A report from the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office said the contacts were clearly marked with an Rx on the top of the box, meaning they require a prescription, but Shriteh maintains the lenses were only cosmetic.
‘These are not smuggled in from another county,’ Shriteh said. ‘Ladies buy them to make themselves look beautiful, just like they buy extensions.’
Shriteh said he was upset that the state had arrested his employee, instead of first consulting him. He said Jabari has a clean record and currently was pursuing a career in trucking.
‘He is a good man who has never been in trouble,’ Shriteh said. ‘He is very upset by this.’
Shriteh said if he’d known the lenses were illegal, he wouldn’t have set up the display where everyone in the store could see them. Shriteh, a former CBS and New York Times journalist, said he is only trying to make a living to support his wife and four kids. He said he never would sell anything he knew was illegal. Shriteh currently faces no charges.
Sandi Copes Poreda, spokeswoman for the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees the FDABT, said through an emailWednesday that there currently is an investigation into the source of the contactlenses. She noted there have been more than a dozen related arrests across Florida since Jan. 1, 2012, and the ‘primary concern is consumer safety.’