(Natural News) Texas attorney Rod Ponton went viral Tuesday, Feb. 9, when he accidentally appeared as an adorable kitten in a court hearing via Zoom. But this wasn’t his first time that Ponton, who has since earned the moniker of “Zoom cat lawyer” has caught attention. In 2014, Ponton courted controversy for supposedly abusing his position as the district attorney of Brewster County in Texas, reports Insider.com.
While serving as district attorney, Ponton was embroiled in a controversial raid on The Purple Zone, a smoke shop in Alpine, Texas. Local and federal agents raided the shop on May 7, 2014 on the basis of a search warrant Ponton requested. This led to the arrest of its owner, Ilana Lipsen, on charges related to the possession of illegal synthetic marijuana. (Related: Court documents reveal LA County prosecutor Kelly Sakir used infiltration agents, hidden cameras, extreme surveillance to target Rawesome Foods.)
Lipsen was briefly jailed while her mother and sister were also arrested.
That raid and its aftermath culminated what Lipsen described as “a pattern of harassment” orchestrated by Ponton – a former lover. Lipsen stated that she had a brief sexual relationship with him after arriving in town as an 18-year-old college student in 2003.
Alpine residents told news website Insider that the relationship was an open secret at the time.
“I heard about it before I ever met Ilana,” Tom Cochran, an acquaintance of Lipsen, said Wednesday, Feb. 10.
Another source said: “I knew her very well. I heard it from her before the raid.”
After their relationship ended, Lipsen related that Ponton sometimes drove slowly past her house, “almost like he was stalking me.”
Lipsen, a ranch owner, also said Ponton purchased horses for her and would often use them as an excuse to check up on her once the relationship ended.
“I ditched him because he was creepy. And then years later he sees an opportunity to fuck me up,” she told Insider.
Ponton denied having a relationship with Lipsen. “We never had a relationship. I never had sex with her. All that stuff is false,” he said. “No reports were ever filed. Everything she said was a lie.”
Hell hath no fury like a “cat” scorned
Ponton’s alleged harassment of Lipsen supposedly started March 2012. The latter recounted that about a dozen men raided her shop, handcuffed her and threw her in the back of a police van. The authorities seized her computers, hard drives and cell phone.
They also took numerous packets of potpourri in the incense section of the store with colorful brand names such as “Dr. Feelgood,” “Scooby Snax” and “Bomb! Marley.”
Ponton said Lipsen’s potpourri qualified as “spice” or synthetic cannabinoids. But state-sponsored lab tests would later confirm that Lipsen’s products were legal.
Eight months later, Ponton had her arrested anyway – along with her mother who did not even work at the store. He charged them with possession and distribution of a controlled substance – a felony.
Ponton cited a little-known rule on “analogues” – chemicals that are not prohibited but are similar enough to controlled substances that they become illegal depending on who interprets the data. But Lipsen had the products tested in private labs and likewise had proof that the substances weren’t illegal.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) would go on to make several undercover purchases over the next few months. But lab results failed to yield the proof Ponton needed to substantiate the criminal charges he wanted to bring against Lipsen.
When the state finally denied funding the repeated request for testing money, Ponton used Project Synergy Phase II, a national day of DEA raids on May 7, 2014, to get another crack at Lipsen. Organized by the Obama administration, this was meant to track down synthetic drug pushers who were allegedly using their earnings to fund terrorist groups in the Middle East.
Lipsen’s smoke shop was again targeted. While the agents still couldn’t find illegal substances, but they did find ammunition that Lipsen had received as a gift.
This time, Ponton brought up another obscure law and charged her with “receiving ammunition while under indictment.”
Lipsen’s sister Arielle was also arrested after arguing with an agent onsite. She sustained a neck injury when the agent threw her to the ground.
Unable to post bond on the ammunition charge, Lipsen was offered a way out by signing a letter retracting a description of events she gave to news outlets – in particular, advising KWest 9 News that her sister was not beaten by agents carrying an M16 rifle and that her sister instigated and assaulted agents.
The letter also included an apology to DEA officers, saying they had a “legitimate reason” to search her shop.
Lipsen signed the letter and ultimately pled guilty to first-degree felony manufacturing and possession of a controlled substance even though the substances in question — chemicals found in packets from the 2012 raid — were not illegal in Texas at the time. In return, charges against her mother and sister were dropped, along with the ammunition charge Lipsen faced from the 2014 raid. She was given a deferred adjudication, meaning she had to keep a clean record for 10 years or face five years to life in prison. She sold her shop and left town, in part to evade Ponton.
“I had to literally reinvent myself,” she said. “He did stalk me.”
She got some form of payback when Ponton lost the primary for district attorney in 2018.
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