An 8-plus-year fight: Folse’s war on synthetics makes community safer

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Sometime in the year 2009, HTV Owner Martin Folse started getting calls from concerned citizens of the community. Others saw him at the hospital or in super markets around town.

Some were parents. Others were teachers. Even a few were kids. They all told him about this poison their friends were using which was causing great harm.

To Folse, it didn’t matter who they were; he took the time to listen. The well-known local reporter said he loves this area and takes pride in keeping his community safe. To him, those concerns were coming from his community family – even if he’d never met the individuals on the other end of the line.

Folse said he looks back and remembers seeing an older man at TGMC – a memory he’ll never forget. The man was at the hospital because his grandson had smoked synthetic marijuana, which caused him to bleed from the ears and brain. Folse said the grandpa’s pain was powerful. The old man was in tears at the time – not sure what was going on with a relative he dearly loved.

Folse met with the family later at his office, and he took to heart their struggles, which aligned with the calls he’d been receiving.

Their problem others in the community were experiencing had similarities and overlap – the emergence of synthetic marijuana and bath salts into local streets and the stranglehold the drug had taken on some of the community’s youth.

There’s no way to ever tell the precise impacts of this battle, which still somewhat rages on today. But all law enforcement agree that hundreds of children were affected by the epidemic – either by impairment, hallucinations, severe sickness or in some cases, death.

Hearing those concerns, Folse fought back.

He started a self-proclaimed crusade against the drug and against all those who sold it to the community’s youth – a passion which still burns today.

His efforts were publicized by other media, though likely not enough and along the way, his knowledge for the topic and the players involved is admirable and undoubtedly impressive.

Local law enforcement are quick to state that Folse knows the major players in these cases by name – without needing notes or a cheat sheet. He can spout off the names of the accused one by one without hesitations.

Over the past two months, The Times’ Managing Editor Casey Gisclair and Rushing Media Owner Brian Rushing have spent time with Folse and have gathered a feel for what life has been like in his shoes for the past eight-plus years, while juggling ever-changing information about this topic, countless headlines (some unfair) and the ramifications that have come with it all.

Folse said he worked on the project while trying to keep his TV station prosperous in a tough economic time. He said he wants to thank his HTV crew for standing by him, while also crediting long-time assistant Joni Pitre for sending him scriptures on a regular basis. Folse also highly thanks a private investigator, who helped him collect facts about the cases. Folse said the investigator’s work was tireless and she’s much appreciated.

Folse said the ordeal taught him who he could sit in a fox hole with and who truly supported him throughout his tough time.

In this piece, we will detail his efforts, while also providing new, vetted information about topics which have previously appeared within our newspaper.


“We were targeting synthetics hand in hand when local law enforcement were getting an idea of what synthetics were coming in,” Folse said – a fact, which other law enforcement officials would concede without debate.

Folse said he gives credit to former TPSO Major Darryl Stewart and his narcotics strike force, who he said were behind the scenes offering information on the drug, which was still legal at the time all the information started pouring in.

Folse became a local sounding board for concerned citizens, simply because there wasn’t much authorities could do at the time to remedy the problem. It was legal.

The drugs started infiltrating local convenience stores around late 2008 – if not slightly sooner. They were packaged as bath salts and synthetic marijuana and the ingredient(s) which simulated the high obtained through marijuana were relatively unknown and thus weren’t against the law to consume.

That changed when Folse got to work chiseling away on the topic.

Hearing what the items were doing to area children, Folse started a series of broadcasts, some which were behind the desk on Bayou Time and others which were panel-based and offered voices to local lawmakers and law enforcement in the area.

In perhaps the most memorable ones, Folse himself went to convenience stores, challenging clerks and store owners who were selling the synthetics, asking them if they’d sell the drugs to their own children.

Folse said he remembers going to stores and being asked to leave the premise immediately – even at locations owned by people he’s known for years – some former school mates.

He joked that he is now limited to just a handful of places where he can get fuel, because he isn’t going to go to places caught up in unsafe activities.

“He’s always been a passionate guy,” said Cam Morvant, the longtime Lafourche Parish District Attorney, of Folse.

Morvant would know. He coached Folse at Vandebilt Catholic and has known him for practically his entire life.

Many don’t know, but Folse was a standout, four-sport athlete with the Terriers. He still holds some athletic records at the school to this day, including the school’s single-season interceptions record in football.

In 1978, Morvant bet Folse that he’d buy him a steak dinner at the Bonanza restaurant if he broke the school high jump record. Folse did set that mark, and the next day, the two got into Morvant’s vehicle and Folse got his steak. That day, Folse said, was the day that showed him that when Morvant gave his word, he meant it – which eventually loomed large when the Lafourche District Attorney vowed to help remove these drugs from local streets.

“When he sets his mind to something, it’s hard to get him off of it,” Morvant said. “But the beauty of it all is that it’s always being done with community interests in mind.”

It worked.

As more information became known (numerous broadcasts on HTV) and pressure was applied to lawmakers, which prompted them to apply pressure on other leaders, as well, the synthetics were eventually made illegal – a process which started in 2011 when then-Governor Bobby Jindal signed legislation, which continually evolved to include more ingredients as the drugs started to change.

Folse said Terrebonne District Attorney Joe Waitz Jr., then-State Rep Gordon Dove (now Parish President) and then-State Rep. Joe Harrison, all took Folse’s plea to Baton Rouge and initiated action.

On Jan. 26, 2011, Harrison offered high praise, saying that the proverbial snowball started rolling down hill when folks got wind of Folse’s broadcasts and information gathering.

“HTV saved lives because of these broadcasts,” Harrison said.

On Bayou Time, Larpenter added to that sentiment.

“I cannot thank you enough for spearheading this over the years to keep this on everybody’s minds,” he said.

The battle waged on, and authorities started to take the fight to the dealers.

In June 2013, the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office raided several local convenience stores, arresting multiple suspects and seizing drugs and money on the scene.

Folse rode with other camera people, as Larpenter confirmed on a video recording that at Fast Stop and Go (near H.L. Bourgeois), more than 100 users came into the store in a three-hour period – all asking for synthetics. He added that some stores generated $200,000 in monthly income – a lot of that income from the sale of the synthetics.

On that day in June, many suspects were arrested, and most of them were of Middle Eastern descent.

“They are not only taking our money, but killing our children,” Larpenter said at the time. “Tie all this in. Cash, money laundering, racqueteering, money going to Middle Eastern countries. We are allowing a lot of terrorists into this country. … It’s not your mom and pop operation.”

Several of those suspects are awaiting trial and others have been sentenced to decades – if not a lifetime in prison.

Countless times on video presented by HTV, Larpenter repeated that sentiment, saying that a lot of the stores were either owned or operated by those who were of Middle Eastern descent. Other high-ranking officials said the same thing on record.

Folse relayed that information and presented it to the public, citing that the words were coming from the mouths of law enforcement officials.

Following the convenience store raid, Roberto Bryant with the Drug Enforcement Agency took it even farther and said that the arrests marked a safety issue here at home.

“There is a homeland security issue,” Bryant said to pool reporters at the June 2013 press conference following the raid, which was attended by The Times, HTV and other local and state media. “Terrebonne Parish is the location that we felt was the best bang for our buck.”

The battle waged on into 2014, though in the fall of that year, Folse’s role within it took a turn, and the whole story changed completely from the way it had previously been displayed in the press.


The Road Runner Discount Store, located at 5505 La. Highway 311 in Houma was never raided, nor implicated during TPSO’s searches.

But testimonial evidence from several witnesses alleges that synthetics and other drugs have been sold at the location’s premises during the time when drugs were prominent in the community from 2009-14.

It is not clear whether the synthetics were yet illegal at the time of the witnesses purchases.

In our search, neither we, nor Folse have gathered information that says that the land owners, the lessee, nor the merchandise lessee knew of any illegal activity at the store. There is also no court case involving the store to prove that illegal activities were taking place. But several users have alleged that they purchased from clerks who were allegedly doing business inside the store’s walls, and outside behind the old car wash.

Since that time, the store has gotten new management and ownership and The Times has absolutely no reason to believe that the store is anything but practicing under complete legality at present and going into the future.

However, at the time of Folse’s broadcasts on synthetics, the store and the clerk within it during the incident we’re about to recap, were not legal to be serving alcohol or tobacco, according to state and local law.

Road Runner’s most infamous tie to our story began in Nov. 2014 when local social media started buzzing about a post from a friend of a local decorated veteran and neurosurgeon, Dr. Phillip McAllister. The friend was Kenny Barker, and he claimed in his post that the veteran was called a f—ing a—hole by a clerk at the store for a routine visit to buy some snuff.

Barker launched his post on Facebook – long before Folse’s reporting on the incident on HTV. Folse said media claimed he initiated the story, but he got it on social media.

The post generated hundreds of likes and shares, which caught the eye of Folse, a well-known advocate for local veterans and the United States military.

He said he wasn’t originally intending to report on the story. He was tied up at the time, grieving the loss of a friend’s mother.

Folse said he got a text message shortly after the incident from Dr. McAllister, asking Folse if he knew anything about the Road Runner store.

Folse then said he called McAllister and also Barker to get information on what had happened. He then sent a camera crew to Road Runner to tape outside of the store. He then talked to law enforcement officials, who said they had suspicions about the business. Folse obtained information from several high-ranking law enforcement officials before ever getting on the air.

Folse said his broadcast on that night was originally scheduled to be just about other proven convenience stores that had synthetic marijuana, but after getting the facts, he decided to cover the clerk-Veteran exchange, as well, though the two were intended to be displayed as separate stories – not in any way intertwined.

So he got behind his desk – like he’d done thousands of times before – and gave the story to the public.

In his videoed remarks from Nov. 2014, which have been replayed to The Times several times for vetting, Folse said on multiple occasions that the issue was not about religion, nor ethnicity. He added that he wouldn’t support any person who disrespected veterans.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black or any color,” Folse said. “If you disrespect veterans, I’m not going to your store.”

But the story didn’t play out the way Folse hoped in the court of public opinion.

Commenters alleged racism and bloggers picked up the story – headlines which still show up on a Google search of Fols’es name at present.

Folse said during the time the story was breaking, his lawyer made a request for store surveillance video, while saying on air that if he would be proven to be wrong, he’d apologize immediately.

Dr. McAllister also attempted to get the video through his attorney.

Both were told that the tape was unrecoverable, which didn’t allow the veteran, nor the clerk to be backed in the incident.

Folse continued on the broadcast by discussing the issue of synthetics at local convenience stores, relaying the words of lawmakers and law enforcement officers, which said that most of the stores that had been busted were run, leased or owned by those of Middle Eastern descent.

The clerk in the case of the Road Runner also was believed to be of Middle Eastern descent, according to the information provided by the veteran and law enforcement to Folse in his vetting before the broadcast.

Folse said in the broadcast that, according to his sources, “it is believed” that the clerk is of Middle Eastern descent.

We listened to audio from the broadcast and determined that Folse always referred to sources when commenting on the clerk’s nationality.

As the story generated steam, local print media – including The Times – worked stories, which gave additional details into the incident (some which have been additionally vetted and will be corrected later in this piece), while also detailing the efforts of veterans to boycott the store through protest.

In our main story on the issue, which ran on Nov. 13, 2014, Folse was questioned in his handling of the situation, painting the businessman in an anti-Muslim and anti-Middle Eastern crusade. A media ethicist was also quoted, accusing Folse of “breeding xenophobia” through his words and broadcast.

But in re-listening to transcripts from the night, Folse clarified multiple times that the incident wasn’t about race, stating that he didn’t care if the people involved were white, black or of any religion.

Other stories in local print media made opposing claims and took different slants and tones, insinuating that Folse’s reason for covering the story was done with an anti-Middle Eastern agenda.

The stories went viral and the comments in those stories went just as mainstream as the actual text. The story was picked up literally across the country, and it was covered as it was originally reported locally – as an issue of religion or “hate speech”, something which Folse said always confused him because he was only repeating what others had shared with him about the incident, while also stating several times the case wasn’t about religion nor a person’s ethnicity.

In our story, we used the CAIR group as a voice to discredit Folse’s broadcast.

Folse said CAIR’s leader, Ibrihim Hooper, called him personally in the aftermath of the story.

“I gave him a piece of my mind,” Folse said.

In our meetings with Folse, he also showed us that there was evidence that showed that the Road Runner was indeed owned, partially owned, or still managed by a Middle Eastern entity at the time of the broadcast.

We vetted those documents that Folse showed us and there may be more to the situation that previously known. The store was owned by a Vietnamese group in title, as was reported in The Times.

But further documents show that a Middle Eastern-owned group was possibly doing business with the store – well after the broadcast.

In our vetting of Folse’s records, we’ve received an invoice from an alcohol vendor, which shows that the Middle Eastern-owned Silwad Three LLC, was listed on a purchase order. These dates of possible Middle Eastern involvement were after Folse’s broadcast, which show Folse may have been on a correct trail during his investigations.

The purchase order may be a computer error, but if accurate, it would nullify the idea of a full Vietnamese ownership at the store, which we will detail more later.

Folse said this has been one of the most intensely arduous times of his life.

But he said he remained focused because he believed whole-heartedly that the truth would be presented – both in court and in local media.

Folse said he believed the whole situation was a matter of good vs. evil when it came to synthetic marijuana and bath salt sales in the community, and that he knew he was fighting big money.

He said he wasn’t surprised that bloggers took erroneous information and started attacks on him, some which even went so far as to question his sexuality. Folse said his friends often ribbed him about this, and he believes it was an effort to get him off the story and into defending himself. He said those who know him know who he is and what he stands for.

Folse said the questions posed affected his business, and he was left having to explain to advertisers his views on these topics and the situation as a whole. However, once learning the true story, they all stayed with HTV.

The HTV owner said he never claimed to be perfect, and admits he makes mistakes, though he said he’s surprised at how the entire situation was presented.

“I have many faults. However, I know who I am and I certainly know who I am not. I don’t have angel wings and I don’t have devil horns,” Folse said with a laugh. “I am somewhere in the middle. However, God put me here in this community for a purpose and I must trust that he placed me well.”

Folse said he still gets questions about synthetic marijuana and the entire ordeal at Road Runner every, single day.

When asked about that, he said it simply: “It’s all in the life of a reporter.”

He said after the broadcast, he sought the help of a dedicated private investigator. Together, they worked tirelessly on the issue, and he now knows far more about how the stores in the area operate their businesses and the people within it.

Those facts were provided to The Times.

They were all public records, which Folse told us he’d used during our meetings with him.

We vetted independently for accuracy, and they show strong evidence which shows possible ties to the Road Runner and Alma Street at the time of the busts that were sweeping through the community at that time.


In the social media reaction to the story, Folse’s reporting tactics were questioned.

But now, new information has come to the forefront that shows he had a lot more information at his fingertips than he showed on the night of the broadcast.

In the story, we were the first to introduce the clerk by name, identifying him as Sagar Simkhada, of Nepal.

In the original story, Simkhada said he was an active student at South Alabama University, but public records now show that his last official date as an active student at the school was May 2012 — more than two years before the incident took place.

After the incident, store owners transferred Simkhada to an Alabama store where he’d previously been employed.

Those around Simkhada said in our story that he was a model employee.

Records show he maybe was not.

During his first stint at that Alabama store, court records show Simkhada was arrested and charged with serving alcohol to a minor. The Times has obtained his mugshot from that arrest.

Public records obtained by The Times, which Folse received from the ATC also show that Simkhada also probably should have never been in position to sell the snuff in the first place.

According to records obtained by The Times, Simkhada did not have a legal Responsible Vendor certificate until December 4, 2014 – weeks after the incident took place and the HTV broadcast was aired. It seems, if the paper trail is accurate, that Simkhada got his license after the broadcast.

The records indicate that Simkhada “does not show any prior certification” in Louisiana before the one obtained in December.

This would indicate that he sold the snuff to the veteran illegally on that day – without a license.

Our story also stated as a fact that the Road Runner was owned by a Vietnamese partnership at the time of the incident – using strong language against Folse for his comments about the Middle Eastern ties discussed widely on the television program.

In part, that is correct.

We vetted Folse’s words from the broadcast and he never said the store clerk was Middle Eastern. He instead said that sources told him the clerk was of Middle Eastern descent. Folse has a signed affidavit from Officer Jeff Lirette, which states that Lirette provided that information to Folse before the broadcast.

The Vietnamese-owned company S D Food Mart had a sublease and lease over Road Runner’s merchandise with Retif Oil, but public record and statements from public officials indicate that S.D Food Mart’s hold over the company may have had help from other companies – some with Middle Eastern ties.

According to alcohol receipts obtained by The Times from spring 2015 (after Folse’s broadcast), Silwad Three LLC, a company which owns several convenience stores locally and which is owned by those of Middle Eastern descent, was buying alcohol for the S D Food Mart Discount store.

The invoice was mailed to Folse directly from the liquor vendor themselves, and other invoices from other vendors also showed that Silwad Three was still writing checks to the store after the change of ownership date, which supposedly gave control to the Vietnamese group.

Further research also proves that Folse may have been right when we found that the busted Alma Street store was leased to Silwad Two LLC. One of the owners of Silwad Two and also Silwad Three was a man named Abdel Faraj. He’s listed in ownership papers for both entities at the Secretary of State office and also in ATC records.

S.D. Food Mart was the merchandise lessee of the Road Runner at the time of Folse’s broadcast. But other activities that were going on at the time, which have been supported by documents and witnesses, indicate that Silwad Three was possibly involved in some aspect of the store’s dealings. So, on Folse’s research, backed by our own, the Road Runner had a common thread of ownership with the Alma Street store, which was busted in June 2013.

That common threat was a Palestinian man named Abdel Quader Faraj. As a matter of record, former Alma Street lessee and Road Runner merchandise sub-lessee Abdel Faraj was indicted in a previous criminal investigation in the Eastern Division of Louisiana for money laundering and improper money transactions in 2000. He then ended up in Terrebonne Parish.

This begs the question, which Folse and others still ponder today: If the store was not Middle Eastern affiliated at all – like store owners previously said, then why was the Middle Eastern-owned Silwad Three (AAA Discount) still paying bills to the store or still named on the invoice with the same address? Was this an error by the vendor? If so, we’d like clarification.

Many of the stores, according to Larpenter and others take part in somewhat of a shell game, which these companies use to try and stay in operation – especially after sanctions and/or public relations events.

Larpenter said the stores often change ownership on paper so that it can keep business licenses, liquor licenses and other operational titles in-hand, but all the while, the actual money flows through the hands of all of the same people.

“It’s a shell game,” Larpenter said on a Bayou Time broadcast.

“It’s hard to track,” Morvant added. “That’s why it happens. It’s a way to keep law enforcement guessing.”


As stated above, Road Runner was not raided by TPSO or the DEA on that day in June of 2013.

But according to several witnesses, they (at that time) were allegedly tied in with some of the same names in the local busted Alma Street Store at the time of the bust in 2013.

Folse said he knew he had possible ties linking Road Runner to synthetics during 2014, but never delved into detail during the broadcasts, nor backlash, because he didn’t want to undercut his sources and put their lives in danger. He said that he was still working on the big picture story, but the clerk-veteran exchange made him cover that story on the same night that he was going to speak about the other stores in general.

He said he first got the information about the Road Runner Store from Lirette with the Houma Police. Lirette later came to Folse’s aid because of the way the story had been presented. The officer said he knew Folse was on the right path.

Folse rode with Lirette several times on ‘The Beat’ – a program on HTV. In his sworn affidavit, Lirette told Folse prior to the broadcast that he believed Road Runner was bad at that time.

Folse also supplied The Times with several police reports he’s gathered which show prior problems with the store location during the months before the broadcast in 2014.

It was then backed up by the witnesses, who Folse said he didn’t want to put into the public eye because they were “mostly kids trying to get their lives back together.”

Folse traced a criminal case prior to his broadcast in which a man was arrested for buying synthetic marijuana at a store he described to be “the one at 311 and St. Charles Street,” which is Road Runner.

Folse interviewed the suspect in the presence of an attorney and he signed a sworn testimony affidavit, which states he bought from the Road Runner prior to and during the time period of Folse’s broadcast.

Again, The Times states that we have no reason to believe the store is currently taking part in illegal activity. The store is currently under new management – a relative by marriage to the previous SD Food Mart lease owners.

Since the raids in Terrebonne of several stores, guilty verdicts have been rendered by suspects involved and other plea deals have been reached. None of the cases tried up to date have involved the Road Runner store.

One of the suspects arrested in the raids, Kassim Nagi, got 90 years in prison. He was the owner of the Kee food store on West Park and Hollywood Road – a store which remains closed to this day.

Others have pled guilty to sentences – almost all accepting a decade or more behind bars for their roles in the case.

Larpenter said synthetics infiltrated Terrebonne streets – more than anywhere else in the country.

“We, without a doubt, had the biggest amount of drugs seized and also cash in seizure,” he said.

The sheriff also has said multiple times that he credits Folse with bringing awareness to the community on the topic.


Now, more than two and a half years later, Folse sits back in his spacey, but busy office in his relatively new downtown Houma studio – still wondering what should have been done differently in regards to the coverage of the Road runner case and other stories about the topic.

He combs through boxes of documents pertaining to synthetics.

He said the ordeal was one of the most arduous experiences of his life, because he believed he was doing a community service that got spun the wrong way in local media and also online.

Folse said he reflects often on the past two and a half years and said that this situation has made him focus on the important things in life.

He said he’s relied on love from his family to keep pushing, stating that they knew what he was doing wasn’t always popular, but was in the best interest for kids coming up.

Folse said he gets countless questions every day about synthetics and about how the whole Road Runner situation played out in the court of public opinion.

To those questions, he said he tells people that he reflected on God and acted in the way his parents taught him to, while also leaning on what he called an “unbelievably loyal crew” who backed him along the way.

He said he plans to continue working to unveil some of the information he’s gathered – extensive research which amasses hundreds of pages of written content and hours of recorded audio.

But more importantly, Folse said he seeks to find closure in the truth, which is why he’s happy that this story is being presented to the public.

Folse said he believes local media did a poor job in vetting information about the Road Runner case, but instead fell into a trap of trying to rush the story to press too quickly.

But he noted that since the story in 2014, The Times has new editorial leadership, and he wanted to give that leadership a chance to offer his side of the events.

“I believe that when something like this happens, you go to where it started and give it a chance to come full circle,” he said.

Folse said he’s shown his reports and documents to local and state law enforcement and they all share the same sentiment – his work on synthetics has been a game changer in bringing attention to the drug and ultimately, getting it off the streets.

Law enforcement officials agree he did quality research on the topic.

“I am proud of what I have done to make Terrebonne and Lafourche a safer place to live,” Folse said. “Some of my happier moments are when someone who used to be strung out comes up to me and tells me that it was because of our efforts that they got help. Whether I stay in this business for one more day or several more years, I know one thing – I gave my passion to the people of this area. Some will appreciate that and for those that don’t, I appreciate them, too.”

“That is why I fought so hard for the veteran on that day and every day in our community. So that people like me can tell people like you what is really going on in our backyard.” •

Fight against syntheticsFILE PHOTO

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