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Tuesday, May 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Marijuana

Suspect in would-be pot shop arson back in jail

Second suspect now facing additional charges

One man implicated in an alleged Spokane Valley arson targeting a would-be pot shop is back behind bars, and the other faces additional charges of illegally manufacturing hash oil.

Pavel Shevchenko, 24, was booked into Spokane County Jail on Monday by order of a federal judge. Shevchenko, who faces allegations he set fire to a fledgling marijuana store at 9827 E. Sprague Ave. on Sept. 27, allegedly intimidated witnesses for the government ahead of a trial scheduled for January. After being released without bond after his arrest last month, Shevchenko threatened a former employer earlier this month, according to court documents.

Federal investigators say Shevchenko set fire to the abandoned strip mall space in order to recoup insurance money to pay off his partner, Burk A. Thomas, a Coeur d’Alene physician with a residence in Spokane Valley. Thomas now faces additional charges, according to allegations contained in an indictment handed down earlier this month, that he was manufacturing hash oil, a potent extract of marijuana produced by running chemicals through the plant that leaches the psychoactive element into a concentrate.

Both men have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

Hash oil remains a controlled substance under federal law, despite Washington’s decriminalization of marijuana by voter initiative in 2012. Clifton Mehaffey, a deputy fire marshal with the Spokane Valley Fire Department, said his agency was assisting the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in investigating the case.

Mehaffey said Spokane Valley and federal investigators discovered evidence in Thomas’ garage that he was producing hash oil, but he wasn’t using the traditional method of combining the plants with butane. That process is suspected as the cause of several high-profile explosions in the area, including a blast that ripped open a car in the Garland neighborhood in summer 2013 and another that scorched a north Spokane apartment complex earlier this year. Hash oil production is also suspected in an explosion at a Spokane Valley mobile home in November.

“With a lot of these, we’re seeing propane,” Mehaffey said. Noting propane is often easier to steal than butane, Mehaffey said he was concerned more cases involving the ubiquitous household gas might start cropping up.

The East Sprague location was planned as a medical marijuana dispensary, though Thomas had sought a retail license at the location, Mehaffey said. That address would not have been approved by Spokane Valley because it’s within 1,000 feet of land owned by the Spokane County Library District, a zoning restriction imposed as part of the state’s initiative setting up the retail marijuana industry. The vacant lot is located two blocks to the east, at the corner of Sprague and Herald Road, according to county records.

Spokane Valley has also recently announced it will suspend issuing licenses to marijuana businesses that aren’t licensed by the state, including medical dispensaries and vapor lounges.

Shevchenko is being held in Spokane County Jail without bond. Thomas has been released without bond pending trial, which is scheduled for next month. Thomas’ attorney, Christian Phelps, declined comment on the case Tuesday.

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