Commentary – Dream to Bring Hawaiian Noni to the World in Jeopardy Thanks to DEA Form 452

As 2016 wound down, and 2017 began, the Hawaii NoniPower Cooperative sensed something amazing was just around the corner. They had bulk orders for their all natural, made in Hawai‘i, noni powder from several companies in Japan and on the mainland—with potential clients in China and South Korea. Their consumer products were packaged and ready for sale. Their website was up and getting traffic. Investors continued to write checks.

Then, on April 3rd, everything changed. Don Gleason, CEO of the Hawaii NoniPower Cooperative, received notice that their new encapsulating machine (the one they had ordered back in January to satisfy customer demand for smaller capsules and to replace the aging, temperamental machine currently being used) had been “detained.” Making it impossible, once the current inventory was exhausted, to fulfill any new orders.

Don was not sure what to do. He had spent the past nine days doing everything in his power to get the encapsulating machine from Honolulu to Hilo and now, despite his best efforts, Customs had detained it, without any explanation as to why.

Back on Sunday, March 26th, when the encapsulating machine first arrived in Honolulu, Don received a call from Peter Mainz of Triple B Forwarders. Peter informed Don that the shipment had arrived and gave him the contact information for customs broker Daniel Kim. (Customs brokers are persons who assist businesses with international imports and exports. Whenever you need a middleman to complete a transaction, you know there are way too many regulations for any ordinary businessman to stay on top of.)

On Monday, Don contacted Daniel Kim and gave him all the information requested with regards to the encapsulating machine. Daniel said he would check on the status of the shipment and call back.

The following day, Daniel Kim informed Don that before the new encapsulating machine could be shipped to Hilo, customs needed a copy of DEA Form 452. Don assured Mr. Kim that he would get it taken care of before the end of the day.

Sometimes our optimism gets run over by bureaucratic red tape. Don’s belief that filling out DEA Form 452 would be a simple task was about to meet that fate.

Don tried but was unable to locate DEA Form 452 online, so he picked up the phone and called the DEA office in Virginia, where he spoke with a Mr. John Kronebusch. John had recently given a presentation entitled “Tablet Press & Capsule Filling Machine Transaction Regulations” so if anyone was in a position to help with DEA Form 452 it was John. Unfortunately, Mr. Kronebusch informed Don that DEA Form 452 doesn’t exist.

It seems the new DEA regulations governing the sale of tablet presses and capsule fillers were scheduled to be effective January 30, 2017, but were delayed until March 31, 2017. Compliance with these new DEA regulations was originally June 28, 2017, and has been revised to July 31, 2017.

John did send Don a copy of the regulations (CFR 1310.05(b)(2)) and was as helpful as anyone can be when explaining how to comply with a regulation whose compliance date has yet to arrive. As Don put it, “It’s like getting a ticket today for going 45 on a stretch of road where even though the speed limit remains 45 today, it will be dropped to 35 next month.” Making you in violation of a regulation that has yet to take effect.

While trying to figure out just how to provide the DEA with a form that does not yet exist, Daniel Kim informed Don that a “Notice of Detention” had been filed with the stated reason of “DEA Permit Pending.” The very permit that Don had just been told did not exist—yet.

Don did learn, in a roundabout way, the identity of the local DEA agent in this case: Alex. It seems that before the Notice of Detention was issued Alex had made an unannounced visit to the factory (understandable if you suspect the factory might be doing something illegal). But, since the Hawaii NoniPower facility is only staffed when there are orders to fill, no one was there to let Alex in. So, the DEA agent left a business card with one of the employees at A&A Storage (to get to the Hawaii NoniPower facility, you must pass through A&A Storage).

The business card contained contact information for Kelly Mayne (Investigator, County of Hawai‘i, Office of the Prosecuting Attorney) along with the words “and Alex” written in blue ink.

It took several emails and phone calls before Don finally heard back from Kelly Mayne. It turned out that Kelly merely escorted the DEA agent (the “and Alex” scribbled on Kelly’s business card) to the factory. Kelly had no other involvement in this case and did not offer a way to contact Alex.

Eventually, Alex contacted Daniel Kim informing him that the DEA had seized the encapsulating machine. Daniel relayed this information along with Alex’s contact information to Don. Once again, after leaving several messages, Don finally heard back from someone.

Don got to speak with Alex and explain how the new encapsulating machine was so that smaller capsules could be created for Hawaii NoniPower’s Asian customers. The new machine would also replace the existing machine which was not very reliable. Don offered to pay all expenses to fly Alex back out to Hilo for a tour of the facility as well as send Alex any documentation necessary to demonstrate that Hawaii NoniPower Cooperative is a legitimate business in need of the encapsulating machine that he had detained.

Alex replied, “it is in Customs hands now. Please contact Lisa Young whose name is on the detention notice.” (Bet you can guess what transpired next.)

Don has been calling Lisa’s number for days now, only to hear the message, “not at my desk right now please leave your name and number and I will call you back.”

“I have not received a callback,” Don said. “Our machine has been in Honolulu for almost two months now. Our customer, who wanted smaller capsules, could not wait any longer and has gone and found another supplier.”

So, in a last-ditch effort to stay in business and provide customers with the best noni powder in the world (their dehydration process is patented) they have resorted to selling their noni powder in plastic baggies.

“We had to order baggies and get labels made so we could still deliver product to our customers,” Don explained. “We still have a few bottles of our Sp02 and Foundation products on hand, but once those run out we have no way to make more until our new encapsulating machine arrives. We cannot sell those products in baggies like we do the 100% pure noni powder.” And there is no telling now when—or if—the new encapsulating machine will arrive.

In the meantime, the Hawaii NoniPower Cooperative is reaching out to politicians, the media, and anyone who might be able to help cut through the red tape. They are also hoping people will support them by buying out their current inventory as well as purchasing their baggies of 100% pure noni.

Who would have imagined that a small nutritional supplement provider in Hawai‘i would face extinction due to the actions of a lone DEA agent and a DEA Form that does not exist?

Don Gleason, Hawaii Noni Power (HawaiiNoniPower.com)

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