At Coffee Wonk, Micah Riggs built a synthetic-pot empire 

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Besides confiscating the Syn, the police raided the laboratory above the store, where Riggs and a recent KU graduate were trying to break down the ingredients in Syn. Riggs insists that the lab was barely on a par with kids' chemistry sets sold in toy stores. A few beakers, a handful of test tubes, he says.

"There were a lot of books and a lot of chemicals with long scary names," he says. "I think they wanted to see if any of it could be used for meth production."

Riggs' lab technician studied pharmaceutical chemistry. (An aspiring med student, he spoke on the condition that his name not be used.) He says he was investigating Syn's effect on the body when the cops raided the lab.

"We didn't get too far before we got shut down," he says.

The tech says he did surmise that acetone is commonly used as a bonding agent. An organic compound, acetone is most often used to make plastic, fibers, drugs and other chemicals, and it's a known carcinogen. But the tech argues that the presence of acetone isn't enough to harm anyone.

"It has such a low boiling point, it probably evaporates completely when you light the incense," he says. "You can buy the stuff at Home Depot. It's not hard to get."

The DEA obviously thinks otherwise. And local authorities may as well. KCPD spokesman Darin Snapp tells The Pitch that the seized incense was tested by a lab. The results have not been released because the investigation is ongoing, he says. But the department is preparing to turn over evidence to prosecutors, who could decide to file charges against Riggs.


I want to show you something," Riggs says.

He ushers me out of his shop, leaving the drug dealer at the pool table and passing a new customer walking in the door. It's been three weeks since his store was robbed. Rather than wait for the police, Riggs has decided to restock on his own. Business is slowly returning.

"There's a lot of competition for the business. If people couldn't come to me, they'd go down the block," he says. "One of these guys selling it actually came by my shop riding a Segway — a Segway! — just to show me how much money he was making. It's crazy."

We walk north on Broadway, and it's not long before the neighborhood starts to look a little better. Just one block away, the corner loiterers vanish.

Riggs stops in front of a vacant storefront. There's a real-estate sign in the window.

"I think this could be something," he says. "Maybe turn it into a Kinkos. There's the Veterans of Foreign Wars close by, there's the insurance guys, there's a community college. There's a lot of great IT departments that really need some good service. We can really do something with this place, you know? Make it a benefit to the area. Maybe get some white-collar gigs. It's a pain because there's no Best Buy or anything else. It's not like there's a Wal-Mart around."

As we walk back toward Coffee Wonk, I mention that Broadway is a good street for bars. Sells has made the Conspiracy Room a destination for fundraisers and scenesters. And we're not far from Westport, one of the city's most popular nightlife spots. How about a Wonk nightclub?

"When the restaurant opens, it'll have a bar, but bars don't offer much," he says. "With a restaurant, people can get together and have fun and not just get drunk. Fights break out all the time; there's all this negativity. Yeah, you're making money. But who'd want to make money such a miserable way?"

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