Tuesday, May 13, 2003

If I made a list of really wrong things that I heard about today, this would the No. 1 with a bullet:

Comedian Chong Admits Marijuana Equipment Sales

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - Actor Tommy Chong (news) of the spaced-out dope-smoking comedy duo "Cheech & Chong" pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a federal conspiracy charge of selling drug paraphernalia over the Internet.

Chong, 64, of Pacific Palisades, California, and his family-run business, Nice Dreams Enterprises, admitted to conspiring to sell marijuana pipes via Web site promotions that featured the comedian's celebrity endorsement.

Under a federal plea agreement, Chong also admitted in a Pittsburgh courtroom that he promoted the drug paraphernalia during personal appearances around the country.

He could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. But federal prosecutors said the actual penalty will likely be more lenient.

U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab set a sentencing hearing for Sept. 11 and released him on $20,000 bond.

Chong's plea represented a public relations victory for a local federal program called "Operation Pipe Dreams," which targets drug paraphernalia sales. The operation, which began in 2000, has 17 cases pending, most from the Pittsburgh area.

"These cases can be brought wherever the Internet is used," said assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Brysh.

The Canadian-born Chong is best known as the bearded and bespectacled member of "Cheech & Chong," who along with partner Cheech Marin (news) became synonymous with the drug humor of the 1970s through comedy skits such as "Dave's Not Here" and movies like "Up In Smoke."

First gaining national notoriety in 1970, the pair made a series of comedy albums that won them a Grammy award and helped launch their subsequent Hollywood movie careers.

Chong was accused of using his Web sites www.chongglass.com and www.tommychong.com. to sell thousands of pipes and glass bongs -- or water pipes. Many of the products were emblazoned with images of Chong's face and some bore his autograph.

U.S. agents raided his Gardena, California-based business on Feb. 24, and confiscated about $120,000 in proceeds from the sales.

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