Drug-Bust Suspect Once Sat On Council Advisory Panel

Noah Puni, the suspect arrested in South Pasadena on July 9 during a traffic stop and charged with carrying about three pounds of marijuana and $116,000 in cash, is from a well-established city family and once served on a City Council advisory committee, The Review has learned.

Puni’s parents, Marla and Meir Puni, have long operated the Grassroots Natural Market in the Vons Shopping Center on Fair Oaks Avenue — and Meir told The Review the family is heartbroken over the case, in which the 30-year-old Noah Puni faces multiple charges.

Noah Puni’s grandparents on his mother’s side, Robert and Bernice Wagner, had once been longtime residents. Robert Wagner served on the South Pasadena City Council from 1984 to 1988.

Although Noah Puni grew up in South Pasadena, his current address is listed in the nearby El Sereno section of Los Angeles.

He attended Pasadena City College and Berkeley, according to a 2013 article about Grassroots in the PCC Courier, the school newspaper. It was reported that Puni studied business, agriculture and environmental policy. At the time, he was working at the store, promoting a healthy lifestyle and helping the store, the article said.

“He’s creative and he’s trying to help us regroup and structure better,” his mother said in the article.

Like his grandfather, Noah Puni had been involved in civic life. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources and Environmental Commission starting in 2014, having been appointed by then-Mayor Marina Khubesrian. He was reappointed in 2017 for two years by the city’s then-Mayor Michael Cacciotti, according to council minutes.

The commission is a seven-member advisory body to the council. The group focuses on issues related to energy, science and technology, and natural resources and the environment.

Minutes of the commission indicate that Puni worked on the city’s polystyrene ban. He also suggested that a zero-waste policy be adopted.

Puni stopped attending meetings before his second term ended, according to two fellow commissioners.

“He did drift away, he wasn’t attending enough meetings,” recalled Khubesrian, now the mayor once again.

Khubesrian remembered Puni as a “young and enthusiastic” man “with a lot of promise.”

“He would tell me about how interested he was in the environment and being involved in the city,” she said. “He seemed to really care about climate change and the environment. It’s very sad to hear about the drug bust. I have not run into him or seen him for, I want to say, about three years.’’

Puni’s father Meir, reached at the family business, said the family was struggling with the recent events.

“We’re just dealing with this,’’ he said. “It’s hard, really hard.”

Meir Puni said his son was advised by his attorney to decline requests for interviews. His mother, reached by phone, had no comment.

In addition to the items found in Puni’s vehicle during the traffic stop, officers discovered at his residence approximately 10 more pounds of marijuana, approximately 400 cannabis vape cartridges and a pistol and rifle, according to South Pasadena Police Det. Mike Palmieri, who is assigned to the case.

Last week, police said Puni had also admitted, during the traffic stop, to driving under the influence of marijuana.

He has been charged with “possessing a quantity of marijuana that leads the police to believe there is probable cause that it is for sale,” Palmieri said.

“This is not legal unless a person sets up shop and gets licensed,” he added.

Another charge relates to the amount of money found.

“Since he was in possession of more than $100,000,” Palmieri said, “we believe there is probable cause that he was selling drugs illegally.”

In regard to the firearms, Palmieri said, “He risks nothing with the handgun since it’s registered to him.”

Palmieri said an investigation is under way to determine whether the alleged possession of the rifle was legal.  Palmieri described the firearm as “an American version of an AK-47.”

South Pasadena police will submit their findings to the District Attorney’s office, according to Palmieri.

“They (the DA) will decide what charges to file, depending on what is provable beyond a reasonable doubt,” Palmieri said. “He has an appearance set for Aug. 9 at Alhambra Superior Court.”

Until then, he said, Puni remains free on $50,000 bail, having posted a $20,000 bond.

Additional reporting by Kevin Kenney

Check out the South Pasadena Review’s original coverage of this story from July 11, 2019 Traffic Stop Nets Pounds of Pot, $116k, AK-47.


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