Deputies Employ New Tactic To Weed Out Growers

Deputies Employ New Tactic To Weed Out Growers
Posted by CN Staff on July 29, 2007 at 06:43:04 PT
By Jennifer Squires, Sentinel Staff Writer 
Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel 
Santa Cruz, CA -- A Happy Valley man claiming to be a self-employed landscaper has actually been dealing thousands of dollars worth of pot, sheriff's narcotics deputies suspect, and investigators are trying to use money laundering charges to pin down their case.The deputies' tactics, which involve watching the suspect to see if he's really employed as he says he is and watching how money moves in and out of his bank account, come as more marijuana growers claim they are doing nothing wrong since state law permits marijuana use for medicinal purposes.
In Santa Cruz County, people with a medical marijuana prescription are allowed to grow up to 100 square feet of plants and have three pounds of dried pot for medical use.Deputies say people are using medicinal marijuana allowances, though, to skirt the law, grow dope and sell the drug illegally. Authorities involved with medicinal marijuana issues in the county have estimated that up to 30 percent of people using a medical recommendation are not sick and grow pot only for recreational use."They just pretty much sell drugs, sell marijuana," sheriff's Sgt. Steve Carney said.Carney said it's often difficult to build a case against these criminals because they fall back on medical recommendations that can be hard to discredit. So investigators have started looking for other criminal activity connected to marijuana growing and selling to prove people are drug dealers, he explained.Money laundering is investigators' latest tactic.Deputies think that by doing a little extra investigation before arresting suspected marijuana growers and dealers they can separate the criminals from licensed medicinal users.Prosecutor Pam Dunlap, who specializes in drug offenses, said she will pursue the money laundering charges when the evidence is there."It's another way to show they were selling for profit," Dunlap said.A money laundering conviction can result in forfeiture of assets if it's proven that property was purchased with drug selling profits."It would hit them where it hurts," Dunlap said.On Thursday, deputies arrested the Happy Valley man on suspicion he was growing pot for sale and laundering the cash. The man, who is in his early 30s, is not being identified because he has yet to be charged.Deputies suspect the man never worked as a landscaper and just sold pot. He had five landscaping tools at his Branciforte Drive property, not enough to run a business, authorities say. The property contained 300 marijuana plants, deputies reported. They also reported finding scales, drug ledgers and about two pounds of dried pot at his house."He had little to no tools or any other items at his residence to support his business," Carney said. "And he only had one wheelbarrow."Dealers can get $3,500-$4,500 a pound for the leafy, green drug and can deposit about $8,000 cash  tax-free  in their bank accounts each month, according to the Sheriff's Office.These amounts of cash are telltale signs of dealing, deputies said.Supervisor Jan Beautz, who represents Live Oak, said she thought looking for a new way to distinguish illegal marijuana growers from medicinal users sounded like a good idea."I think pretty much for the most part we haven't had complaints," she said, speaking about the Sheriff's Office marijuana investigations.But some question the need to pursue marijuana growers at all.Supervisor Neil Coonerty, who represents the city of Santa Cruz where voters approved a city ordinance making marijuana enforcement the lowest police priority, thinks hard drugs are the real problem in the county, not marijuana."I feel strongly that the law enforcement agencies should be concentrating on methamphetamine," he said.There is also a concern that innocent medicinal users will be targeted."There's always going to be new ways they try to identify people," Rice said. "There'll be times when they're right and times when they're wrong. It's, of course, unfortunate when someone's not violating the law and are legitimate marijuana users"Rice predicted that, like electricity theft, deputies will chase money laundering charges for a bit, then move on to another tactic.Six months ago, narcotics deputies tracked down people who were suspected of growing copious amounts of marijuana and stealing electricity from PG&E to feed their plants. Three Mid-County men were arrested on suspicion of growing and selling marijuana, as well as utility theft.At the time, deputies explained legal marijuana users wouldn't risk their medicine by stealing electricity. Proving a money laundering charge is another way to highlight the criminal intent of the pot growing, deputies said.The electricity-theft cases are still being litigated, according to Carney."That net that is catching people is too big and it's catching innocent people," Rice said. "The people who are breaking the law will hear about this and find other ways to break the law."Complete Title: Deputies Employ New Tactic To Weed Out Illegal Pot GrowersSource: Santa Cruz Sentinel (CA)Author:  Jennifer Squires, Sentinel Staff Writer Published: July 29, 2007Copyright: 2007 Santa Cruz SentinelContact: editorial santa-cruz.comWebsite: -- Cannabis Archives
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Comment #2 posted by Max Flowers on July 30, 2007 at 15:45:05 PT
How did they know?
On Thursday, deputies arrested the Happy Valley man on suspicion he was growing pot for sale and laundering the cash. The man, who is in his early 30s, is not being identified because he has yet to be charged.Deputies suspect the man never worked as a landscaper and just sold pot. I would love to know how the hell they got onto him in the first place. It sounds like the guy was minding his own business and to all appearances was a landscaper. Where is respect for his privacy??Someone must have ratted him, otherwise how did anyone know he was not a landscaper? Or maybe he made the obvious mistake of never leaving the house with his tools...
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Comment #1 posted by Truth on July 29, 2007 at 08:59:58 PT
easy fix
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