|Sacramento News & Review: Rotting for Pot!|
Posted by FoM on July 03, 1999 at 07:22:25 PT|
Source: The Kubby Files
Investigative reporter Michael Pulley continues to deliver hard-hitting stories that expose the Soviet-style corruption of police by Prohibition.
Maughs languishes in jail for growing medical pot ROTTING FOR POT Richard Maughs languishes in jail for growing medical pot by Michael Pulley A stocky man with deep wrinkles in his forehead and dark, friendly eyes peers through the sheet of tempered glass that separates prisoners from visitors in the Sacramento County Main Jail.
He pleads his case on the telephone receiver he holds to his face. Richard Sam Maughs, a former Siskiyou County wrecking yard owner, is there because he planted two large marijuana gardens in rural areas of Siskiyou for the fledgling Redding Cannabis Buyers Club.
The 45-year-old Maughs has been held in the Sacramento County Jail for the past two years, and has yet to come to trial.
Siskiyou County law enforcement officers and a federal prosecutor want him to spend several more years in jail for growing marijuana for sick people. They don't buy Maughs' argument that his pot gardens were legal under the provisions of Proposition 215, passed by California voters in 1996.
The tale of how Maughs has been waiting so long for a chance to prove his innocence raises questions as to law enforcement's handling of the case, and their own troubles with the law. No court date has been set for his trial in Sacramento's U.S District Court on federal charges of felony marijuana cultivation and possession.
Meanwhile, John Glines, the Siskiyou County sheriff's deputy who arrested Maughs, has problems of his own. A California Highway Patrol report states that excessive speed and wet roads caused the truck he was driving while on his way to a marijuana garden stake-out in Siskiyou County to crash, and in that crash a Reno woman was killed. In the back of Glines' police vehicle were several cases of beer, a violation of Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department regulations. The state attorney general is considering whether charges should be filed in connection with the incident.
Siskiyou County Sheriff Charlie Byrd, Glines' supervisor, also wants to see Maughs punished. He called up the former federal prosecutor in Maughs' case and urged her to take a hard line against him because he believes Maughs was responsible for the unsolved firebombing of the home of a federal park ranger, according to Steven Bauer, Maughs' former Sacramento attorney.
Maughs has never been charged with such a crime and there is no evidence to support the allegation, according to Bauer and Brian Davis, Maugh's current Sacramento attorney. But Byrd's phone call was reason enough to cause Nancy Simpson, the federal prosecutor, to back away from a favorable plea bargain deal for Maughs she had tentatively offered to Bauer in negotiations, according to Bauer. The canceled deal soured Maughs' relationship with his former attorney and led the prisoner to file civil lawsuits in federal court against Bauer, Byrd and Simpson, alleging that all three conspired to violate his civil rights.
Byrd testifly insisted that he "didn't know anything about" the allegations regarding his phone call to Simpson. The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment for this story.
Byrd, a resident of Weed and a highly popular sheriff in the county that sits in the shadow of majestic Mt. Shasta, last year had an encounter of his own with law enforcement officers. A CHP patrolman pulled Byrd over late one night because he didn't have his seat belt on while driving his off-duty pickup truck. The sheriff allegedly smelled of alcohol and had a considerably less than full open container of liquor on the seat next to him, another violation of the law. Byrd refused to take a Breathalyzer test, which prompted the patrolman to call his supervisor.
The supervisor came to the scene and concluded that Sheriff Byrd was simply sick and drove him home to Weed. No charges were ever filed against him, which prompted a number of newspapers to editorialize about the incident as a perfect example of how law enforcement takes care of its own.
Wanted: medical marijuana When Richard Maughs was a young man nearly 20 years ago, he had one small brush with the law, according to his own admission. Someone sold him a motor part that turned out to be stolen and he served several days in jail for receiving stolen goods. He would not see a jail cell again until April 24, 1997, the day the Siskiyou County Narcotics Task Force showed up at his marijuana gardens with a search warrant.
A few months before, shortly after Proposition 215 became law, he spotted an intriguing ad in the Record Searchlight, Redding's daily newspaper.
The ad was soliciting growers for a new cannabis club in Redding, one that would be modeled after the controversial cannabis buyers clubs in San Francisco and other Northern California cities. The Redding club was the brainchild of David Navarro, a severely handicapped medical marijuana patient.
The cannabis buyers clubs were trying to get marijuana to patients who didn't have the ability to grow their own. The clubs argued that they were legal under Prop. 215's provision that allowed patients to have a "caregiver" who would obtain the marijuana on their behalf. The legality of the clubs was hotly debated, but sheriffs in counties such as Santa Clara and Mendocino began accepting them, setting up operational guidelines for the clubs and issuing identification cards for patients who had bona fide recommendations for use of medical marijuana from physicians.Counties such as Siskiyou, however, took their cue from former state Attorney General Dan Lungren, who campaigned against Prop. 215 in his quest for the governor's office and opposed the cannabis clubs even after voters approved the new law.
The ad intrigued Maughs, a 215 proponent. He told the SN&R that he had already been working on his own book about medical marijuana for a number of years and had compiled extensive research on the subject. He responded to Navarro's ad, agreeing to be quality control manager of the new Redding club, according to court records. Joining Maughs in the operation was his girlfriend, Roni Lynn Aurelio, and three other men-Frank Craig Harrell, James Jerome Pearce and Joseph Clinton Marshall, said court documents.
Maughs was issued a signed "cultivation contract" by Navarro, which designated him as a caregiver for the Redding Club.The contract said, in part, that Maughs pledged to provide "high quality-pesticide and mold-free marijuana-at production costs," according to court documents. Maughs would tell arresting officers that production costs amounted to $4,000 per pound of pot.
Maughs and his partners began growing marijuana at two different locations in rural Siskiyou and posted the gardens with signs that read: "You have been informed. This is a 'medicinal marijuana greenhouse,' therefore, if you proceed without an adequate search warrant, you will be in violation of: Peace Officer Guide, Compassionate Use Act of 1996," said court records.
"I didn't try to hide it," Maughs told the SN&R. "We let 7,000 people know we were doin it. We put it on bulletins in the town.
" But that didn't stop Glines and a team of sheriff's deputies from obtaining a search warrant for Maughs' property.When Glines and his team of narcotic officers showed up, Maughs "was seated in the driver's seat of a pickup with the motor running," said court records. The officers found about 1,600 marijuana plants in various stages of development at Maughs' two garden sites. He and his partners explained to the deputies that they were growing marijuana for medicinal purposes and showed them their contracts and official paperwork with the Redding cannabis club. But the sheriff's deputies arrested them anyway. The large number of plants made Proposition 215 as a defense irrelevant, Glines told the SN&R.
"All we had in place was the attorney general's guidelines and that's what we operated under," he said. Meth in the shirt pocket?
When Maughs and his partners were searched, deputies also found a small bag of methamphetamine in Maughs' shirt pocket, according to the police's investigative report filed in court papers. Deputies charged Maughs with an additional count of possession of meth.
Maughs told the SN&R that he disavows ownership of the meth because police handed him the shirt that had the meth in its pocket.
The suspects, forced to lay on the ground, got cold and the cops randomly grabbed shirts and coats and handed them to the suspects to keep warm, according to Maughs.
Maughs "has made a few different claims regarding that meth," Glines said.
Maughs and his partners were able to post bail and get released. But a few days later the federal government decided to re-arrest the suspects on federal charges stemming from the cultivation of the large number of marijuana plants.
By that time, Maughs and Aurelio had disappeared into the back woods of Siskiyou County and federal agents officially classified them as fugitives. Three months would pass before Maughs and Aurelio showed up in Yreka and got apprehended by police. This time, Maughs was not allowed to post bail. The prosecutor began offering plea bargain agreements to Maughs' partners. Two of them received 30 months jail time and probation. Another received 18 months and probation. The case against Navarro was dismissed.
"If any of us would have known it was against the federal law to do what we were doing, we would not have done it at all," Maughs recently told the SN&R in a jail interview.
Aurelio accepted an unusual plea bargain arrangement that allowed her to serve only a short time in jail in exchange for her obtaining media interviews that served as a kind of testimonial on behalf of the federal prosecutors. She was required to get at least a couple of newspapers to publicize her statements that now she understood that people could not grow medical marijuana because of the fact that federal law superseded state law. One of the stories that satisfied such an unusual plea bargain arrangement was a piece that was published in the Sacramento Bee on Feb. 24, 1998.
The sheriff's phone call Maughs was close to accepting a similar arrangement. But that's when Byrd called up Simpson and urged her to take a hard stance against Maughs.
"I had orchestrated a good plea bargain that would have benefited Rick Maughs," Bauer told the SN&R. "I thought it would have given him a good disposition in this case. The fact that it was pulled was attributed to the sheriff of Siskiyou County [Byrd]. Simpson's the one that told me why it wasn't going to happen the way we had worked it out. The message to her [from Byrd] was to not cut this guy any special favors. They want to believe that Rick is responsible in some way for a firebombing of a National Forest Service ranger's home. I have never seen one shred of evidence to that effect. Rick has always denied it."
After Byrd's fateful telephone call, the best deal prosecutors would offer Maughs was eight years in prison, a penalty that seemed so severe it caused him to dig in his heels and prepare for a fight. After parting ways with Bauer, he hired Kevin Clymo, a highly respected criminal defense lawyer in Sacramento. Simpson also confirmed to Clymo that she had received the controversial telephone call regarding Maughs' case from Byrd, said Brian Davis, an attorney who contracts with Clymo to work on Maughs' case.
Simpson later withdrew from Maughs' case as prosecutor for personal reasons and the case was reassigned to Sam Wong, another federal prosecutor. As of press time, Wong was close to working out another plea bargain agreement with Maughs, said Davis.
That may be Maughs' best hope in his case, according to Prop. 215 experts. "There's simply no defense to the federal law [against marijuana cultivation]," said Michael Vitiello, a McGeorge Law School professor who published an extensive article on Prop. 215 last year in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform. Vitiello said Maughs faces two problems. He is not able to bring up his Proposition 215 defense to a federal jury because prosecutors are able to use relevancy to exclude all evidence regarding Prop. 215 from the federal trial. The other problem is the federal government's use of the supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution, which says that federal law takes precedence over state law whenever there's a conflict between state law and federal law, as in the case of Prop. 215.
Manslaughter and beer parties Glines has continued to work for the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department despite the conclusion of a March 10 CHP report that recommended he be charged with "manslaughter without gross negligence." The charges are based on an Oct. 10 accident in which Glines was on his way to another marijuana stakeout. He was driving his Ford Bronco police vehicle. Due to excessive speed and wet roads, he swerved into another lane and collided head-on with a Ford van, according to the CHP report. Yolando Romeo, an 85-year-old Reno resident who was a passenger in the van, was killed by the impact.
Although Glines was carrying several cases of beer in the back of his Bronco as he headed to another marijuana stakeout, CHP officers determined that he had not been drinking. The beer in the Sheriff's Department Bronco was a violation of the Sheriff's Department's own regulations, according to a story in the Daily News, a Yreka newspaper.
The beer "was part of the supplies" for the marijuana stakeout, Sgt. Bo Heckert of the CHP's Yreka office told the SN&R. "The guys sit on a marijuana grow. They kind of set up a base camp. When they're off, it's just like you being at home. Then they're off shift but they're still out in the woods and it's just their camp." The Sheriff's Department would have to pay narcotics agents overtime for their time stuck in the woods if they didn't allow deputies to enjoy their beer during off-shifts, he added.
Glines said he could not comment on the Romeo incident due to the ongoing investigation of the case. The Siskiyou County District Attorney's Office recently referred the case to state Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office to consider whether or not to file manslaughter charges based on the CHP's recommendation, said Bill Davis, an assistant district attorney with Siskiyou County.
"It was difficult for us to take the case without the appearance of impropriety," Davis said.
A ride home to Weed
"We come in contact with millions of people each year," said Bob Forrest,assistant chief of the CHP's Northern Division office in Redding. "We want our officers to exercise good judgement and discretion each time they deal with people. Sometimes we give warnings, depending on the circumstances, and sometimes we issue citations."
In the meantime, Maughs continues to bide his time in the Sacramento County Jail. "I'm standing tall for the seriously ill and the people of California who passed Prop. 215," he said.
See THE HIDDEN WAR
NO MORE REEFER MADNESS
Comment #1 posted by FoM on July 03, 1999 at 09:49:38 PT:|