Police break up California-to-Austin marijuana pipeline
Money, potent weed, guns seized.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
A driver pulled over in Arizona last month with 70 pounds of high-grade marijuana helped Austin police break up a local drug-dealing ring whose members are charged with importing hundreds of pounds of pot from California to sell in Austin, according to court documents.
In searches of five Austin homes that followed theArizona traffic stop, Austin police seized about $608,000 in what they say are drug profits, 94 pounds of marijuana and several firearms. And earlier this week, six men were indicted by a federal grand jury on conspiracy charges, collectively accused of possessing and intending to distribute about 220 pounds of marijuana.
The men are accused of smuggling hydroponic marijuana, a potent type cultivated with water that contains dissolved nutrients. Austin police say such pot sells for about $4,000 a pound, much more thanmarijuana that is conventionally grown in Mexico, which sells for about $400 a pound.
Most of Austin's marijuana comes from Mexico or is cultivated locally in clandestine "grow houses," but marijuana has long been transported to Texas from the areas between San Francisco and Canada, said Paul Brick, a retired Austin narcotics detective.
California leads the nation in growing marijuana, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center. It is also among 13 states that allow some marijuana use for medicinal purposes.
Austin police Cmdr. Sean Mannix said California is a source of Austin marijuana because medical marijuana is legal there and "there's a little less enforcement effort with regards to the grow houses."
This week, the Obama administration directed U.S. attorneys in states with medical-marijuana laws not to pursue criminal cases against those users. Yet the relevant memo states, "The prosecution of commercial enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit continues to be an enforcement priority."
The investigation into the Austin ring began Sept. 14 when Jesus Lopez, who had beenpulled over in Arizona,told an Arizona officer that he had been hired by an Austin man to drive marijuana to the city, according to search-warrant affidavits.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lane, who isprosecuting the case in Austin, said Lopez is originally from Austin
but had been living in California.
The other five defendants are from Austin, according to court documents and lawyers in the case.
Police affidavits depict events this way:
Lopez told Austin police that on Sept. 7, he and Hak Il Kim, 34, drove from Austin to San Francisco to buy marijuana. They met with another man — whom Lopez later identified as 24-year-old [redacted] — who had $300,000 in a suitcase and whom Kim had also hired to drive marijuana back to Austin.
Lopez told police that after they bought marijuana in Fresno, Kim took a flight back to Austin, and Lopez and [redacted] drove in separate vehicles, each carrying marijuana.
Lopez led police to Kim at his apartment on Stonelake Boulevard in the Arboretum area and to [redacted], in Southeast Austin, by telling each man that he wanted to drop off the marijuana he had transported.
After [redacted] was arrested, he began cooperating with police and led them to two other defendants — Michael Sean Green, 31, who lived in Southeast Austin, and John Anthony Davila, 23, who lived off South Lamar Boulevard.
[redacted] told police that Green had previously hired him to transport more than 110 pounds of marijuana from California to Austin and paid [redacted] $175 a pound for the transport, about $19,000.
William Austin Dawkins, 23, who is not mentioned in the affidavits, was also indicted. His lawyer, Randy Leavitt, called Dawkins a "nice kid" but said he could not comment further because he had not yet seen evidence. Lawyers for the other defendants could not be reached or declined to comment.
Lopez has not appeared in federal court on the charges, punishable by five to 40 years in prison. The other defendants have been released on personal recognizance bonds.
By Steven Kreytak