Principal figure in medical marijuana scam gets three years in prison
OROVILLE -- Finding it to be a "criminal enterprise," a Butte County judge Thursday slapped a principal figure in a large medical marijuana scam with $107,000 in fines and sentenced him to three years in prison.
Casey James Wilkins of Chico was one of 15 individuals arrested after the names of the same medical marijuana patients were found posted in a series of "collective" grows in the fall of 2008 throughout Butte County.
Most of the defendants who entered into a joint plea bargain earlier this year have since been granted probation and given jail terms of 120 to 180 days.
Superior Court Judge Steven Howell Thursday sentenced Wilkins to the upper term of three years in prison for possession of marijuana for sale and money laundering, ordering an additional eight months on a third count of illegal cultivation of pot to run concurrent.
Assistant district attorney Helen Harberts asserted Wilkins had purchased much of the property on which the grows were discovered, and funneled profits from the illegal venture into a series of "shell" businesses in Chico.
"This was a massive fraud; it was only because of the defendant's arrogance and greed was it ever uncovered at all," said the prosecutor at Wilkins' sentencing Thursday.
Wilkins' attorney, Dane Cameron, denied his client was the mastermind behind the illegal operation. The defense attorney contended Wilkins allowed others to operate medical marijuana collectives on his various property, but did not control their actions.
While some defendants in the case purchased medical marijuana scripts from patients, there was no evidence Wilkins did so, the defense attorney contended in a presentencing brief.
Cameron said the fact Wilkins owed money on the properties and that all are now in foreclosure, shows him to be a "poor manager of money," not the sophisticated "drug kingpin" portrayed by the prosecution.
In handing down the upper-term prison sentence and large fine to Wilkins Thursday the judge said he viewed the defendant's actions "as one of a criminal enterprise, not a clumsy attempt to set up a collective."
Howell ordered a co-defendant, Matthew Herrick, to undergo a 90-day diagnostic evaluation at a state prison before sentence is imposed in his case.
The prosecutor had characterized Herrick as Wilkins' "right-hand man," and took issue with a probation report recommending he be granted probation.
Herrick's lawyer, Dennis Latimer, disputed that assertion outside of court.
"He was not a ringleader," Herrick's lawyer replied. A co-defendant, Keith Colin O'Shea, was placed on three years probation Thursday and ordered to serve 120 days in jail for his involvement in the medical marijuana scam.
Sentencing was postponed for a fourth defendant also convicted by plea, Mathew Robert Eubanks, so his lawyer can prepare a statement in mitigation. Three others are awaiting separate trials in what authorities have termed the "mega" medical marijuana fraud case.
At a preliminary hearing earlier this year, Butte County sheriff's officers quoted several medical marijuana patients as telling them that because they were unable to grow medicinal pot themselves, they had joined what they throughout were individual lawful collectives.
Many told the officers they didn't realize their doctor's scripts were being copied, sold and posted at six indoor and outdoor grow sites in and around Chico, Butte Creek canyon, Forest Ranch and Concow.
The illegal grows were discovered in September 2008. Asked what message Thursday's prison sentence in the case sends, the prosecutor replied:
"I think the message is to the voters (who passed the California medical marijuana law in 1996) "that what they thought they voted for isn't what's going on," said Harberts.
By TERRY VAU DELL - Staff Writer
Posted: 11/20/2009 12:09:23 AM PST
Comment: CA medical marijuana card holders are generally authorized between 8 and 25 plants, and are generally allowed to authorize someone else to grow for them. This had led to cases of people trading out their grow rights, commonly for the yield of one plant. There have been cases of both growers using others names at multiple sites, as well as people giving their name to multiple growers.
One of the many areas of CA med mj laws that vary widely by location, and that is so poorly defined in law that it leads to problems...