A massive DEA operation featuring dozens of heavily armed agents and at least four helicopters ended with the arrests of five people in California's Lake County last week. According to California NORML, the arrests are believed to be the first since the Obama administration announced it would not target medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal unless they violated both state and federal law.
The DEA seized 154 marijuana plants from Upper Lake resident Tom Carter, and arrested him, former UMCC dispensary operator Scott Feil and his wife, Steven Swanson, and Brett Bassignani. Carter is a registered medical marijuana patient and provider, and his wife, Jamie Ceridono, told the Lake County News he was growing for several patients and his grow was legal under state law.
The genesis of the bust appears to lie with an alleged May deal between a DEA informant and Bassignani to purchase marijuana. According to documents filed by Carter's federal defenders late last week, the informant claimed to have arranged to buy marijuana from Carter and to have left a voicemail message for Carter to set up the deal. That same informant allegedly made a deal to buy marijuana from Bassignani.
In the document, the federal defenders said prosecutors made no claim that Carter ever heard the phone message the informant allegedly left, and they set out no evidence linking Carter and the informant.
"All the complaint says is that another individual, Mr. Bassignani, called the informant, claimed he worked for 'Carter Construction,' and arranged a marijuana deal," Carter's defense attorneys wrote. "The deal later took place, and the only other reference to Mr. Carter is the conclusory claim that the informant 'had agreed on the price with Carter.' No context, no specifics, and no other information is provided in the complaint which indicates that Mr. Carter in fact talked to the informant, arranged a marijuana deal, and indicated that he (Carter) was knowingly involved in a marijuana transaction."
Moving that the two felony counts of marijuana trafficking against Carter be dismissed, the attorneys added: "This complaint is sadly deficient with regard to whether Mr. Carter has done anything to indicate that he conspired to break the law. It should be dismissed accordingly."
It is unclear why Feil and his wife were arrested. They are neighbors of Carter and his wife.
Carter and Feil are being held in Oakland, where they are set to have initial detention hearings this week. Federal prosecutors have asked that Carter be held pending trial "on the basis of flight risk and danger to the community."
Carter is a long-time resident of Upper Lake, prominent construction contractor, and community benefactor.
"California already has enough federal marijuana criminals," said CANORML coordinator Dale Gieringer, "It's time for concrete changes in federal law."
While the Obama administration has announced it would not go after law-abiding medical marijuana providers, the DEA has conducted at least two raids against providers in San Francisco and Los Angeles, although there have been no arrests in those cases. The administration has not announced any changes in federal laws or regulations around medical marijuana, and Bush appointees continue to serve in the DEA and the US Attorney's Office of Northern California, which is prosecuting the case.