500-plant grow in Nevada County: For profit or for collective?
April 29, 2013
A local judge found enough evidence to hold four men to answer on felony marijuana sales charges, even though they claimed the more than 500 pot plants being grown were for a San Jose collective.
The director of the collective, Gregory Bock, claimed — in a lawsuit filed last year having to do with a dispute over ownership of the 800-acre ranch in South County — that the fair value of those plants was more than $4 million.
According to court paperwork, the Bock Family Trust bought the ranch in 1999, and it went into foreclosure in 2011. Cal-Med Wellness Centers was listed as a collective that began leasing the ranch to grow marijuana, beginning in 2009. The collective allegedly was growing six plants per patient and invested $150,000.
Bock claimed that on Sept. 5, 2011, the fair value estimate of the marijuana was $4.08 million, to be split between Cal-Med and Bock. Bock's share was broken down as $510,000 in rent, $765,000 to himself and $382,500 each to Aaron Williams and Paul Yoshitaka Lunberg.
Williams and Lunberg are named as co-defendants in the criminal case, as is a fourth man, Justin McAllister, who allegedly served as a consultant.
Bock alleged that Leo Speckert obtained a judgment in Nevada County Superior Court affirming title to the Bock Family Ranch and falsely claimed Bock was trespassing, causing the Nevada County Sheriff's Office to enter the property and seize and destroy the marijuana.
The Sheriff's Narcotics Task Force served a search warrant on the ranch on Sept. 13, 2011, and seized the marijuana that was found there.
That claim drew a rebuke in civil court from Nevada County Superior Court Judge Sean Dowling, who noted the grow had violated collective grow policies, and seemed to be criminal activity for profit.
The grow was "purely a profit making business," Dowling wrote on Jan. 3, adding there was "no rational relationship between the roughly $1.8 million Mr. Bock … would have gained … and the provision of medicine to members of the collective."
Dowling also found that in any case, the marijuana was not taken by the defendants, but by the Narcotics Task Force.
Criminal case to proceed
During a preliminary hearing Thursday into the evidence against the four men in Nevada County Superior Court, Sheriff's Sgt. Guy Selleck — the head of the Narcotics Task Force — testified Bock had contacted Deputy District Attorney Jim Phillips in August 2011 because he was concerned that helicopters were surveilling his property.
According to Selleck, the Sheriff's Office had not conducted any over-flights of Bock's property at that time, and the first time he had heard of Bock was when Phillips called him.
Selleck said he met with Bock at the property later that month, and Bock described himself as the director of a collective that was growing 500 marijuana plants on the property. Bock told him there were five growers with 99-plant recommendations, all for the collective, and each was growing six plants per member of the collective.
Bock also told him each plant was tagged and that he had all the paperwork on the patients, Selleck said.
But Selleck never was able to obtain that paperwork, he testified, even after leaving Bock a "handful" of messages.
The Narcotics Task Force did conduct on over-flight of the property on Aug. 29 and discovered two more grows, Selleck said. Deputies served a search warrant on the property on Sept. 13.
Selleck testified that Lunberg and Williams were present on the property, and that 410 plants were counted at that time. Lunberg allegedly told Selleck the missing plants had been moved to the collective.
Both Lunberg and Williams said they had been hired to grow for the collective and were to be paid a percentage at the end of the season, Selleck said.
Neither had a valid recommendation or any paperwork.
Both were cited and released at the scene, Selleck said.
Selleck testified that he was aware there was a legal title dispute between Bock and Speckert, and testified that Speckert said he had no connection to the marijuana grows. Later, he testified that Speckert had encouraged him to eradicate any marijuana found on the property.
Selleck noted that in the civil suit filed by Bock, the grower had declared the value of the marijuana at $4 million based on an estimated yield of two pounds per plant.
But according to Selleck, in Nevada County the average yield is three pounds per plant. He also noted that Bock claimed he sold the marijuana at $9 a gram, while his website listed marijuana for sale at $20 a gram, and added that a "closed-loop" collective generally does not advertise.
In response to a question posed by Bock's attorney, John Hartford, Selleck agreed that Bock's contact with the DA's office regarding the legality of his grow showed good faith.
But when asked whether Bock showed any bad faith, Selleck responded,"I wish he would have returned my phone calls."
Sheriff's deputy Jeff Martin testified that on Sept. 13, 2011, he helped search the other two grows on the property after having been part of a helicopter over-flight.
One of the grows contained about 70 plants with visible buds, and the other consisted of a greenhouse with evidence of a prior grow, Martin said.
At the first garden, Martin testified that he interviewed two men who said they were being paid in cash and were working for a man identified as Justin McAllister, who was in turn working for John Banse. Banse allegedly was leasing the land from Bock.
Martin testified that McAllister was stopped as he drove onto the property, and that a search of his truck uncovered a Glock with loaded magazines.
According to Martin, McAllister told him he was being paid to bring groceries to the growers and would receive some marijuana as payment; Banse allegedly named McAllister as a consultant to be paid depending on the yield from the grow.
Hartford argued that because the criminal complaint was filed more than a year after the warrant was served and the defendants were cited, the charges should be dismissed. Judge Tom Anderson denied his request, but indicated new motions could be filed.
Anderson held all four defendants to answer on charges of possessing marijuana for sale and cultivating marijuana.
Bock, Lunberg and Williams were also held to answer on criminal conspiracy counts, and McAllister was held to answer on a special allegation of using a firearm while committing the felonies. Formal arraignment was set for May 20.
To contact Senior Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.