Nevada County man pleads guilty in federal marijuana case |

Nevada County man pleads guilty in federal marijuana case

A Rough and Ready man arrested two years ago at a large-scale marijuana grow pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to maintaining a drug-involved premises.

John Lester Gross III, 48, is set to be sentenced June 27 and faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

According to court documents, Gross helped organize and maintain a marijuana dispensary on P Street in Sacramento; the dispensary was supplied with marijuana grown on Gross' property.

On July 19, 2010, federal and local investigators arrested Gross and seven other men at the large-scale marijuana grow in the 11000 block of Glenn Loop.

"They had marijuana growing everywhere," Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal said at the time. "They had marijuana growing in Styrofoam cups, on trays, on top of roofs … They had gardens that had been indoor (grows), but they had pulled the canopy covers off. They had marijuana drying in a trailer. They had marijuana packaged in a safe. It was quite an operation."

The bust by the Nevada County Narcotics Task Force, along with agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency, Mountain and Valley Marijuana Investigation Team and the Internal Revenue Service, had been two years in the making.

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The homeowner, John Gross Jr., 68, had been the subject of an investigation beginning in 2008 after aerial observations showed a large marijuana grow on the approximately 10-acre property off Rex Reservoir Road. At that time, there were enough medical marijuana recommendations posted to keep the grow in compliance. But the grow allegedly increased in size between 2008 and 2010 with more greenhouses being built. The investigation allegedly revealed a marijuana plant cloning operation in addition to the distribution of large volumes of marijuana.

Agents seized 2,804 marijuana plants in various stages of growth, ranging from starter plants to approximately 4 feet in height. There was a large cloning room in addition to numerous outdoor marijuana plants and two large greenhouses full of marijuana under cultivation. Agents also seized nearly $5,000 in U.S. currency inside the residence and approximately 100 pounds of processed marijuana inside six large gun safes, several plastic totes and large plastic bags. A sophisticated enclosed cargo trailer was being used as a drying room for the marijuana.

John Gross Jr., Kenneth Gross, 42, Jack Leroy Lyons, 58, and Salvador Reyes-Saravia, 53, all from Rough and Ready, were arrested at the scene. Employees Travis Hronis, 21, of Grass Valley, Matthew Maya, 19, of Penn Valley, and Brandon Maya, 22, also of Penn Valley, also were arrested.

During the raid, John Gross III came back to the property from Sacramento, where he had been opening up the P Street Cannabis Club. He reportedly admitted to agents that the marijuana was being grown and sold to several patients from the club in the Sacramento area and was arrested for his involvement in the operation.

All eight men were indicted and charged with manufacturing marijuana and conspiring to manufacture marijuana.

The charges against John Gross Jr. were dismissed after he was evaluated and found not to be competent to stand trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Beckwith said. Charges against Kenneth Gross remain pending, but Beckwith said he expects that case to resolve soon.

Lyons pleaded guilty in February 2012 to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Reyes-Saravia is set for sentencing May 2; Brandon and Matthew Maya and Hronis are set for sentencing April 17. Their sentences were not clear from court documents, but Beckwith indicated their charges had been reduced to misdemeanors.

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail or call 530-477-4229.

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