3 take plea in pot case | TheUnion.com

3 take plea in pot case

Three men facing felony marijuana sales charges in regard to a 500-plant grow for a San Jose collective took plea agreements in Nevada County Superior Court Tuesday in return for being placed on 18 months informal probation.

Gregory Bock, Aaron Williams and Paul Yoshitaka Lunberg previously had been arraigned on charges of possessing marijuana for sale and cultivating marijuana, as well as criminal conspiracy, but agreed to plead no contest to a misdemeanor charge of maintaining a place for the cultivation and distribution of marijuana.

Deputy District Attorney Jim Phillips cited the age of the case, which dates to August 2011, and the delay in filing charges, as part of the reason he negotiated a plea agreement that included no jail time.

“The case is a little unusual,” he said, noting that Bock, the director of the collective, had initially approached the sheriff’s office over compliance concerns. “This is more (a case of) an imperfect cooperative, rather than an overt black-market operation.”

In a May interview with The Union, Bock said the grow was never about profit.

“It wasn’t about money, it was about making people feel better,” he said.

Bock described a vision for the collective that involved “thinking big,” ensuring high-quality medicine through product testing and experimenting with edibles such as lollipops and cakes.

“We were trying to interpret the law the best we could,” he said. “We weren’t selling it to teenagers with headaches … We had patients with cancer. I’m just disappointed we got caught up in this (criminal case).”

Bock said that $4 million profit claimed in a civil suit was “an IRS issue” and said that he advertised high prices to offset his practice of selling medical marijuana for less to those who couldn’t afford it.

“I wanted to put some legitimacy into the industry,” he said. “I’m not a drug dealer hiding in the bushes, making a million dollars in profit.”

Plea agreement includes growing restrictions

All three men agreed to the deal, which included restrictions against growing for a collective or a cooperative and the forfeiture of the marijuana and firearms seized in September 2011.

John Hartford, the trio’s attorney, described the sentence as a “slap on the baby finger.”

Hartford added it was an easy deal to recommend to his clients, even though he said he felt confident he would have prevailed at trial, which was set to begin July 16.

During an April evidentiary hearing, Nevada County Sheriff’s Sgt. Guy Selleck — the head of the Narcotics Task Force — testified Bock had contacted Phillips in August 2011 because he was concerned that helicopters were surveilling his property.

Bock described himself as the director of a collective that was growing 500 marijuana plants on the property and told Selleck there were five growers with 99-plant recommendations, with each growing six plants per member of the collective.

Bock said each plant was tagged and that he had all the paperwork on the patients, but Selleck testified he never was able to obtain that paperwork.

The Narcotics Task Force conducted an over-flight of the property on Aug. 29, 2011, and discovered two more grows, Selleck said. Deputies served a search warrant on the property on Sept. 13.

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.

Complicating the legal situation for Bock was a lawsuit filed last year having to do with a dispute over ownership of the 800-acre ranch in South County, in which he claimed that the fair value of the marijuana 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.

In the suit, 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 Williams and Lunberg.

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. In the preliminary hearing, Selleck testified that he was aware there was a legal dispute between Bock and Speckert and said Speckert had encouraged him to eradicate any marijuana found on the property.

To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email lkellar@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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