Lawyer: Seized pot medicinal
A second man accused of growing dozens of marijuana plants in the Historic Five Mile House turned himself in Thursday, and his lawyer claims the crop belongs to at least five medical-marijuana patients.
David J. Gonsalves, whose father owns the Harmony Ridge landmark, had a short jail stay. The 39-year was booked on suspicion of marijuana cultivation and possession of marijuana for sale. He later posted $25,000 bail; his first court appearance is May 20.
His co-defendant, 40-year-old Anthony T. Mercer, was arrested on the same charges Wednesday, when he also posted bail. His arraignment is May 13.
Sheriff’s officers reported finding 185 plants, lamps, irrigation equipment, carbon dioxide tanks and fans on the first floor of the former restaurant, where Mercer has a second-floor apartment.
But Gonsalves’ lawyer, Kevin Hoeke, said, “That 185 number included many stalks from plants that had died in a previous effort to produce medicine.”
The remaining crop, he said, belonged to at least five people with medical recommendations, and he’s representing three of them. He claimed all three suffer chronic pain and were in compliance with the District Attorney’s Office’s “safe haven” of 2 pounds and 10 plants per patient.
“I am confident, based on everything the (DA has said), that this should not be prosecuted. I understand why they arrested (Mercer) – because they don’t know all the facts,” Hoeke said.
Deputies happened upon the garden Tuesday night after a neighbor reported hearing two bursts of semiautomatic gunfire from the house.
Mercer didn’t answer the door, and officers entered out of concern for his 7-year-old son, who was turned over to county Child Protective Services, according to the Sheriff’s Office. They also seized two rifles, a handgun and $1,333 cash.
Narcotics agents haven’t yet estimated the pot’s weight. Undersheriff John Trauner said the crop had a potential value of $555,000, figuring a pound of marijuana per plant, with a street value of $3,000 per pound.
The Sheriff’s Office is also exploring having the Five Mile House property seized and has contacted the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, which is familiar with the forfeiture process, Trauner said.
The former owner, Barbara Benuzzi, said she sold the restaurant to Gonsalves’ father, a Bay Area resident, last year. Benuzzi’s son, a nearby resident, reported the gunfire.
Narcotics agents also searched Gonsalves’ home on Banner Mountain and reported finding a small amount of marijuana and no guns or cash. Gonsalves wasn’t there.
“They heard we were coming,” Trauner said.
County court records show Gonsalves was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in 1993 and sentenced to three years’ probation and six months in jail.
Hoeke called the case “kind of ancient history” and said it didn’t involve knives or guns. “He did defend himself and get into an altercation, and it could happen to anybody.”
Records show no felony convictions for Mercer.
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