San Juan area men agree to deal with feds on pot charges |

San Juan area men agree to deal with feds on pot charges

Federal prosecutors have decided that 40 pounds of processed marijuana buds, 80 mature plants and a dozen firearms are not sufficient evidence to prosecute three San Juan Ridge men on pot charges.

Instead, the men accepted a plea deal this week with the United States District Attorney. In exchange, they agreed not to break the law for the rest of the year.

Donald J. Sauer, 51, of San Juan Ridge; his nephew Joseph D. Sauer, 26, of Camptonville; and Jamison Starr, 27, also of San Juan Ridge; finalized the agreement in a hearing Wednesday in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California, based in Sacramento.

The three men were indicted by a federal grand jury in October on charges of having marijuana with the intent to distribute it. Starr also was charged with manufacturing marijuana.

Under the agreement, prosecution of the charges will be deferred until Dec. 31 of this year. If the men fulfill the conditions of the deferment, the indictments against them will be dismissed.

As part of the conditions, the Sauers and Starr are barred from maintaining their greenhouses, which must remain uncovered. Their properties are subject to search without a warrant by the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office; however, the inside of their homes are not subject to warrantless searches.

The men will have to submit to drug or alcohol testing. They will not have to forfeit their property. And they must not violate any federal, state or local law.

The conditions remain in place through the end of this year.

The office of the U.S. Attorney in Sacramento released a statement saying a plea deal is “used sparingly.”

“We believe it appropriate in this instance, particularly given the limited amount of marijuana actually recovered during the search,” the statement said.

Agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, sheriff’s offices from Nevada, Yuba, Placer and El Dorado counties, and the California Highway Patrol raided eight properties on Oct. 12, 2005. All of the properties belong to Sauer family members or were recently purchased from them, according to county deed records.

Officers found a total of 60 to 70 mature marijuana plants and 30 to 40 pounds of processed and packaged cola on the properties, which have five greenhouses among them.

At Donald Sauer’s residence on the 15400 block of Fawnbrook Road, officers seized five plastic storage containers holding marijuana and 10 firearms. Sauer said he uses the weapons for hunting.

Federal spokeswoman Patty Pontello said the quantities seized were not sufficient to warrant prosecution. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew D. Segal, who handled the prosecution, was not available to answer questions about the case.

The federal agents based their case in part on the claims of a confidential source. Donald Sauer claims the source is a relative with whom he has a dispute over the ownership of a family property.

Based on that information, investigators flew overhead in late September and spotted what was estimated to be more than 825 plants on the properties.

But more than two weeks passed between that flight and the execution of the search warrants, federal records show.

About 60 people participated in the raid; that takes time to organize. “It was like the Normandy invasion,” Nevada County Sheriff’s Lt. Ron Smith said.

During that time, “a rumor got out that a big raid was about to happen,” said Sgt. Bill Evans of the Sheriff’s Narcotics Task Force. “We believe, because of that rumor, there was a mad scramble to harvest,”

Donald Sauer told The Union that he has a medical marijuana recommendation for concrete poisoning he contracted when cement got into a boot. Under county guidelines, that would allow him to grow enough plants to produce about 2 pounds of cola for personal use during the year.

Staff writer Robyn Moormeister contributed to this story. To contact staff writer Trina Kleist, e-mail or call 477-4231.

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