Defense attorneys on Thursday hammered at the credibility of Michael Reed Peru, who testified against two Central Point men accused of growing thousands of pounds of excess medical marijuana to be sold on the black market.
Peru, 70, was called to testify that Brian Wayne Simmons and Michael Scott Grantski knowingly deposited money they knew to be proceeds from illegal marijuana sales.
However, Peru's own spotty history came into play following his testimony, as defense attorneys brought in former business partners of Peru's who claimed he was a liar and a "cheat."
Peru made headlines about eight years ago when he tried to build a golf course on private and environmentally sensitive public land at the site of the Billings Ranch in north Ashland. The project went belly up and the investors, including Peru himself, lost large amounts of money.
He has since pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess 100 or more marijuana plants for his part in the marijuana gardens seized by federal agents on Oct. 5, 2011, at Brian's Green Thumb Farm on East Gregory Road and another property on Dark Hollow Road.
Peru agreed to testify against his former partners in the medical marijuana business in exchange for a plea deal he hopes to get after the trial.
Peru testified earlier in the day to a series of transactions he made with the defendants. Peru claimed the marijuana grown at the farm was illegally sold for large profits. Much of the marijuana was sold in the Seattle area.
DEA agents photographed 455 large marijuana plants growing at Brian's Green Thumb Farm. They seized the plants and found 2,000 pounds of semi-dry marijuana in a barn, court affidavits state. Afterward, agents dried the marijuana and found that it weighed 1,022 pounds.
The testimony alleged that Peru opened lines of credit for Simmons to operate the farm, in effect bankrolling the operation in the hopes of making a profit.
Defense attorneys Brian Butler and Robert Stone quickly pounced on Peru's testimony, painting him as someone desperate to cut a deal with the government to knock some time off a possible 40-year sentence. The mandatory minimum sentence in this case is five years.
At one point, Butler asked Peru whether he'd want to earn a lenient sentence for his testimony at the end of the trial, perhaps even probation without jail time.
"I'd love it," Peru said from the stand.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Fong argued that he has no say-so in determining Peru's sentence and that he wouldn't use Peru's testimony if it was untruthful. Ultimately, it is up to U.S. District Judge Owen Panner to decide the sentence. Prosecutors may make sentencing recommendations, however.
This line of argument set off a sometimes heated exchange between Fong and Butler. The lawyers later locked horns over testimony concerning the language embedded in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.
The day ended with a series of witnesses Butler and Stone used to shred Peru's credibility.
Ross Waddell, a former business partner of Peru's who worked on the Billings Ranch debacle, did not mince words when asked whether he believed Peru to be a truthful person.
"No," Waddell said.
Waddell claimed Peru stole money from him in the wake of the land deal's collapse.
Ashland builder Steve Asher said he, too, lost time and money working with Peru on the deal.
"He is not an honorable person," Asher said. "He lied, cheated, stole. He's not a truthful person by any means."
Finally, Teresa Nichols, of Talent, was called as a character witness for Simmons. She said she had once dated Simmons and still maintained a connection with him.
She testified that Simmons took care of the medical marijuana patients he grew for.
"Brian's a caregiver," she said. "He really cares."
The trial should conclude today with final arguments from the attorneys before the case is turned over to the jury.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.