6 suspects in black market pot-sale bust facing prison
Federal prosecutors say the six men accused of funneling thousands of pounds of excess buds grown on medical marijuana farms to the black market could face a mandatory five years in prison if they are convicted.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Fong said federal statutes allow for mandatory prison sentences for marijuana offenses if more than 100 plants are involved. However, prosecutors could forgo the mandatory sentences, depending on the suspects' criminal history and whether they cooperate with the investigation. "The absolute maximum penalty would be 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine," Fong said.
Fong said four named in the federal indictment released Tuesday have made their initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Medford.
Brian Wayne Simmons, Clifford Ruhland, Caleb Joseph Kulp and Scott Grantski appeared in court on charges of manufacture, delivery and possession of marijuana, Fong said.
Michael Reed Peru and John Wayne Johnson could be arraigned in the near future, Fong said.
"They are not being held in jail at this time," Fong said. The men have deep ties to the Rogue Valley and are not believed to be a flight risk prior to their trial, Fong said.
The men are believed to have grown at least 4,000 pounds of excess marijuana at medical gardens in Medford and Central Point last year, according to a federal affidavit.
The buds from these plants were in the process of drying when Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided the farms on Dark Hollow, East Gregory and Table Rock roads in October, the affidavit says.
Fong said the scope of the investigation was responsible for the nearly seven-month lag time between the raids and the indictment.
DEA investigators culled through bank records and video surveillance linked to the group as they tried to piece the case together. "It takes time to look through all this evidence and try to understand what you're seeing," Fong said.
Investigators believe Peru was a major player in the crimes, which include moving pounds of Southern Oregon marijuana up Interstate 5 for sale in Washington.
Peru made local 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.
When reached by phone Wednesday, Peru declined to comment on the claims made by the DEA in the indictment.
"All I can say is that I didn't do half of what they accused me of," Peru said. "I'm going to wait and see what happens before I make a statement."
Peru's son, identified as Reed Peru in the indictment, was arrested by Washington police after allegedly selling 12 pounds of marijuana to a police informant in Bremerton, near Seattle.
Prosecutors believe Mike Peru was selling buds grown in Jackson County in Washington.
Bank account records noted in the indictment showed that Mike Peru, Simmons and Ruhland deposited upwards of $40,000 in cash at a time between October 2010 and October 2011. Prosecutors believe the proceeds are from black-market marijuana.
Attempts to reach the five other men named in the indictment were not successful Wednesday.
Peru did say that Ruhland was the boyfriend of Kaelin Glazier at the time the Ruch teen was killed in 1996.
"He told me once that he never really got over that," Peru said.
Ruhland has a previous felony marijuana conviction, according to Jackson County Circuit Court records.
Fong said the plants pulled from the suspects' farms were "impressive" in their size and the amount of high-quality buds they produced.
"Some of these plants produced more than 10 pounds of bud," Fong said.
Oregon Medical Marijuana Program guidelines allow a registered grower to produce six mature plants 12 inches or taller per patient, for up to four patients.
There is no limit to the number of growers per site. But all the marijuana produced must belong to the patients, who can possess only 1.5 pounds of usable buds at one time.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.