by Jessica M. Pasko
Santa Cruz Sentinel 08/02/2012
SANTA CRUZ – Three men pleaded no contest to a felony charge of cultivation of marijuana Thursday, stemming from a large-scale growing operation at a warehouse in Watsonville.
Ryan Tate, Brian Lincoln and John Benton were arrested in March after sheriff’s deputies seized 1,600 pot plants from a Walker Street warehouse. Deputies were tipped off to the operation by Watsonville police about six months before the raid.
Search warrants also were executed at Tate’s home in Salinas and at Lincoln’s home in Seaside. All three men originally were charged with possession of marijuana for sale and cultivation of marijuana.
Tate’s attorney, Ben Rice, said the three men hadn’t intended to run an illegal growing operation and had thought they were in the process of setting up a legal medical marijuana operation. Unfortunately, Rice said, the Sonoma County attorney with whom they spoke gave them incorrect information.
“They thought they’d done it the right way,” Rice said, explaining that Tate and his colleagues had gone through a litany of paperwork in their efforts to establish a legal operation. “I know of at least two instances of that kind of misinformation from out-of-county attorneys.”
Medical marijuana laws and regulations can vary depending on each county and it can be difficult to sort out all of the legal issues, Rice said.
Prosecutor Abel Hung said he couldn’t speculate on what the men’s intention was, but that “the evidence we gathered supported the charges that were filed and what they pleaded to.”
In exchange for their pleas, Tate and Benton will serve 120 days in County Jail, for which Judge Paul Burdick authorized work-release or another form of alternative custody if the Sheriff’s Office deems it appropriate. Lincoln was ordered to serve 90 days in County Jail, and all three men were placed on three years of probation.
Through their attorneys, Benton and Lincoln agreed not to oppose the prosecution’s potential motion for forfeiture of the seized property in civil court. The property includes a scooter and nearly $13,000 seized from Benton, as well as nearly $2,000 cash taken from Lincoln.
Tate, however, did not agree to oppose any motion for forfeiture that the prosecution may seek involving a vehicle and $28,000 cash seized from him.
Tate had put thousands of dollars of his own money into trying to get the operation off the ground, Rice said.