Distracted Drivers Awareness Month apparently caught Winslow Lazer Norton unawares. Now he has another distraction.
Norton is facing federal drug trafficking and money laundering charges related to a 2007 pot dispensary raid in Cherryland, near Hayward. He was arrested in San Rafael on Wednesday after a California Highway Patrol officer saw him using a cellphone while driving, then found about 2 pounds of marijuana and $15,000 in his car.
The arrest happened when a CHP officer was looking for cellphone violators on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. This month, police are cracking down on drivers using cellphones. April is Distracted Drivers Awareness Month.
The officer spotted a westbound driver using a cellphone and stopped the car on the offramp to San Quentin and Francisco Boulevard.
Smelling marijuana in the car, the officer searched the vehicle and found the marijuana and about $15,000 in cash, said CHP Officer Andrew Barclay. The driver was identified as Norton, a 32-year-old Emeryville resident.
Norton was booked into Marin County Jail on suspicion of selling or transporting marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale. He was also booked for an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in court in a traffic case.
Norton was released on bail.
Norton and his brother Abraham are in a longstanding legal fight over a 2007 federal indictment charging them with drug distribution, money laundering and conspiracy. Federal authorities said the brothers' Hayward-based business -- the Compassionate Collective of Alameda County, or the Compassionate Patients' Cooperative -- was a large-scale trafficking operation.
Authorities said the operation's revenues shot from $74,000 in 2004 to $21.5 million in 2006 and $26.3 million in the first half of 2007. Investigators seized several hundred pounds of marijuana, $200,000 in cash, bank accounts, IRAs, real estate and two Mercedes.
In addition, the state Board of Equalization lists the brothers on its roster of the top 500 sales- and use-tax delinquents. The board's website reports balances of $1,002,719.96 for the brothers and $1,007,501 for the Compassionate Patients' Cooperative.
In a 2010 interview in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the brothers said they ran the operation like a legal business -- voluntarily paying taxes, complying with permits and providing security.
They said they went into arrears on their state taxes because federal authorities confiscated a tax payment along with their other assets, leaving them unable to pay.
"They stole the money," Winslow Norton told the newspaper.
The next hearing in the federal case is June 6.
Contact Gary Klien at email@example.com.