In what has become a familiar refrain, U.S. Magistrate Judge Wayne Brazil warned Shon Matthew Squier, 34, and Valerie Lynn Herschel, 23, that although there's a "philosophically rich" debate over the conflict between the state's medical marijuana law and the federal ban, "those debates unfortunately are irrelevant to what goes on in this court," and state law provides them no defense. "Congress gets to decide."
Squier and Herschel both of Hayward and respectively the Local Patients Cooperative owner and manager were arrested Tuesday on a criminal complaint charging them with conspiracy, marijuana distribution and maintaining drug-involved premises. Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service agents raided the Foothill Boulevard cooperative as well as Squier's and Herschel's homes.
Brazil told them Wednesday that each of those crimes is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The conspiracy and distribution charges also could carry fines of up to $1 million, while the premises charge could carry a fine of up to$500,000.
Brazil ordered Squier freed on $300,000 bond and Herschel freed on $100,000 bond, each secured by the value of their homes. Until their properties can be assessed and posted to secure their freedom, their families have signed promises to pay should either defendant skip town. Herschel's parents and Squier's fiance and sister were in court Wednesday. Both defendants are due back in court Jan. 5.
After Wednesday's hearing, defense attorney Bruce Atwater noted that Internal Revenue Service agents took part in Tuesday's raid and prosecutors are emphasizing the money that flowed through Squier's account. Atwater said he believes tax charges will figure prominently when a federal grand jury indicts the two next month, a "back door way" for the federal government to prosecute medical marijuana providers.
Squier and Herschel "worked well with the city, they worked well with the Alameda County Sheriff's Department. ... They were compliant with state law," Atwater said. "I guess their crime is that they made too much money."
But Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Kenny Lee's affidavit, filed with the criminal complaint, shows the government believes their motives weren't so altruistic: "I believe that Hayward Local Patients Co-op attempts to disguise the breadth of its criminal activity by claiming that it caters exclusively to persons suffering from medical illnesses, when in fact persons without any medical condition can purchase marijuana ... at the retail establishment."
Contact Josh Richman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 208-6428.