Drug agents arrest 15 in raids on major marijuana club

October 03, 2006

Demian Bulwa, Jaxon Van Derbeken, San Francisco Chronicle

 

Federal agents went after a major Bay Area marijuana club Tuesday, raiding eight locations in San Francisco and Oakland, arresting 15 people including the group's leader and seizing nearly 13,000 plants.

The target of the raids, which prompted swift criticism from some medical marijuana advocates, was New Remedies Cooperative and its 36-year-old leader, Sparky Rose. The San Francisco resident is well-known in medical-marijuana circles and has been under investigation for several months.

The group, formerly known as Compassionate Caregivers, ran a dispensary in the Mission District, a pair of cultivation warehouses on Polk and Tennessee streets, and a temporary-employment agency for pot growers called Potent Employment Solutions, said Javier Peña, who heads the Drug Enforcement Administration's San Francisco office.

Rose, whose convertible Porsche Carrera was one of four cars seized by federal agents, was arrested at his home on suspicion of conspiring to distribute marijuana and laundering proceeds, Peña said. In addition to the plants, federal agents seized $125,000 in cash Tuesday.

"Make no mistake, the defendants were in the business of dealing dope," Peña said in an interview. "They were using the pot clubs as facades to make millions of dollars. We're trying to show the public these aren't for the sick or ill. (The goal) is to pocket drug proceeds."

The raids prompted a group of protesters to gather outside the New Remedies club on Mission Street near 14th Street, where federal agents used sledge hammers to break up ATM machines inside the business. Authorities said marijuana was being grown inside the dispensary, one of an estimated 30 to 40 medical-marijuana clubs in San Francisco.

Representatives of the New Remedies Cooperative and Rose were unavailable for comment. But other advocates of the medicinal use of marijuana said the raids were uncalled for.

"This is an outrageous waste of resources,'' said Shona Gochenaur of Axis of Love San Francisco, a medical marijuana advocacy group.

San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly said he was concerned about a raft of recent federal raids on pot clubs in Northern California.

"Generally speaking," Daly said, "swooping in is not helpful in terms of the safe distribution of medical cannabis to those who need it."

Under Proposition 215, passed by state voters in 1996, it is legal in California to use medicinal marijuana with the recommendation of a doctor. Federal anti-drug laws, however, contain no such exemption for cannabis. Drug Enforcement Administration spokeswoman Casey McHenry said Tuesday that "everyone that sells marijuana or cultivates marijuana is at risk."

New Remedies continued to operate even though the government moved in November to seize $1.5 million in assets, records show. The company, which has operated more than a half-dozen storefronts around the state as a nonprofit enterprise, bought marijuana from growers and distributed it from Oakland by courier vans, the government alleged in that civil action.

Prosecutors said the club's patients were given the names of doctors willing to prescribe medical marijuana and would then receive a prescription without being given a physical examination. One doctor saw 49 patients in one day, at $150 each, prosecutors said.

Besides Rose, those arrested Tuesday were James Daley, 56, and Sean Anderson, 22, of San Francisco; Johnny Seto, 32, Mark Miller, 53, and Tracy Smith, 32, of Alameda; Kevin Ellis, 28, and Jason Matthewson, 29, of Pinole; Alfaro Munoz-Bebullida, 33, and Steven Navarro, 35, of Richmond; Mistalee Chiame Wang, 25, and Jaime Perreira, 26, of San Leandro; Ben Blair, 31, of San Pablo; Irene Matsuoka, 27, of Crockett; and Amber Froiness, 26, of Berkeley.

E-mail the writers at dbulwa@sfchronicle.com and jvanderbeken@sfchronicle.com.



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