Marijuana co-op duo out on bail

December 13, 2006

Josh Richman, ANG Newspapers

Two people arrested in a raid at a Hayward medical marijuana cooperative were selling the drug to anyone, not just people with medical conditions, the federal government contends.

The attorney for Hayward residents Shon Matthew Squier, 34, and Valerie Lynn Herschel, 23, the Local Patients Cooperative owner and manager, respectively, says the two were working legally with Hayward and the Alameda County Sheriff's Office.

Agents arrested the two Tuesday on suspicion of conspiracy, marijuana distribution and maintaining drug-involved premises. Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service agents raided the Foothill Boulevard cooperative and each suspect's home.

Federal Magistrate Judge Wayne Brazil told them Wednesday that each of the crimes is punishable by as many as 20 years in prison and involve maximum fines of $500,000 to $1 million.

Brazil ordered Squier freed on $300,000 bond and Herschel freed on $100,000 bond, each secured by their homes. Both are due back in court Jan. 5.

Brazil warned Squier and Herschel, 23, that although there's a 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," he said.

Until their properties can be assessed and posted to secure their freedom, their families have signed promises to pay should either defendant leave town. Herschel's parents and Squier's fiancee and sister were in court Wednesday.

After Wednesday's hearing, defense attorney Bruce Atwater noted that IRS agents took part in Tuesday's raid and that 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. He called it a "backdoor way"' for the federal government to persecute medical marijuana providers.

Squier and Herschel "worked well with the city; they worked well with the Alameda County Sheriff's (Office). ... They were compliant with state law," Atwater said. "I guess their crime is that they made too much money."

In an affidavit, DEA Special Agent Kenny Lee wrote: "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."

Reach Josh Richman of the Oakland Tribune at jrichman@angnewspapers.com or 510-208-6428.



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