Seriously ill man gets probation in pot growing case

April 26, 2007

Henry K. Lee, San Francisco Chronicle

A Walnut Creek man who pleaded guilty to growing a large amount of what he said was purely medical marijuana was sentenced today to five years' probation after a judge agreed with a federal prosecutor that the defendant's medical condition would make a prison term inappropriate.

Roy Lewis, 54, had been facing a prison term between 57 and71 months after his guilty plea.Authorities said Lewis played a key role in the growing operation, which took place in Oakland.

At a hearing today in Oakland, Assistant U.S. Attorney George Bevan told U.S. District Judge D. Lowell Jensen that Lewis had been diagnosed with a serious illness for which he "needed to devote all his time to address and beat."

Bevan said this was a case in which "compassion on the part of the government is not only appropriate but warranted here." The federal prosecutor said this was the first time he had been involved in a case in which a defendant being sentenced was "in this sort of condition."

Lewis' medical condition wasn't disclosed in court, and his defense attorney, John Jordan, declined to address the issue after the hearing.

Lewis, his voice cracking with emotion, told the judge today, "Everything we were growing was medical marijuana -- 100 percent. One of the ironies is that I'll need it now."

In January 2006, a federal jury convicted a key co-defendant, Thomas Grossi, 61, for making his warehouse at 2638 Market St. in West Oakland available for marijuana cultivation. The panel deadlocked, however, on a similar charge involving his property at 2635 East 11th St. in East Oakland.

Investigators said they found more marijuana at Grossi's business on Telegraph Avenue in downtown Oakland.

Eight other defendants have been convicted in the case, which began with a June 2004 raid at the Market Street warehouse, where California Highway Patrol officers discovered 3,000 marijuana plants.

Medicinal marijuana advocates have criticized the CHP for calling in federal agents -- instead of Oakland police -- and said the plants were being grown for a medical cannabis dispensary with a permit from the city of Oakland. Grossi appeared in court today and was to have been sentenced, but his attorney, David M. Michael, said he wanted to wait until another co-defendant, Mario Pacetti, was sentenced so that the judge could weigh issues of "proportionality and culpability" between Pacetti and Grossi.

Pacetti was also supposed to have been sentenced today, but he won't learn his fate until May 9 because his attorney was unavailable.

Grossi will be sentenced on May 18.

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