Restaurateur sentenced in pot warehouse case

May 08, 2007

Henry K. Lee , San Francisco Chronicle

A restaurateur from Alameda was sentenced today to a year and a day in federal prison for his role in growing nearly 3,000 marijuana plants found in a West Oakland warehouse that supporters say was a legitimate supplier of medical cannabis.

Mario Pacetti, 36, former owner of the Fat Cat Cafe near 17th Street and Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, must spend 366 days in prison beginning Sept. 4, said U.S. District Judge D. Lowell Jensen.

Pacetti's wife began sobbing as Jensen pronounced the sentence in an Oakland courtroom. By boosting the sentence to more than a year, the extra day would make Pacetti eligible to have his prison term reduced, possibly by a few weeks, for good behavior.

"I know what I did was wrong," Pacetti told the judge. "I accept responsibility for it. Obviously, I will never participate in anything of this nature again."

Authorities said Pacetti helped manage and operate the warehouse 2638 Market St. that produced 2,379 marijuana plants until it was raided in June 2004. Pacetti pleaded guilty in 2005 to one count of using a property for the manufacture of marijuana.

In court today, Assistant U.S. Attorney George Bevan argued for an 18-month prison sentence, saying that while there was a "political side" to the case with respect to medical marijuana, the volume of plants grown at the warehouse violated both federal and state law.

The federal prosecutor added, however, that Pacetti deserved some consideration for taking the witness stand in the case and for helping his mother and others in Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. "I wish him well, regardless of what happens," Bevan said.

Pacetti's attorney, Steven Gruel, argued against any prison time, saying Pacetti had been part of a "social movement" involving medical marijuana. He also noted that state and federal is in conflict over patients' use of cannabis to relieve symptoms.

In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215, which allows the use of marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor's recommendation. Federal authorities say marijuana in any form is illegal under federal law.

Gruel said his client was steered toward the medical marijuana movement in part because of the death of his sister 21 years ago. She used marijuana while undergoing cancer treatment, Gruel said.

Gruel, a former federal prosecutor, started to cite the impending retrial of prominent marijuana advocate Ed Rosenthal, but Jensen cut him off, saying a comparison to other cases may be "hard to do."

The judge said that all he had before him today was the fact that "over a long period of time, there was a lot of marijuana."

A co-defendant, Thomas Grossi, 61, the owner of the Market Street warehouse, was convicted in January 2006 of a federal charge of making the property available for growing marijuana. The jury deadlocked on a similar charge involving property that Grossi's owned at 2635 East 11th St. in East Oakland.

Grossi is to be sentenced May 18.

Seven other defendants have been convicted in the case, which began with a June 2004 raid by the California Highway Patrol at the Market Street warehouse. 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.

E-mail Henry K. Lee at hlee@sfchronicle.com.



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