Fatal freeway crash leads to medical pot bust
May 26, 2008
Denise Nix, Long Beach Press-Telegram
An investigation into a fatal freeway crash that injured a Highway Patrol officer led to the arrest Tuesday of the owner-operator of six Los Angeles area medical marijuana dispensaries, including one in Gardena.
Virgil Edward Grant III, 41, of Carson and his wife, Psyhra Monique Grant, 33, made their initial appearance in U.S. District Court on Tuesday afternoon while federal drug enforcement agents raided their shops.
The Grants were named in a 41-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury on May 20, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Virgil Grant is charged with four counts each of aiding and abetting the distribution of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school and maintaining a drug-involved premises within 1,000 feet of a school. He's also charged with drug conspiracy, conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering.
Psyhra Grant is charged with drug conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and six counts of money laundering.
Each could face decades behind bars if convicted, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
An employee, Stanley Jerome Cole, 39, remains at large. Cole allegedly sold a pound of marijuana for $5,700 to an undercover agent out the back door of one of the dispensaries, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Virgil Grant is the owner of The Holistic Caregiver, which has outlets in Compton, Gardena and Los Angeles, as well as Southern California Caregivers in Van Nuys and Western Caregiver Group and MedX in Los Angeles.
His dispensaries came under investigation following a Dec. 19 crash on Highway 101, just north of Ventura.
California Highway Patrol Officer Anthony Pedeferri had stopped driver Andreas Parra for a possible traffic violation. Pedeferri was speaking to Parra, whose car was on the shoulder, through the driver side window.
While they were talking, a pickup truck driven by Jeremy White drifted onto the shoulder and struck Parra's car.
Parra was killed and Pedeferri remains paralyzed.
Inside White's car, investigators found "a large amount of marijuana and marijuana edibles," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
White, who is charged with gross vehicular manslaughter, allegedly admitted he was under the influence of marijuana he bought from a medical marijuana dispensary in Compton, according to federal prosecutors.
The investigation led to The Holistic Caregiver dispensary.
"The consequences of marijuana use extend far beyond those who abuse and traffic the drug," said Timothy Landrum, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles.
"The individuals arrested today claimed to sell marijuana for medicinal use, but it is clear that they are nothing more than drug traffickers," Landrum said. "DEA is committed to enforcing federal laws that exist to prevent similar tragedies like this one from occurring in the future."
The prosecution illustrates how state and federal medical marijuana laws contradict each other.
While California voters approved the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, making it legal for doctors to prescribe marijuana for certain ailments, the federal government still considers all marijuana illegal.
DEA agents, therefore, continue to conduct investigations and raids on dispensaries.
Prosecutors, however, claim the Grants' dispensaries are not operating in accordance with California law.
"This case demonstrates the harm that can occur when individuals seek to line their pockets while operating under the guise of California's medical marijuana laws," said U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien.
"The dispensaries involved in this case were simply drug-dealing enterprises designed to generate profits for those who chose to ignore federal law and flout state law," O'Brien added.
On Tuesday at the MedX dispensary in downtown Los Angeles, protesters gathered outside while drug enforcement agents raided inside.
"We're waiting here because we disapprove of what they're doing, and we want answers," said Don Duncan, California director of Americans for Safe Access.
Holding signs that say "No DEA" and "Stop arresting patients," the group cheered as passing motorists honked in support.
In a phone interview, Duncan said raids like this make good people, like Grant, seem bad.
"They should focus on dangerous criminals, not on people playing by the rules," Duncan said of the investigators.
Last year, the DEA raided more than 50 medical marijuana dispensaries in 10 California counties, according to ASA.