UP IN SMOKE: DAVIES
The undoing of Martin Davies’ marijuana conspiracy began in 2002, according to the search warrant in his case, when a man who would later claim to have worked with Davies was arrested for distributing ecstasy in the Ogden area. That man jumped bail but was arrested again in March 2006 for suspicion of growing 545 marijuana plants in the Las Vegas area. That’s when he told investigators about Davies. Another man who claimed to have worked for Davies was arrested in Nevada around the same time for manufacturing a controlled substance.
By March 2006, both men had cooperated with prosecutors and corroborated each other’s claims that Davies was the bigger fish. One claimed to have personal knowledge of a drug deal in which Davies, co-defendant Russell Wagher, and a third man sold at least 5 pounds of marijuana, at $3,000 per pound, to a man who shipped the marijuana to New Orleans inside computer towers.
At this point in early 2006, investigators had informants who claimed that Davies was the ringleader of a multi-state drug trafficking organization based in Ogden. On March 14, 2006, Drug Enforcement Administration investigator Matt Fairbanks and Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force Agent Juston Dickson met with the man alleged to have been involved in the New Orleans marijuana deal. It’s not noted in the warrant whether the informant was threatened with arrest to induce his cooperation.
This confidential informant knew where Davies’ and Wagher’s growing operations were located and had access to Davies’ brother-in-law’s house, which was next door to one of the grow houses. The houses were located in Ogden at 1040 12th St. and 1883 20th St., and in Eden at 4054 E. 4325 North, according to the warrant.
On March 28, 2006, the informant told investigators that Wagher had learned about one of the Nevada arrests and was considering severing ties with Davies. But Davies was not “nervous and was going to continue to grow his marijuana because that is all he has now since he had retired approximately nine years ago,” the warrant states.
Police raided the houses that day and arrested Davies and Wagher. It was a major bust for the investigators. The DEA and the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force bragged to the local newspaper about finding 763 growing plants as well as 321 harvested plants and root systems. The multi-home growing operation in which the homes did not even have residents was something of a novelty for the agents.
“I’ve never seen houses just for that,” Dickson told the Standard-Examiner days after the search warrant was executed. “It’s a pretty big deal. It’s one of the biggest ones we’ve had in years around here.”
Investigators later found a storage unit near Lake Powell owned by Wagher—he owned the whole storage facility—that also contained nearly 90 marijuana plants.
They also searched Davies and Wagher’s personal homes. They found a loaded shotgun in Davies’ home but no marijuana in that house.
Both Davies and Wagher were charged with conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and faced 10-year minimum mandatory prison sentences. All three grow houses— two in Davies’ name, one in Wagher’s—were to be seized, as was the storage-facility business. Each had investments in a company named Landlord Business Solutions LLC, operated by the same brother-in-law of Davies’ who lived next door to one of the grow houses, that were also seized.
COOPERATION NATION: ANGELOS
It was not until Oct. 30, 2002, four months after Ronnie Lazalde allegedly bought marijuana from Weldon Angelos, that police made a record of Lazalde seeing Angelos with a firearm during two of the buys. Prosecutors claim Lazalde told police right away about the gun, but the investigators’ two initial reports—written in July and earlier in October—didn’t mention it.
Why it took so many months for the investigators to note the very evidence that was most crucial to the case is at the root of Angelos’ appeal. Angelos has more than a theory of what happened—he’s got new evidence. Using Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) in July 2008, Angelos got a copy of a letter sent to Lazalde after the last time he bought marijuana from Angelos, showing that his cover had been blown and that his gang buddies knew it. He has also obtained a video of Lazalde recorded prior to Oct. 30, 2002, giving a witness statement in which, Angelos says, investigators say they’ll forsake Lazalde unless he can bring them evidence of a major crime.
While prosecutors wouldn’t discuss the case with City Weekly, lead prosecutor Robert Lund defended the 55-year sentence to The Progressive magazine in 2006: “Weldon Angelos was a member of a really violent street gang, Varrio Loco Town, notorious for violent crimes, shootings, murder, serious assault, and drug distribution,” Lund told the magazine. The Supreme Court, Lund continued, “has said armed crime is one of the biggest problems facing our country, and drug distribution is a huge problem. Epidemic. So Congress has chosen to impose huge penalties to try to deter this form of conduct. ... My obligation is to accept that when someone commits the crimes, to prosecute him and then let the courts impose the penalty that’s required by law.”
While Lund argues, as prosecutors often do, that their decision-making process is almost automated and determined by the laws Congress passes, Davies’ case reveals how they have tools to reduce penalties—even mandatory minimum sentences—when their judgment tells them it’s appropriate.
COOPERATION NATION: DAVIES
Shortly after being arrested and his marijuana network dismantled by police, Martin Davies turned on his partner, Russell Wagher. Prosecutors credit Davies’ cooperation with convincing Wagher to plead guilty. Davies also penned a 20-page document under the pseudonym “Grandpa Grow” named “Cops and Pot: What every cop should know about pot growers and growing pot,” a so-called “safety valve” contribution where he taught police how to better detect grow houses (read “Cops and Pot” here). He also admitted responsibility for growing marijuana. For each of these cooperations, Davies received formal reductions in his sentence.
For reasons unclear, Wagher didn’t cooperate with prosecutors but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge and was sentenced to two years in prison. He lost his grow house, his storage business and the investment he had in Davies’ brother-in-law’s business.
At Davies’ sentencing hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Daynes told Judge Benson that Davies was facing a 10-year-minimum mandatory sentence. Because of his cooperation with prosecutors, however, Davies was allowed to sink below the “mandatory” minimum. Daynes told the judge that Davies should serve 14 months in prison.
Benson, questioning why the paperwork related to Davies’ cooperation wasn’t done, kept the pot jokes coming. “Why wasn’t this—poor choice of words—hashed out before?” Benson asked. Eventually, though, after hearing the old-man-inthe-woods story, Benson reduced Davies’ sentence even more than prosecutors had requested. He said Davies’ lack of criminal history and his cooperation had inspired him to sentence Davies to just three months in prison and three months of home confinement.
But Davies did have a previous criminal history that was unknown to the judge, and, presumably, to prosecutors. Davies was fined 40,000 pounds for his role in a 1970s South African gold-smuggling scandal. Davies even appeared on the BBC show Panorama in 1976 to talk about the case.
Along the way, Davies was also allowed to keep the 12th Street grow house, which he transferred to a company named 12th Street LLC for an unknown sum before he was even convicted, and later was allowed to keep another property that he had purchased in 2005. Prosecutors originally sought seizure of both, before filing new motions to dismiss them.
Refusing to discuss the Davies properties in particular, U.S. Attorneys Offices Spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said seizures may be dismissed because of “the valuation of the property, insufficient value in relation to liens, costs of sale, [or] title being held by third parties.” She added, “It is also not uncommon to negotiate forfeiture issues as a part of a plea agreement.”
However, Scott York, an attorney who wrote legal briefs in the Wagher case, thinks trading seizable property for a guilty plea is illegal.