Crime/police headliners: Northstone Organics; Trinity County pot busts; and Woman jumps

Articla #1. Northstone Organics owner discusses federal raid

Tiffany Revelle

Ukiah Daily Journal

Northstone Organics owner Matthew Cohen confirmed Thursday that federal authorities raided his Redwood Valley home, which doubles as the cooperative’s medical marijuana garden and office.

"They came in, guns blazing," Cohen said of the Thursday morning raid. "They calmed down and were pleasant at the end, but they came in with machine guns."

The agents arrived at 6 a.m., handcuffed Cohen and his wife and stayed until about 2 p.m., taking 99 marijuana plants, computers and testing equipment, according to Cohen. He said the agents threatened to file federal charges against him, but made no arrests during the raid.

Responding to early reports about the raid, the DEA confirmed only that it was conducting enforcement operations at a Ukiah home.

DEA spokeswoman Casey McEnry said Thursday that the operations were ongoing at about noon, and that she could not reveal further information because the documents were under court seal.

California NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) reported Thursday morning that Northstone Organics was raided, and called the cooperative "a pioneering participant in Mendocino County’s innovative zip-tie program to license medical marijuana gardens."

The program, through the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, issues zip ties to growers whose marijuana gardens meet state and county guidelines for medical grows, so the growers can affix them to the plants to show compliance.

Local authorities, including the MCSO and Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force, knew of marijuana enforcement operations in the Ukiah Valley Thursday morning but did not confirm the location.

"They destroyed our house and eradicated everything," Cohen said.

He said there were six federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents, a state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement agent and a Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office deputy, who Cohen said "didn’t know what he was walking into here."

Cohen has a medical marijuana cooperative permit and zip ties from the Sheriff’s Office, and was among the first of local growers to get the permit under the county’s new Medical Marijuana Program.

Northstone has about 1,700 members, and delivers to patients in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

"If we’re not legal, nobody’s legal," Cohen said, echoing the words of Mendocino County 2nd District Supervisor John McCowen.

McCowen appeared last month in Sonoma County Superior Court to testify on behalf of two Northstone employees arrested earlier this year while reportedly driving marijuana to cooperative members outside Mendocino County.

Cohen said he didn’t know if the raid had anything to do with the ongoing court case, which is still in the preliminary hearing phase.

Cohen noted the "insane irony" of the situation, adding, "We actually are a legitimate not-for-profit corporation ... we worked with the county to get where we are, and there are illegal growers all around us. We fell under what the U.S. Justice Department said was the threshold for prosecution (1,000 plants)."

The cooperative grows the plants it distributes to members, rather than getting the plants from area growers, according to Cohen -- one of the only, if not the only cooperative in the state to do so "like is intended in the spirit of the law."

Northstone was also operating under the state Attorney General’s guidelines for cooperatives, he said, and had the county sheriff in three times a year to inspect for compliance.

What does the Thursday raid at Northstone tell local growers, then?

"Go back underground, I guess; make our community a less safe place to be," Cohen said.

Article #2. Trinity County marijuana busts continue

On Monday, Oct. 3 officers from United State Forest Service (USFS), North State Marijuana Investigation Team (NSMIT), California Highway Patrol (CHP), and Trinity County Narcotics Task Force (NTF) served three federal search warrants in the Hayfork area of Trinity County.

Two of the properties were owned by Bryan Schweder on Dirt Road and Highway 3 in Hayfork and the third property was owned by Brian Pickard on Dirt Road in Hayfork.

There were a total of 593 growing marijuana plants and over 1,150 pounds of processed marijuana at these three sites. Fifteen suspects were arrested, including property owner Schweder and co-owner Karen Niemi along with eight Mexican Nationals. Eight firearms were seized including two assault weapons. One of those had been reported stolen. Over $35,000 in U.S. currency was seized.

Two Proposition 215 recommendations were posted at the Pickard property on Dirt Road. On Schweder’s property on Dirt Road three 215 recommendations were posted and on his property on Highway 3 six 215 recommendations were posted.

On Wednesday, Oct. 5 officers from USFS and NSMIT served a federal search warrant at another property owned by Brian Pickard in Cottonwood where Pickard was taken into custody.

On Tuesday, Oct. 4 officers from USFS and Trinity County NTF collected evidence and eradicated over 1,100 marijuana plants from a marijuana cultivation site in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest that has been linked to the Schweder and Pickard properties.

There are still a few outstanding suspects and further investigation is being conducted on individuals associated with Schweder and Pickard.

The following people were arrested and charged: Bryan Schweder, DOB: 08/20/62, Hayfork, CA; Karen Niemi, DOB: 07/29/79, Hayfork, CA; Efren Rodriguez, DOB: 01/15/66, Valley Springs, CA; Lovey Thomas, DOB: 03/15/71, Tracy, CA; Frederick Holmes, DOB: 09/21/64, San Leandro, CA; Rafael Reyes, DOB: 02/07/90, Mexico; Barron Lopez, DOB: 06/07/70, Mesa, WA; Fernando Reyes-Mojica, DOB: 05/06/77, Mexico; Manuel Madrigal, DOB: 10/22/70, Mexico; Juan Vargas, DOB: 05/14/88, Raceport, WA; Victorino Betancourt-Meraz, DOB: 03/04/73, Bakersfield, CA; Oseas Tolentino, DOB: 08/06/89, Fishport, WA; Filiberto Tapia, DOB: 02/06/58, Mexico; Leonardo Tapia, DOB: 08/23/90, Corning, CA; and Osiel Alvaraz, DOB: N/A, Mexico.

Charges included: 11358 HS - plant/cultivate/etc marijuana/hashish; 11359 HS - possession of marijuana/hashish for sale; 12021.1(a) PC - illegal possession/etc of concealable firearm; 182 PC conspiracy to commit crime; and 11377(a) HS - possession of a controlled substance.

photo caption: This location on Dirt Road in Hayfork is the latest marijuana bust in Trinity County.

Article #3. Woman jumps from boyfriend’s moving vehicle

The California Highway Patrol reported Friday that Karissa L. Coffron, 18 of Scotia, jumped from the passenger side of her boyfriend’s 1997 Dodge pickup while it was traveling about 25 mph on the Newton Road onramp in Weott. Coffron and her boyfriend, 25-year-old Sean O’Brien of Whitethorn, were allegedly arguing.

Coffron was transported to St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka for a fractured arm and finger.

CHP and members of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department are investigating the incident. Drugs or alcohol are not believed to be a factor.