By Cathy Locke
A Placerville attorney has become the 15th person sentenced in a major federal drug enforcement case.
Lawrence Edward Weitzman, 66, will serve 27 months in federal prison for his role in laundering $2.96 million in drug proceeds for four-time convicted drug trafficker Gregory Sperow, 58, of Los Angeles, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Idaho.
Weitzman, a practicing attorney in Placerville, was sentenced Aug. 31 by Chief District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill. The court also imposed a $25,000 fine in addition to asset forfeitures totaling $175,000.
"Weitzman's sentencing marks the end of one of the most significant drug investigations and prosecutions in the history of Idaho's U.S. Attorney's Office," Idaho U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson, said in a written statement.
Officials said Weitzman was the 15th defendant sentenced in a multiyear prosecution of the Kent Jones organization, which had been identified as a regional priority target by the Federal Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force in Idaho. The investigation resulted in a series of indictments against defendants who operated throughout the United States importing drugs from Mexico to Southern California. The drugs then were typically transported to the Portland, Ore., area before being shipped to Idaho, Washington and other areas including Colorado, Ohio, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey and New York. In addition to importing and transporting marijuana, the group was heavily involved in growing marijuana in Oregon in the 1990s, both indoors and on public lands, according to the news release.
The original indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in Boise, Idaho, in June 2006. Weitzman was added as a defendant in a superseding indictment filed in January 2007. On Sept. 22, 2008, Weitzman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and structure transactions, with an agreement to forfeit $175,000.
The investigation was handled by the District of Idaho because it stemmed from the case of a major drug trafficker, Leland Lang of Stites, Idaho, who was successfully prosecuted in Idaho in 2002. The Jones organization supplied Lang with large quantities of drugs that were distributed in Idaho and various Midwest and Eastern states. More than $1 million in currency was seized from Lang's mountaintop residence in Stites in 2002, officials reported.
Following the indictment of Lang and other co-conspirators in Kentucky, the investigation led to the Jones organization, which originated with a group of high school friends from Days Creek, Ore. The group's activities initially involved growing and selling marijuana, officials said, but later expanded to include smuggling large quantities of drugs from Mexico and Colombia.
Weitzman's association with the group was largely through co-defendants Sperow and Dale Barker of Evergreen, Colo., officials said. Since the 1970s, Sperow has served stints in federal prison for smuggling marijuana into the United States from Mexico and South America, as well as involvement in a large-scale methamphetamine manufacturing operation in Southern California.
From January 1996 to May 2004 Sperow was a fugitive living under several assumed names while he continued drug trafficking, according to the Department of Justice. Through Weitzman's help, officials said, Sperow continued to launder millions of dollars in drug proceeds.
Sperow was apprehended in the Bay Area community of Orinda in May 2004.
Weitzman's sentencing followed five days of testimony. In its ruling, the District Court found that "the evidence was overwhelming" that Weitzman either knew, or became willfully blind regarding the illegal source of Sperow's funds by 1996, that Weitzman continued to launder Sperow's drug funds for the eight years that Sperow was a fugitive, and that Weitzman laundered Sperow's proceeds even after Sperow was sent to federal prison for the fourth time in 2005.
Call The Bee's Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.