By Sam Stanton
Even after Sacramento District Attorney Jan Scully made it clear she was investigating the planned medical marijuana farm in Isleton last February, operators of the project quietly brought in more than 1,000 marijuana plants and began growing them inside the garages of three vacant homes on the property, a new grand jury report states.
But when federal authorities warned the city and project planners that they could face prosecution, a worker from Delta Allied Growers supposedly used a backhoe to bury the plants 10 to 15 feet underground on the site and all work stopped.
These are among the findings of a Sacramento County grand jury report released today that is sharply critical of Isleton city government and the would-be marijuana growers.
The 12-page report concludes that Isleton officials were blinded by the offer of $25,000 in monthly payments from the growers, and that they bent some laws and procedures to approve a 15,000 square foot farm without delay.
"The city allowed the community to be pushed into a project that is perched on the blurry edge of marijuana law without properly questioning the situation," a cover letter to the report from grand jury foreman Donald Prange Jr. reads. "It did so, not because of any desire to test the limits of the law, but because of the promise of money and jobs."
The report questions the actions of City Manager Bruce Pope and Police Chief Rick Sullivan, whose department was promised a sophisticated security system for the town by the growers.
"Neither one seemed to worry about the legal status of the project under federal law," the report states.
And it singles out City Attorney Dave Larsen, who was paid by the marijuana growers $100 an hour over his city-paid rate to "help expedite the procedural aspects of the application" for the farm.
That arrangement "suggests an improper financial interest in the project," the report states.
Pope said this morning that he needed more time to study the report before commenting on it, but he added that he is not convinced there ever were marijuana plants at the site.
Pope said he heard rumors early on that plants were being grown there and went out and inspected each of the empty homes and garages on the site, then went back out and did so again after he heard the grand jury had been told plants were on the site.
"One of our agreements was that there would be no plants brought to that property until the growing facilities and the internal security and external security with cameras and computers and all the support equipment was operational," he said. "We never got to that point, so there never should have been any plants out there.
"If it turns out there were that's something I'm not going to be pleased about."
Delta Allied officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment today.
No criminal charges have been filed in connection with the probe of the project, and the grand jury made it clear that the investigation by Scully's office may not be over.
The grand jury, which summoned the entire city government for secret testimony in April, offered immunity to all witnesses except for Larsen and Michael Brubeck, the owner of Delta Allied Growers.
Isleton, a Delta town of about 840 residents with perpetual money woes, was first approached by Brubeck in July 2010.
"The city manager responded with alacrity, setting up a timeline that would bring the project to the council for approval by early September," the report states, adding that Delta was not a legal entity at the time and was not incorporated as a non-profit until after the council approved the plan.
The project was to be built on the northern edge of town in a city block where 18 new homes had been built just before the housing bust. The homes were empty, and Brubeck's workers envisioned constructing a series of grow houses behind secure fencing to grow the marijuana.
The business plan called for the plants to be sold to dispensaries in Southern California operating under the state's medical marijuana law.
No one bothered to seek advice on the legality of the project from either federal officials or Scully's office, the report found, adding that Brubeck's operation promised to pay the city as much as $600,000 in just the first year of operation.
But there were problems from the outset.
The company agreed to pay $120,000 in fees. One check from Delta for $25,000 bounced, the report said, but it was later honored.
The source of the company's funding is still unclear. One employee told the grand jury that a company in China had invested $1.3 million in Delta.
The company began paying Isleton $25,000 a month last fall as Delta began work at the site, and by April six grow houses were being constructed.
Scully's office notified the city in February that it had serious questions about the legality of the project, but Isleton officials rejected her concerns.
Despite Scully's questions, Delta Allied workers brought in more than 1,000 immature marijuana plants and placed them inside the garages of three model homes on the site, the report states.
"Garden hoses provided irrigation and generators provided power for fans and lights inside the garages," the report states. "The lights were on and fans were running day and night.
"One witness testified no lights were visible because there were no windows in the garages."
Workers continued to cultivate the plants until early May, when U.S. Attorney Ben Wagner sent a letter to the growers and city officials warning them that the project violated federal law, according to the report.
"According to testimony from the construction manager of DGA, the owner told him to bury the plants," the report says. "The witness testified that the plants were buried 10 to 15 feet underground without verification by any city official."
The site was abandoned after Wagner's letter. Last week, only three of the partially constructed grow houses remained, and large piles of dirt could be seen on the western edge of the property.
Pope said those piles had been on the site previously and were not related to the marijuana operation. He added that his visits to the site showed no evidence of marijuana being buried there.