By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Escalating its drive against California's medical-marijuana movement, the Clinton administration last week indicted nine Southern California residents on charges of conspiracy to grow over 6,000 marijuana plants at four separate sites, with intent to distribute. The nine-count indictment arises from an almost yearlong investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation Division, along with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.
The government has painted Peter McWilliams, a 49-year-old author, publisher and AIDS sufferer who is a leader in the medical-marijuana movement statewide, as the kingpin of the conspiracy. The indictment charges him with using his publishing company, Prelude Press, to underwrite the pot-growing operations. Since his arrest on July 23 at his Laurel Canyon home, McWilliams has been held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles in lieu of $250,000 bail.
McWilliams issued a written statement denying the government charges. "I have never sold a drug in my life," McWilliams wrote. "I have never asked or authorized anyone to sell a drug. I have never profited from any drug deal, ever."
Also indicted with McWilliams was Todd McCormick, who attained a degree of notoriety as the target of a July 1997 raid on Stone Canyon Road in Bel Air by L.A. County Sheriff's Department and the DEA. A childhood cancer survivor and medical-marijuana/hemp activist, McCormick was dubbed the "Pot Prince of Bel Air" by the media and guested with his friend Woody Harrelson on Politically Incorrect.
Other defendants include Andrew Scott Hass, 34; David Richards, 25; Christopher Carrington, 32; Gregg Collier, 25; Aleksandra Evanguelidi, 24; Renee Boje, 28; and Kirill Dyjine, a.k.a. Hermes Zygott, 33. Zygott was nabbed in the Bel Air bust with McCormick and is a well-known musician in hemp-activist circles. These new indictments supersede previous charges.
Complicating the dope opera is a series of references in the 43-page indictment to statements by members of another faction in the medical-marijuana movement, all associated with the L.A. Cannabis Resource Center. In particular, Scott Imler, director of the center and a co-author of Proposition 215, the initiative that legalized the medical use of marijuana in California, testified before a grand jury about McWilliams.
Imler said in an interview that after McCormick's bust last summer he spoke to McWilliams, who told him that he'd given the DEA all the checks he'd written to Todd and "told them the truth." When the feds came knocking on Imler's door, he says he likewise answered their questions truthfully, as he did later when called in front of the federal grand jury. Imler and the other L.A. cannabis-club employees were granted limited immunity, meaning they could not plead the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying.
From the outset of the medical-marijuana movement in California, Imler has been critical of the tactics of the more gonzo outlaws associated with the McWilliams-McCormick camp; instead, he advocates an aboveboard, by-the-book approach, keeping strict limits on production and distribution of the banned weed.
Imler and company are now being accused of egregious snitchery through Internet postings, media statements and intra-movement communiques. Ralph O. Williams III, an attorney and friend of McWilliams, sent out a written plea for bail money for his friend and accused Imler of being "the person who turned Peter in."
Imler, who has agreed to an open-door policy with the West Hollywood Sheriff's Department and City Council, has continually maintained that the only road to legitimacy is to operate under the principle of "transparency." He was critical of the scale of McCormick's crop (4,116 plants, according to the cop count), and has insisted on separating the issue of medical use from legalization and hemp.
The federal indictments portray an elaborate conspiracy to grow marijuana for profit, paid for by checks and credit cards from McWilliams' Prelude Press. According to the feds, there were four separate locations where pot was grown: McCormick's Stone Canyon residence, houses in Chino and Van Nuys overseen by Scott Hass, and another house owned by McWilliams in Laurel Canyon. Detailed throughout is a laundry list of grow equipment that reads like the classified section of High Times: electrical outlets, subpanel boxes, conduits, pumps, timers, sifters (used in the manufacture of hashish), thousands of pots, soil, scales, fertilizer, nutrients, chemicals, vermiculite, ballasts, hoods, ladybugs, fans, rockwool, a moisture meter, grow lights, light movers, light rails, lamps, trays, clear-plastic sheeting, a carbon-dioxide generator, atmospheric controllers and more.
Most of the overt acts listed in the indictment concern money transfers made directly to the defendants for rent on the residences, alleged meetings between defendants, and the seized product and equipment. The five acts in which the L.A. Cannabis Resource Center is cited quote club employees who repeated McWilliams' alleged boasts. He wanted to become the "Bill Gates of medical marijuana" - McWilliams claims the Gates reference was a joke made by his lawyer - and he intended "to become the largest supplier of medical marijuana in the country, distributing high-quality marijuana clones through the mail, and he wanted to enter into a grow contract with the club for the sale of marijuana at $4,800 per pound." Other allegations include transfer of marijuana, grow lights and other equipment to the L.A. club, and a discussion between defendant Hass and club employees about hypothetically setting up a hydroponic growing operation.