County harvests money out of pot crop bust
A narcotics investigation that began more than two years ago is now paying dividends to local law enforcement agencies.
Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini accepted two checks totaling more than $120,000 from the IRS Tuesday on behalf of SLEDNET, the South Shore’s multi-agency drug task force. The task force includes agencies on both sides of the state line.
The funds came from IRS seizures of houses, cars, and motorcycles belonging to South Lake Tahoe resident James R. Hoyt.
Hoyt was connected with a 99-acre marijuana cultivation site in Lake County, California. Lake County investigators served a search warrant at the site on Sept. 22, 1995, after it was spotted during an aerial surveillance. Investigators learned that Hoyt and South Lake Tahoe resident Greg Erickson were parcel holders of the cultivation site.
SLEDNET agents ended up serving search warrants at four South Lake Tahoe locations and one Gardnerville site in the fall of 1995. At Hoyt’s residence, agents found a ledger covering approximately a five-week period in 1994 for the Lake County site. Investigators said the ledger reflected a wholesale value of more than $1 million for one harvest of marijuana.
Tony Sidley, SLEDNET commander, said his agents identified numerous items purchased by Hoyt with drug money. Agents seized 5,000 pounds of marijuana, five Harley Davidson motorcycles, a snowmobile, a dump truck, a back hoe, and a residence in South Lake Tahoe, Sidley said.
“The only things that are seized are those that can be tied to illegal drug gains,” Sidley said. “This is just the beginning we expect other checks from the investigation in the next six months.”
After the cultivation site was discovered the IRS started a money-laundering investigation. In June of 1996 Hoyt, Erickson, and James A. Nelson of Plymouth, Calif., were indicted on money laundering charges.
Nelson and Hoyt eventually pleaded guilty. Erickson is a fugitive from justice, IRS officials said.
Janet Goldsmith, the IRS acting chief of criminal investigations for the Northern California district, said assets totaling close to $1 million were forfeited to the United States during this investigation.
Sheriff Pierini estimated that each agency involved with SLEDNET would receive about $20,000 from the money received Tuesday. Pierini said the funds are restricted to use for drug enforcement and education. Pierini said the majority of the Douglas County funds would probably go to support the county’s share of SLEDNET’s running cost.
“This result is why we have a multi-agency task force,” Sidley said. “Instead of making one arrest or serving one search warrant we are able to develop information from the street level to the federal. The agency’s authority in both states allows us to take investigations to the next level.”
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