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Drug agency reaps benefit of asset share
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The Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency was awarded more than $150,000 from the federal government Tuesday, as part of assets seized from a large scale marijuana operation in 2006.
The agency was given $154,875.11 from the $322,313.78 in assets consisting of cash and bank accounts forfeited to the United States in connection with the 2006 investigation of the California Healthcare Collective in Modesto.
On Sept. 27, 2006, law enforcement officers with the Drug Enforcement Administration, Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency, and Modesto Police Department executed a federal search warrant at the California Healthcare Collective at 1009 McHenry Ave. in Modesto, a retail marijuana store operated by Luke Scarmazzo and Ricardo Montes. On the same day, law enforcement officers executed search and seizure warrants at related locations and financial institutions resulting in the seizure 100 pounds of marijuana, 1,000 marijuana plants, 10 firearms, and more than $200,000 in cash.
Filings with the City of Modesto indicated that California Healthcare Collective earned more than $4.5 million during its 2004-2006 operation in Modesto. However, the evidence at trial established that the defendants actually generated over $9 million in sales and that much of that money was funneled into personal purchases and private accounts. On May 15, 2008, a jury found Scarmazzo and Montes guilty of conducting a continuing criminal enterprise and other drug-related charges. Scarmazzo was sentenced to 21 years and 10 months in prison, and Montes was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The convictions have been affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
"Local law enforcement is grateful for the investigation and prosecution efforts by the federal government of the operators of the California Healthcare Collective," said Modesto Police Chief Mike Harden. "The investigation was abundantly clear, that the Healthcare Collective was nothing more than a criminal enterprise distributing large amounts of marijuana under the guise of medicinal use. The arrest, prosecution and asset forfeiture of proceeds from the collective should send a strong and unified message that law enforcement in Modesto and Stanislaus County will not allow such operations to continue."
Equitable sharing is an agreement between the federal government and state law enforcement agencies to share in federally forfeited cash, property, or proceeds. Any state or local law enforcement agency that directly participates in an investigation or prosecution that results in a federal forfeiture may request an equitable share of the net proceeds of the forfeiture. Shared assets are used for law enforcement purposes such as training, equipment, detention facilities and conducting drug education and awareness programs.
The Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency is a task force with agents from the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department and police departments from Modesto, Turlock, Ceres, Oakdale, Waterford, Newman and Hughson. Working with agents from the DEA and other federal agencies the SDEA combats street-level drug dealers in Stanislaus County.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.