The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Feds shed light on Western UP pot ring

 

December 6, 2017



By RICHARD JENKINS

rjenkins@yourdailyglobe.com

KALAMAZOO — Despite awaiting trial on federal drug charges, a Bruce Crossing man attempted to restart his illegal marijuana business in Ontonagon County.

With both the criminal and forfeiture proceedings now complete, this detail and other information on the size and scope of Spencer Troy Ward’s drug operation are coming into focus.

The continued criminal activity while on bond was cited as one of several aggravating factors in Judge Paul Maloney’s decision to impose a nearly 13-year prison sentence on Nov. 29 for conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana plants and marijuana.

Another factor Maloney cited was Ward’s attempts to hide his activities behind Michigan’s medical marijuana act to convince police and those helping him his actions were legal, according to Department of Justice officials.

“Ward is simply a drug dealer, albeit a large-scale grower and distributor of marijuana in the U.P. His claims that he was merely a medical marijuana provider was a thinly veiled ruse and an abuse of Michigan’s medical marijuana laws,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge said in release announcing the conviction. “Much like other previously convicted drug dealers, Mr. Ward will have 151 months to atone for his crimes.”

Officials said Maloney also cited Ward’s 1999 conviction for transporting 167 pounds of marijuana in Missouri as an aggravating element when determining Ward’s sentence.

In addition to the 12 year, seven month sentence; federal prosecutors obtained a forfeiture order for not only the $475,254 they say he made selling marijuana in several Western Upper Peninsula counties, but also the 80-acre North Paynesville Road, Bruce Crossing, farm he used to grow marijuana.

While the order was for $475,254; online court records related to the case show federal investigators have only been able to locate $10,694 so far.

In a report and recommendation in the forfeiture case, Magistrate Judge Timothy Greeley summarized an argument made by Ward’s attorney that the $475,254 figure sought by the government wasn’t a fair figure to seek.

“Defendant argues the court should not calculate the forfeiture amount based on gross proceeds, and instead, the amount should be calculated based on net profits. Thus, defendant contends the court should take into account the actual expenses of producing and selling the marijuana, such as ‘wages, rent, water, electricity, soil, fertilizer, tools, transportation, etc’ and employee theft,” Greeley wrote. He ultimately recommended the government motion seeking the gross proceeds be granted.

Ward first came to the attention of federal and state law enforcement officials in 2014, according to the Department of Justice press release, when they received information his marijuana was entering the Lac Vieux Desert reservation near Watersmeet.

Investigators discovered Ward and associates were operating stores in Watersmeet, Iron River and Marquette and planned to open another location in Houghton. Online court records show the storefronts went by the name “Upper Peninsula Caregivers Association.”

“(The Bureau of Indian Affairs) and (Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team) executed search warrants at Ward’s farm and stores in February 2016, and found a large-scale, sophisticated grow operation that contained 186 marijuana plants in various stages of growth, and more than 100 pounds of processed marijuana,” a DOJ spokesperson said in the press release.

Records from the searched stores show Ward and his associates sold at least $475,254 worth of marijuana — at $250 an ounce, or $4,000 per pound. Records from the Bruce Crossing property show Ward had more than 40 individuals to assist him with his operation, according to the spokesperson.

A number of those helpers appeared to be otherwise law-abiding citizens who Ward had gotten involved in his criminal enterprise “by assuring them his activities were legal, when in fact, his marijuana production and sales were illegal under both state and federal (law),” the spokesperson said.

Along with Ward, six other co-defendants were convicted in the case.

—Sharon Marie Peltola, 54, of Bruce Crossing, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.

—Robert Harley Stapleton, 29, of Gwinn, was sentenced to 12 months and one day in federal prison.

—Craig Robert Asikainen, 38, of Ishpeming was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.

—Byron Hugh Adams, 41, of Ewen, was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.

—Tracy Eve LaMarch, 39, of Gladstone was sentenced to four months in federal prison.

—Peter John Jousma, of Bruce Crossing, had federal charges against him dismissed when he pleaded guilty to manufacturing marijuana in Ontonagon Circuit Court. Jousma was sentenced to six days in jail with credit for six days already served, according to the Ontonagon Clerk’s office, and 24 months probation.

 
 

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