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Feds, Santa Barbara Police Serve More Warrants Related to Marijuana Operations

Multi-agency operation targets illegal storefront dispensaries and grow sites, with three asset-forfeiture lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court

Federal authorities and Santa Barbara police served search warrants at a medical marijuana dispensary and a grow house this week, and sent warning letters to all pot storefronts in the county that are still in business, threatening federal enforcement action if they don’t close down, according to the Santa Barbara Police Department.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service worked with local detectives to serve the warrants as part of an effort to target establishments considered illegal under both federal and state law, according to Sgt. Riley Harwood.

No arrests have been made or were planned for this operation, but search warrants were served Wednesday at the Pacific Coast Collective and Thursday morning at 305 E. Haley St., a known grow house, Harwood said.

Agents and detectives also searched the residences of the suspected operators: PCC operator Charles Jeff Restivo, 33, in Carpinteria, who is already facing felony charges related to the dispensary, and Steven Kessler, 46, in Santa Barbara, who operates the cultivation site on Haley Street, Harwood said.

Police wouldn’t say what was taken, but the search warrant affidavits allow agents to take almost anything that appears to be related to the cultivation, transportation or distribution of marijuana, including documents and records related to those activities (including recommendations/prescriptions for the use of marijuana); controlled substances; paraphernalia and equipment; U.S. currency in amounts of $2,000 or more; and high value assets like cars, boats, jewelry, electronic equipment, stocks and bonds.

DEA agents confiscated a trailer full of evidence, which smelled strongly of marijuana, from the Haley Street building Thursday morning, and likely seized items from the Pacific Coast Collective on Wednesday.

As part of the enforcement effort, three asset-forfeiture lawsuits were filed this week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles alleging that the owners “either knowingly allowed commercial marijuana stores to operate or knowingly allowed a significant indoor marijuana farm to function,” according to the statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the asset-forfeiture lawsuits were filed against the Miramar Collective in Summerland, Pacific Coast Collective and the indoor marijuana farm connected to Kessler.

Santa Barbara police have investigated citizen complaints about the medical marijuana storefront dispensaries since 2009, and so far the storefronts appear to be for-profit business enterprises, in conflict with California law set out in Proposition 215 and Senate Bill 420, Harwood said.

PCC is one of four storefronts with permits from the City of Santa Barbara, but it appears police have not investigated the other establishments, which are mandated to follow state law as a condition of the permits. While detectives have investigated collectives and found them to be operating legally under state law, all five storefronts they’ve investigated seem illegal so they’ve been raided and the owners/operators been charged with sale or possession for sale of marijuana, Harwood said.

Ventura County DEA agents loaded a van and a trailer with material confiscated Thursday from 305 E. Haley St. in Santa Barbara.
Ventura County DEA agents loaded a van and a trailer with material confiscated Thursday from 305 E. Haley St. in Santa Barbara. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

“Those operations just don’t seem to sustain themselves without having to purchase bulk quantities of marijuana, and no one knows where it’s coming from… that’s illegal and it’s not being collectively grown, so it’s outside the scope of the state laws in regard to growing and using medicinal marijuana,” Harwood said.

“We respect the law; nothing that we’ve done here has been targeting individual use, or patients so to speak, and these places are operating outside of California law,” he added.

The search warrant affidavits made it clear that the DEA had based its enforcement this week largely on prior SBPD investigations.

The Pacific Coast Collective was raided in February 2010 and authorities seized more than 11,000 plants, 11 pounds of processed marijuana, and 43 more plants and more pot at Restivo’s residence. He was listed as the “incorporator” of the collective on 2008 Secretary of State records, and was the one charged with felony drug crimes.

Restivo and his defense attorney have said that Restivo stopped being involved in the establishment after the 2010 raid.

DEA agents staked out the storefront in April this year, and saw many people enter the building and leave with small paper bags, according to the affidavit.

There is “probable cause to believe that no ‘collective’ exists and Pacific Coast Collective sells marijuana to the general public, in violation of California law,” wrote a DEA special agent in the affidavit. Dispensaries are known to sell different products — including plants, processed marijuana and edibles — have security guards, deal in cash and keep vendor and patient records, he wrote.

The indoor farm at 305 E. Haley St. was apparently used to sell marijuana to dispensaries in Palm Springs. Kessler reported a burglary of 12 pounds of marijuana, allegedly by a former employee, to police in October 2011 and said as much, according to the affidavit.

The site had been inspected by a city code enforcement team in 2010 and, when finding the unpermitted utility changes to the building to adapt it to be an indoor marijuana farm, the city sent Kessler a notice of violation.

“Given the expense involved with establishing a marijuana growing operation and profitability of an operation of the size reflected by SBPD and others in 2011, it’s likely that the marijuana manufacturing facility (at Haley Street) has been in continuous use from the October 2011 SBPD visit to the present,” the agent writes. Additionally, DEA agents know the kind of equipment and lighting system necessary to grow marijuana indoors and looked up the property’s Southern California Edison electricity bills to find an average monthly fee of $5,637 for the last year.

Between them, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and Police Department have raided: the Healing Center at 1437 San Andres St. (twice); Pacific Coast Collective; Hortipharm at 3516 State St.; Helping Hands Wellness Center on the 4100 block of State Street; Humanity on Bond Avenue; Choice Pharmacy on the 6300 block of Lindmar Street in Goleta; and Miramar Collective in Summerland.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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