Jason Siegfried, 28; Robert Kennedy, 25; and Nicholas Ojeda, 32, all of Patterson, and Derek Winters, 30, of the developing community of Diablo Grande were among 32 suspects charged in the matter.
The eight-count indictment alleges that owners of Grower’s Choice Hydroponics stores in Tracy and Hayward furnished lighting and growing equipment used in marijuana grow houses in warehouses and homes, including at least two residences in west Patterson.
Store owners Steven Ortega Sr. of Byron and Steven Ortega Jr. of Discovery Bay allegedly received initial capital and a share of the harvested marijuana from growers in exchange for the equipment, and laundered proceeds from pot sales through their business. After the pot was harvested, it was sold in large quantities, often to out-of-state drug traffickers, according to the U.S. District Attorney's Office.
“We will continue to target sophisticated interstate drug trafficking organizations that protect their operations with firearms,” Wagner said. “The use of legitimate businesses to facilitate marijuana cultivation and launder the proceeds of trafficking is a classic feature of such organizations.”
All the Patterson suspects were charged with conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, or intend to distribute marijuana and are subject to criminal forfeiture. Kennedy and Ojeda, who were both issued bench warrants, also face charges of manufacturing marijuana. Winters is suspected of being involved in the money laundering scheme, according to a criminal complaint filed by the DEA. He was also involved in operating a grow house in Tracy, the complaint alleged.
Siegfried was identified as a supplier of cloned marijuana plants for Ortega Jr. following intercepted phone calls in January, in which Ortega Jr. allegedly wanted to buy 300 marijuana saplings from him, according to the DEA’s affidavit.
Either Ojeda or Kennedy were believed to be renting out a home on the 1300 block of Thoroughbred Street that is believed to be a marijuana grow house, the affidavit stated. That affidavit said Winters’ brother — who is not named in the indictment but who informants say is a co-leader of the trafficking ring — owned the house, which used about three kilowatts of electricity per hour, or three times the normal usage.
The DEA reported listening in on calls between Kennedy and other members of the trafficking ring regarding drug cultivation, and they think Ojeda is a resident in the house.
The indictment comes after the federal Drug Enforcement Administration arrested 19 people during the search of several properties on May 16 and 17.
At that time, DEA officials reportedly found 14 marijuana-growing setups in San Joaquin and several Bay Area counties and confiscated 3,606 plants, 96 pounds of processed marijuana valued at $1 million, 36 firearms, a 37mm grenade launcher, eight vehicles, five motorcycles, five boats and about $400,000 in cash.
Calls intercepted on wiretaps during the investigation showed that members of the organization used firearms to protect the marijuana grow houses, according to the District Attorney’s office. Agents also found 17 electrical bypasses used by marijuana cultivators to steal electricity, as grow houses require lots of electricity to operate, according to the District Attorney.
In addition to the Thoroughbred Street address, investigators suspect that a home on the 200 block of Tissot Way in Patterson was a grow house operated by suspected 23-year-old drug trafficking ring member Joey Figlia of Discovery Bay.
On April 26, the DEA reported wiretapping a call between Figlia and a Growers Choice employee who lives on Tissot Way, in which the employee expressed nervousness about police being in the area, fearing they may “have caught a whiff, and they’re driving around or something.” The employee suggested that Figlia change filters inside the house, probably to disguise the odor of marijuana, according to the DEA’s affidavit.
Turlock Irrigation District records indicated the unoccupied Tissot Way home was using about 2 kilowatts per hour as of May 1, about one and a half to two times the normal use, the affidavit stated. In 2011, it was using three to five times the normal use, the affidavit indicated.
Investigators also indicated in the affidavit that they planned to search Winters’ home on the 9300 block of Morton Davis Drive.
The case against the alleged traffickers is the product of an extensive investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, and numerous other agencies in Northern California including the San Leandro Police Department and the METRO Task Force.
Though the statutory penalty for the charge is 10 years to life in prison, the actual sentences, if convicted, will be determined at the discretion of the court in accordance with sentencing guidelines.
• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187, ext. 26, or email@example.com.