JULY 19 (FRESNO, Calif.) — The owner of two commercial office buildings in Bakersfield has paid $1,675,000 to the United States to resolve claims that the buildings were used to house marijuana retail stores and large-scale indoor marijuana cultivation operations, Acting Special Agent in Charge Bruce C. Balzano and United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
Nedeljko “Ned” Strizak, the owner of properties on 4100 Easton Drive and 4700 Easton Drive in Bakersfield, leased several commercial office suites to the operators of a marijuana retail store, as well as operated his own marijuana retail store at the Easton Drive properties. Strizak also leased many commercial office suites for large-scale indoor marijuana cultivation, as well as conducted his own large-scale indoor marijuana cultivation at the Easton Drive properties. A complaint for forfeiture of the properties was filed on October 6, 2011, and a settlement was reached allowing a payment of $1,675,000 in lieu of the properties.
The two marijuana retail stores, American Green Farmers and Botanica Collective, sold, distributed, and provided marijuana for sale and profit. During the search of the Easton Drive properties, law enforcement agents found and seized approximately 1,452 live marijuana plants, 6,721 grams of processed marijuana, 396 grams of hash oil, and 114 pieces of marijuana cultivation equipment that included 61 grow lights and 53 power ballasts.
Strizak allegedly started his marijuana retail store with the expectation that it would be lucrative, as he had observed the neighboring marijuana retail store, American Green Farmers, become profitable. Strizak allegedly invested $120,000 into Botanica Collective, with the goal that the business would net him approximately $100,000 per month in profit. Law enforcement agents located a document at the Botanica Collective premises that listed daily customer sales goals needed to reach the $100,000 per month net profit goal. Despite claiming that it held a valid City of Bakersfield business license, Botanica Collective was licensed only for the manufacture of “coffee and tea.” Upon inspection of the premises, law enforcement agents found no evidence related to a coffee or tea business.
“Whether the individuals involved cultivate marijuana, or distribute marijuana, or sell marijuana, or knowingly lease premises to conduct such activities, or, as in this case, do all of the above—the United States, in partnership with local law enforcement, remains firmly committed to pursuing large-scale commercial marijuana enterprises whose primary goal is the reaping of vast profits,” said U.S. Attorney Wagner.
This case was the product of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bakersfield Police Department, and the Southern Tri-County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (STC HIDTA)Task Force, which currently consists of agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Bakersfield Police Department, and Tulare County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Mardel Jones prosecuted the forfeiture action.
The Eastern District of California has also recently forfeited an additional four parcels of property valued at approximately $200,000, as part of a marijuana forfeiture action. In United States v. Real Property located at 281 Pine Forest Road, Hayfork, California, Trinity County, Docket No. 2:12-cv-01900-KJM-KJN, four parcels of land in Trinity County were utilized by Ryan Raketti to cultivate marijuana as part of his multistate marijuana trafficking enterprise. In February 2012, agents seized approximately 239 pounds of processed marijuana, $91,440 cash, guns, ammunition, and drug paraphernalia at the parcels. Several months later, after a forfeiture complaint had been initiated against the parcels, agents discovered another marijuana cultivation at the parcels. In connection with his marijuana criminal enterprise, Raketti recently pleaded guilty in federal court in Eastern District of Wisconsin, and the properties were ordered forfeited in the Eastern District of California.