Drug Enforcement Administration

Los Angeles

David Downing, Special Agent in Charge

June 18, 2018

Contact: SA Timothy Massino

Phone Number: (213) 621-6700

Former LAPD officer sentenced to 60 months in federal prison after illegal drug lab exploded in his garage

(LOS ANGELES) - A former Los Angeles Police Department officer whose garage explosion revealed the makeshift lab where he used butane to extract hash oil containing tetrahydrocannabinol, or “THC,” from marijuana plants, was sentenced to five years in federal prison. Joseph Jay Spadafore, 64, of Menifee was sentenced this morning by United States District Judge John F. Walter after a federal jury found him guilty of maintaining drug involved premises. The sentence stems from an investigation conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration. 

During the trial in March, 2018, a jury heard evidence that Spadafore, who was an LAPD officer from 1976 to 1991, converted a house into a drug lab where he extracted hashish oil containing THC from marijuana plants using a dangerous process involving butane, a highly flammable gas. A Los Angeles Fire Captain testified about the 911 calls from neighbors reporting a loud explosion just before midnight on November 3, 2017, and a call from Spadafore himself at the house in a residential neighborhood in Lake Elsinore. 

At the time of the explosion and subsequent fire, Spadafore was the only person living at the house, which the homeowner believed had been rented to a different man residing in Florida. When the firefighters arrived to combat the blaze, the entire garage was engulfed in flames and Spadafore was the only person present. When the firefighters swept the house for additional occupants, they instead found what they immediately recognized as potentially hazardous lab equipment and chemicals in almost every room. Law enforcement subsequently seized at least 22 propane tanks in the garage, dozens of soda kegs and other large containers filled with extracted THC, jars of THC powder, butane and trash bags filled with marijuana. In total, law enforcement found over 28 liters of hash oil containing THC scattered in virtually every room of the residence, which had been converted almost entirely into a drug lab. 

The jury heard testimony that the only room in the home that appeared occupied was the master bedroom, which was filled with Spadafore’s mail and personal belongings, including two firearms. One firearm was loaded and found underneath Spadafore’s pillow. 

At sentencing, Judge Walter rejected Spadafore’s argument that he was simply “crashing” at the house because he needed a place to sleep, finding that he was involved in the manufacture of hash oil at the house and that Spadafore possessed the two firearms to protect himself and the drugs, which were valued at between $300,000 and $500,000. Among the factors Judge Walter cited as influencing his sentence were Spadafore’s lack of any acceptance of responsibility or remorse for failing to warn first responders about the dangerous quantities of butane and propane inside the home and garage before they entered to conduct a safety sweep when responding to the fire.

This case was investigated by the DEA’s Riverside District Office. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jehan M. Pernas and Frances S. Lewis of the General Crimes Section and Kathy Yu of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Section.

 

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