County marijuana ring charged by feds

RANCHO SANTA FE — Federal prosecutors charged a dozen people last week, including the mastermind behind two San Diego medical marijuana collectives, for their roles in a large-scale marijuana cultivation and distribution operation.
In addition to owning the Green Kross Collective in Mission Beach and the Downtown Kush Lounge in the Gaslamp District, authorities believe Joshua John Hester, 29, operated a large grow operation in a vacant $2 million Rancho Santa Fe residence that he had his then-girlfriend, Kelsey Wiedenhoefer, purchase for him as a straw buyer in 2007.
When police raided the house on 15702 Circo Diegueno in May, they found two secret back rooms hidden behind a bookshelf where 89 marijuana plants were being cultivated under the guise, authorities allege, of the “medical marijuana” shield, according to federal court documents. Hester is also accused of operating the aforementioned collectives under the false pretense that the businesses were nonprofit medical marijuana collectives.
Wiedenhoefer, as well as Hester’s realtor, Marco Luis, are charged with one count each of conspiring to launder money relating to their involvement with the alleged ringleader, court records state. The other nine defendants had varying involvement with Hester. Some transported marijuana for him, while others worked at the collectives.
Police arrested Hester on July 9 in his West Hollywood apartment.
In 1996, California voters approved the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Federal law still deems the drug illegal. Authorities allege Hester’s collectives were operated as retail outlets selling marijuana, and were not in compliance with the state’s medical marijuana guidelines.
On paper, Joseph Nunes was the official owner of the two dispensaries; however, after an extensive investigation, which included interviews with a “cooperating defendant,” it was revealed that Hester was the “true owner” of the businesses, court records state.
Nunes was sentenced to one year in federal prison in May after pleading guilty to manufacturing marijuana, maintaining premises to sell marijuana and money laundering, several months after the two collectives were raided in September 2009.
As part of their investigation, federal agents monitored the defendants using wiretaps. Several weeks after Nunes arrest, Hester was recorded saying he was “safe” and “insulated” from prosecution for operating the dispensaries.
Authorities also point to Hester’s intent to sell Green Cross Collective for $250,000 over Craigslist, as even more evidence he was a silent owner of the business. According to the federal complaint, Hester told several potential buyers that “they” made $1.5 million from the collective. Additionally, Hester revealed over the wiretaps that the dispensaries were averaging $5,000 to $7,000 a day.


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