A federal court jury has stripped Montana Cannabis of its assets, which involves $1.7 million in three frozen bank accounts.
Friday’s forfeiture hearing wrapped up the weeklong trial of Christopher Williams, one of the four Montana Cannabis partners. He was convicted Thursday of eight drug and weapons charges, and faces a mandatory minimum of 40 years in prison; he plans to appeal the conviction.
Special Agent Wesley Smith with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency testified Friday that he looked at the prices Montana Cannabis charged for marijuana on its website, as well as items confiscated during a March 14, 2011, raid of the Helena-based nursery, and estimated conservatively that the gross proceeds earned was $1.68 million during the two-year period the business was open.
“Throughout a two-year period, the prices would go up and down, I’m assuming based on the amount being grown, the type and grade,” Smith said. “The highest price was $250 (per ounce) for the upper grade; the lowest price was $190 for an ounce.”
Smith said he had heard statements from the owners that they went through 56 cycles where the plants produced marijuana, and estimated the owners harvested between 150 to 200 ounces per cycle.
He then turned to the Richard Flor outdoor marijuana growing operation in Miles City; Flor also was a partner in Montana Cannabis. Smith said they “easily” harvested at least 30 plants per year in 2009 and 2010, with each plant producing a minimum of four ounces.
“If you value that at $200 per ounce, the gross proceeds would be $48,000,” Smith said.
According to testimony during Williams’ trial, proceeds from the Montana Cannabis Miles City operation and its Billings dispensary, as well as those from the Helena facility and a short-lived Missoula store, were deposited in three bank accounts. The amounts in those accounts totaled $1.72 million.
Williams’ attorney, Michael Donahoe, questioned whether Smith had taken into consideration operational costs, like heating and lighting in the nursery when he came up with his estimate. However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Thaggard noted that by law, forfeiture of assets takes into consideration only the gross proceeds, not the net profit.
Williams also took to the stand and disputed Smith’s figures, saying that they didn’t take into account building the business from the ground as well as crops that might have been destroyed due to disease or light and temperature problems.
He added that in his experience, Smith was underestimating the harvest from the Flor property.
“The Flor residence numbers actually were larger,” Williams said. “Four ounces per plant is underestimating, so they’re not using accurate figures for gross revenue.”
Jurors, however, went with Thaggard and Smith’s estimates and decided Montana Cannabis would have to forfeit the $1.7 million spread over three local bank accounts.
The money will go into the federal Department of Justice’s asset forfeiture fund.