The owner of six Los Angeles-area medical marijuana dispensaries was arrested by federal agents Tuesday after an investigation sparked by a traffic accident in which a motorist allegedly high on one of the dispensaries' products plowed into a parked SUV, killing the driver and paralyzing a California Highway Patrol officer.
In the aftermath of the Dec. 19 accident, investigators found "a large amount of marijuana and marijuana edibles" in the pickup truck driven by the suspect, Jeremy White, 20, of Paso Robles, Calif., according to federal authorities.
White allegedly admitted to being under the influence of marijuana that he said he obtained from a dispensary in Compton.
Investigators traced the marijuana to the Holistic Caregivers facility in Compton, one of six dispensaries owned and operated by Virgil Grant, 41. Grant's other facilities are in Gardena, Los Angeles and Van Nuys.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents set up undercover buys at each of the facilities, in which an operative with a doctor's recommendation but with "no serious medical ailments" was sold medicinal marijuana, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
In one transaction, a dispensary employee sold the informant a pound of marijuana for $5,700 out of the back door of the facility, the affidavit states.
Grant and his wife, Pshyra, 33, were arrested Tuesday morning at their home in Carson after being charged in a 41-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury last week.
Virgil Grant was charged with drug conspiracy, money laundering and operating a drug-involved premises within 1,000 feet of a school. Pshyra Grant was charged with drug conspiracy and 22 counts of money laundering.
At a bond hearing Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Atty. Mark Childs asked that Virgil Grant be held without bail, noting that he had previous conviction on drugs- and weapons-related offenses. Bond was set at $250,000 for Virgil Grant, and $50,000 for his wife.
Virgil Grant's attorney, Roger Rosen, said his client would plead not guilty, but declined to comment further.
Also indicted was Jerome Cole, 39, the employee who allegedly sold the pound of marijuana to the DEA operative. Cole was being sought by authorities.
The sale of marijuana for medical purposes is allowed under state law. But federal law prohibits its sale under any circumstances. Given that difficult legal landscape, federal authorities tend to prosecute cases in which dispensaries aren't in compliance with state law or in which there is some other aggravating factor.
Even before last week's indictment, Compton officials were "trying to rid the city" of Grant's dispensary, according to court papers.
A deputy city attorney told DEA agents that Grant initially obtained a business license for an "herbal" retail store. Only later did city officials learn that he was operating a medical marijuana dispensary, the court papers allege. His license has since expired, but Grant continued doing business, despite being cited by code enforcement officers for operating without a license.
The accident that prompted authorities to begin investigating Grant occurred after CHP Officer Anthony Pedeferri had just pulled over Andreas Parra, a 20-year-old motorist from Phoenix, during a routine traffic stop.
Pedeferri had dismounted his motorcycle and was talking to Parra when White's pickup drifted out of the northbound lanes of the 101 Freeway near Ventura and careened into Parra's SUV. Parra was killed.
Pedeferri, a triathlete and the father of two girls, was knocked out of his boots and thrown 20 yards into brush along the side of the road, according to news reports. He was left paralyzed by his injuries.
White was charged with gross vehicular manslaughter and is awaiting trial. At his preliminary hearing in April, a Ventura County sheriff's forensic expert testified that there was a high concentration of marijuana in White's blood at the time of his arrest, according to an article in the Ventura County Star.
"It's one of the highest levels I recall seeing," Dea Boehme, a supervisor with the Ventura County sheriff's Forensic Sciences Laboratory, testified.