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Pot farmer sentenced to 20 years

A 61-year-old Glenwood man who built and operated a sophisticated underground commercial marijuana farm was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison.

Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura told Charles “Chuck” Lanham that if he served three-and-a-half years in prison without being paroled, Nakamura would consider granting him probation at that time, if still on the bench. Nakamura’s term expires on April 17 but he has petitioned the Judicial Selection Commission for another 10-year term.

Lanham pleaded guilty on Nov. 22 to first-degree commercial promotion of marijuana, a Class A felony. Several other drug- and paraphernalia-related charges were dropped in exchange for his plea. Lanham’s partner, 68-year-old Linda Lee Stallings, also faces commercial promotion charges, but it is expected that the state will drop charges against her as part of Lanham’s plea deal.

The couple was arrested on Feb. 28, 2013, after police and state Narcotics Enforcement Division agents raided their property and recovered more than 500 marijuana plants between 3 and 4 feet tall, about 10 pounds of dried marijuana and a small amount of hashish from the underground bunker and surrounding property.

Deputy Prosecutor Rick Damerville argued in support of the prison sentence.

“It’s not the biggest marijuana case in the history of Hawaii County, but it’s the biggest in a long time. And I think the appropriate sentence is prison,” he told the judge.

Bill Heflin, Lanham’s court-appointed attorney, asked the judge to consider probation with a shorter jail term, arguing that Lanham understands the severity of the charge and that the court needs to deter others.

“I think sentencing a 61-year-old man with medical problems with no previous arrests or prison is not necessarily the only way to send that message,” he said. “I believe if the court were to sentence him to probation, albeit with jail up to 24 months, I believe that message would be sent. If the court were to do that, Mr. Lanham would be on probation until he is 71 years old.”

Prosecutors have filed a forfeiture suit seeking to seize $4,994 in cash, a 2008 GMC Acadia sport utility vehicle, a 2002 GMC Sierra 2500 four-wheel drive heavy-duty pickup truck, a backhoe, trailer, three diesel generators and other tools. Prosecutors valued the items for forfeiture at about $76,000.

In an affidavit accompanying the forfeiture action, Stallings described the marijuana she and Lanham grew in the 40-by-80-foot underground bunker on Kokokahi Road as top medicinal grade and “totally gourmet.”

According to the document, Lanham told police that he was grossing between $350,000 and $500,000 a year, and his net take-home pay was between $65,000 and $75,000 a year. He said he paid taxes and claimed approximately $50,000 a year in income, and that he was living comfortably but not extravagantly.

“To his credit, when he was arrested, he instantly gave the most detailed confession I’ve ever seen of any client in my history,” Heflin told the judge. “I even told him, frankly, that I would have advised him to say nothing. But Mr. Lanham went into great detail about his entire business operation.”

Lanham apologized to the court and said he realizes he “did make a mistake in distributing marijuana to the public.”

“It was economical at the time. I’m remorsed that I have abused the society, making them suffer for it,” he said.

In passing sentence, Nakamura said he found Lanham’s statements about his gross revenues and net income from marijuana as “particularly striking.”

“It’s pretty clear you had a commercial marijuana growing operation,” the judge told Lanham. “You have no prior criminal history, but because of the seriousness of the offense, the court believes a prison sentence is appropriate.”

Stallings, who is free on bail, sobbed in the courtroom gallery when Nakamura announced the 20-year sentence.

Afterward, Heflin described the sentence as “unfortunate” but “consistent with what the courts have been doing for commercial promotion.”

“Mr. Lanham had no (prior) criminality but still found himself given this harsh sentence, and I hope the community recognizes that marijuana is not legal here yet. And anybody who makes that decision is running the risk of spending 20 years in prison,” he said. “When you’re this old, you should be looking forward to your retirement and enjoying your life, not spending the rest of your life in prison. It’s very unfortunate he’s stuck in this situation.”

Damerville said courts have an obligation to be consistent in sentencing and noted the 20-year prison term handed to 65-year-old David Finley Jr. in April 2008 by Hilo Circuit Judge Glenn Hara. More than 75 pounds of processed marijuana were seized in a January 2007 raid on Finley’s Volcano property.

“A 20-year sentence doesn’t mean a 20-year sentence in Hawaii,” Damerville said. “If you look at the records, I think he did a little over three years. That’s why the court put on the record that if Mr. Lanham does three-and-a-half years and doesn’t make parole, that he would suggest that if he is the judge, or whoever the judge is, he may want to reconsider the sentence.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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