Saturday, April 16, 2011

Medical Pot Farm Puts Isleton officials on Grand Jury Hot Seat -- Again

By Sam Stanton
Published: Friday, Apr. 15, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
When word comes in Isleton that officials are the subject of a grand jury probe, it hardly seems shocking.

Seven times since 1995, a grand jury has probed the tiny Delta town's fiscal woes, administrative weaknesses or its police department.

Make that eight.

A flurry of grand jury subpoenas were delivered to city officials at a council meeting Wednesday night, ordering them to appear April 27 for secret testimony before the Sacramento County grand jury.

District Attorney Jan Scully's office would not comment on the probe Thursday.

But, as is common for this town of just more than 800 residents, people are talking.

This latest investigation is aimed at an ambitious medical marijuana growing operation the city approved last September in exchange for promises of monthly payments of at least $25,000.

"There was plenty of concern, but it's a legal business and we treated it as such," said Councilman Robert Jankovitz, who supported the plan and, as a reward, received a subpoena.

"We tried to do everything right and aboveboard in the development agreement," he added. "They were required to do everything in a legal manner; otherwise, according to the agreement, we can shut them down."

The planned pot farm has hardly been a surreptitious effort. The first thing you see entering town from the north is the framework of six "hoop houses" that will be covered in plastic sheeting to create greenhouses.

The greenhouses sit in the middle of a failed housing development of four brightly colored model homes and 14 houses that fell victim to the housing collapse in 2007.

The marijuana operation, a nonprofit called Delta Allied Growers, is leasing the 50- acre parcel with plans to buy it and create a permanent – and legal – pot-growing center.

"There's no cash on premises, no sales happening on premises," said Dan Holland, the company design director who was overseeing construction at the site Thursday.

"The misperception is the weed is going to be flowing on the streets of Isleton, that you can get it and everybody's going to get high. Really, that's not us."

Holland says his company hopes to have plants growing at the site – under strict watch and behind secure fencing – within two to three weeks. Delta Allied has been paying Isleton, which is perpetually broke, $25,000 monthly since October, Holland said.

Once the growing operation begins to generate revenue, he said, Delta Allied will follow through on installing "military-grade" surveillance cameras for the site, as well as the entire town, allowing police to monitor the streets from an office or a squad car.

Isleton's current police force consists of its chief, Rick Sullivan, who also got a subpoena.

Holland said the grand jury probe may delay the nonprofit's progress, and people in town are speculating openly about what's behind the investigation.

Holland and some council members say rumors are rampant that a disgruntled citizen called Scully's office claiming the development deal was tainted by Delta Allied building new homes for someone in power.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Samano said she was handed a subpoena over rumors that investigators believe "that somebody was rubbing somebody's back."

City Manager Bruce Pope said the subpoenas were issued simply because "Jan Scully just got in the writing mood."

Pope said he and the city attorney met with Scully a month ago and offered their full cooperation, but "basically their whole attitude has been nasty."

"We're a city," Pope said. "Everything we do is public, with some small exceptions.

"Nobody built a house for anyone, no one's palms were greased. It may be that the DA doesn't understand land use planning law."

Holland also said the premise of under-the-table payments is nuts. "Nobody in the city's gotten kickbacks, nobody's gotten a car," he said.

City officials plan to meet tonight to discuss the matter, but it seemed to have caused barely a ripple on Main Street, where only a handful of shops and restaurants are hanging on.

"I hear different things from people that live here," said Maria Vasquez, who runs the Hair Loom salon and notes that the marijuana site is "obvious" to anyone driving by.

"Of course, the older people don't want any of that. They just want Isleton to stay the way it is.

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