Reports about Stylios Trachanas's court appearance on Friday led with his role as a medical marijuana caregiver, as did a U.S. Attorney's Office release. But while his MMJ work will contribute to his sentence, he may not have been arrested at all if he hadn't used and possessed weapons forbidden to him -- because he's a convicted murderer.
U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Jeff Dorschner provides us with the details of an inquiry that started with the Boulder County Sheriff's Office but soon migrated to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, commonly known as the ATF.
On April 15 of last year, "witnesses heard a substantial number of shots being fired by firearms" near Vermillion Road in Boulder County, Dorschner says. "These witnesses called the police, and one witness got a license plate number for the vehicle that was driven by the person responsible for the shots."
At that point, he goes on, the sheriff's office began an investigation that led to Trachanas, 41. As a Boulder County resident, he served as a caregiver for at least nine medical marijuana patients -- hence his possession of between fifty and 100 plants, accompanied by required state paperwork. But prior to this vocation, he spent enough time in Harris County, Texas to rack up three felony convictions -- obtaining a controlled substance by telephone, unlawfully and intentionally possessing a controlled substance (cocaine) and first-degree murder.
As such, Trachanas wasn't supposed to own weapons, but authorities found a slew of them -- a .380 caliber pistol with a suppressor, a 9 mm caliber pistol, an M12 pistol and a Street Sweeper 12 gauge shotgun that can expel an explosive or other projectile. The Street Sweeper "is a very serious weapon that can cause substantial damage," Dorschner notes. "You actually have to register them with the ATF to possess them."
Shockingly, Trachanas didn't do so.
The discovery of the weapons cache prompted a transfer of the case from the sheriff's office "to the ATF and the U.S. Marshals," Dorschner says. And because of the jurisdictional change, the medical marijuana, which would likely have been legal under Boulder County regulations, suddenly became illicit under federal rules. As you know, the feds do not recognize medical marijuana and consider all pot to be a Schedule I narcotic.
This is an important distinction. Under Boulder County rules, Trachanas could only have gotten into trouble if the number of plants in his possession exceeded the six-per-patient limit established (with some exceptions) by Colorado law. But to the feds, the total only mattered in terms of establishing the proper sentencing range.
"Marijuana cultivation aside, you have a convicted murderer illegally possessing a number of firearms," Dorschner stresses. "But marijuana was found during the execution of the search warrant, and that was included as part of the prosecution, because it's contraband. And when an agent comes into contact with contraband, they have to seize it."
That's something the folks at the Cherry Top Farms dispensary understand very well. Last year, DEA agents were tracking a series of individuals thought to be trafficking in marijuana, and they followed them to Cherry Top. There, they confiscated 2,500 cannabis plants that were legal in Colorado but illicit federally. Dorschner told us at the time that the dispensary was never a target of the investigation, but it was shut down anyhow because of the contraband rule.
For his part, Trachanas has pleaded guilty to a number of weapons charges, including possession of a firearm and ammunition by a prohibited person and possession of a firearm not registered with the ATF, as well as possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. And while the latter offenses may seem tangential to the former, they can lead to a longer jolt behind bars. Each of the two weapons charges can net a maximum of ten years in prison, with potential fines of $250,000 and $10,000 respectively. And the marijuana charge's possible penalties? Up to twenty years in prison and a fine of as much as $1 million.
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Trachanas will be sentenced in June.
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More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Carl Gruber, busted at Boulder airport with 55 pounds of marijuana, is renowned pilot."