Update: Earlier this week, we told you about an investigation in Las Vegas targeting Pierre Werner, who ran a Boulder dispensary under his nickname, Dr. Reefer, before Colorado law established that a former felon like himself couldn't own an MMJ center. Now, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Nevada has unsealed complaints in the matter -- and Werner faces multiple marijuana-related charges, as do his mother and brother. See the indictment below.
Although Werner is described as an "outspoken activist" in a Las Vegas Journal-Review article about the bust, his attorney, Conrad Claus speaks for him throughout the piece. Claus contends that Nevada's medical marijuana law, which makes MMJ sale illegal but allows patients to grow their own medicine, is unconstitutional because compliance is "impossible" and suggests that Werner was busted in part due to his prominence as an advocate.
The Dr. Reefer business in Las Vegas, which Werner's portrayed as a referral service, not a dispensary, is owned by his mom, Reynalda Barnett. Claus tells the Journal-Review that Werner participated in the business only as a "supportive family member" and has no role in day-to-day operations.
According to Natalie Collins, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Nevada, Werner and the other defendants in the case will make their initial appearances before a U.S. Magistrate Judge at 3 p.m. Denver time today. Look below to see a release about the case from Nevada, as well as the complete indictment, followed by our earlier coverage:
OPERATION "CHRONIC PROBLEM" RESULTS IN FEDERAL CHARGES AGAINST NEVADA MARIJUANA DISPENSARY OPERATORS
LAS VEGAS -- Federal charges have been filed against 15 individuals alleging they were distributing marijuana in violation of federal and state law through the operation of storefront medical marijuana businesses, announced Daniel G. Bogden, United States Attorney for the District of Nevada. Federal and local authorities arrested 11 of the individuals in Las Vegas and one individual in Los Angeles this morning.
The defendants are charged in four criminal complaints filed in federal court in Las Vegas on December 17, 2010, and unsealed today. Charges include conspiracy to distribute marijuana, distribution of marijuana, conspiracy to commit money laundering, distribution of marijuana near schools or colleges, possession of a firearm in relation to drug trafficking, and failing to disclose or concealing information concerning Social Security benefits. Businesses named in the criminal complaints include, The Happiness Consultant (THC), the Nevada Compassionate Center, Dr. Reefer, LV Fingerprinting, and Organic Releaf.
"I commend all the agencies assisting in this joint investigation for their outstanding efforts," said U.S. Attorney Bogden. "The Department of Justice is committed to the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act. Prosecution of individuals, who operate commercial enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana in violation of both federal and state law, will continue to be a focus of our enforcement efforts. Nothing in the Nevada Medical Marijuana Act permits the establishment of such commercial enterprises in Nevada. Yet, drug intelligence information indicates there are currently 45 to 60 of these marijuana trafficking enterprises operating unlawfully in the Las Vegas Valley alone. Our joint law enforcement efforts to apprehend these drug traffickers are ongoing."
"Today's arrests were the result of a joint law enforcement investigation developed to identify those individuals distributing harmful drugs illegally under both state and federal law," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Timothy J. Landrum. "Marijuana remains a top revenue source for drug organizations, and young people are often misinformed about this drug whose potency has tripled in the past 20 years and sends more youth to treatment than any other drug. Accordingly, DEA will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to identify and investigate those responsible for propagating this dangerous drug."
The criminal complaints allege that the defendants are owners/operators and/or employees of "medical marijuana" dispensaries in Las Vegas. The complaints state that these dispensaries are being established throughout Nevada with increasing frequency, and that the dispensaries are actually just storefront businesses operating to sell marijuana for profit. Storefront marijuana dispensaries are not recognized under Nevada law, and it is illegal to sell medical marijuana in Nevada. If you are a medical marijuana patient or caregiver in Nevada, you must grow your own marijuana. The dispensaries frequently seek protection under Nevada law by claiming they are primary caregivers to medical marijuana patients; however, they do not "consistently assume responsibility for the housing, health, or safety" of their customers as a primary caregiver is required to do under state law. The dispensaries also typically acquire the marijuana they sell from third-party vendors, and there is no state law in Nevada that allows for the production and sale of marijuana from third-party vendors to dispensaries. The dispensaries often claim that they are requiring "donations" rather than compensation in return for marijuana, in an effort to conceal the unlawful nature of their business.
Following is a list of defendants charged, and their ages and cities of residence. The defendants are expected to make initial appearances before a federal magistrate judge in Las Vegas on Friday, January 7, 2011.
Case No. 2:10-mj-1023-GWF John BIRMELE, 36, aka Mr. Happy, of Las Vegas, NV Kelly BIRMELE, 36, of Las Vegas, NV Laura RHOADES-YOKOI, 36, of Henderson, NV John Allen YOUNGBLOOD, 40, of Los Angeles, CA Timothy HOUGH, 31, of Henderson, NV Michael ELLSWORTH, 57, of Henderson, NV
Conspiracy to distribute marijuana and hashish(John and Kelly Birmele, Ellsworth, Hough, and Youngblood); distribution of marijuana (John and Kelly Birmele, Ellsworth, and Hough); possession with intent to distribute marijuana and hashish (John and Kelly Birmele and Hough); possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime (Hough and John Birmele); money laundering conspiracy - promotion (John Birmele and Youngblood); money laundering conspiracy - concealment (Kelly Birmele and Rhoades-Yokoi); money laundering (John Birmele); failing to disclose or concealing information affecting SS benefits (John Birmele).
Case No.2:10-mj-1024-GWF Reynalda BARNETT, aka Reyna Barnett, 59, of Las Vegas, NV Clyde BARNETT, 21, of Las Vegas, NV Pierre WERNER, 39, of Las Vegas, NV Ron TESTON, 57, of Las Vegas, NV Kristen KRUSYNA, 21, of Las Vegas, NV
Conspiracy to distribute marijuana (Reynalda and Clyde Barnett, Werner, Teston, and Krusyna); distribution of marijuana (Reynalda and Clyde Barnett , Krusyna, and Teston); possession with intent to distribute marijuana (Werner, Teston, and Reynalda Barnett); concealing or failing to disclose information affecting SS benefits (Werner and Reynalda Barnett).
Case No: 2:10-mj-1025-GWF Michael MCAULIFFE, 53, of Las Vegas, NV Katree Darriel SAUNDERS, 30, of Las Vegas, NV
Conspiracy to distribute marijuana and hashish (Mcauliffe and Saunders); distribution of marijuana (Mcauliff and Saunders); possession with intent to distribute marijuana and hashish (Mcauliff).
Case No.2:10-mj-1026-GWF Chad UHL, 26, of North Las Vegas, NV Caroline DELLAVILLE, 49, of Henderson, NV
Conspiracy to distribute marijuana and hashish (Uhl and Dellaville); distribution of marijuana (Uhl); possession with intent to manufacture marijuana (Uhl and Dellaville); possession with intent to distribute marijuana within 1000 feet of a school (Uhl and Dellaville); possession with intent to distribute marijuana and hashish (Uhl and Dellaville).
The investigation is being conducted as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) and the Nevada High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program. Specific agencies investigating the cases are the DEA, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, IRS Criminal Investigation, the Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and North Las Vegas Police Department. Assistant United States Attorneys Bradley W. Giles and Kishan Nair are prosecuting the cases on behalf of the United States.
The public is reminded that a criminal complaint is a preliminary charging document and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Further information on each case can be obtained through the federal court's PACER system, https://ecf.nvd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/login.pl.
Original item, January 5, 2:07 p.m.: Among the most colorful personalities to surface during Colorado's medical marijuana boom was Pierre Werner, who ran or planned multiple dispensaries using his nickname, Dr. Reefer. But Werner was forced to abandon the state after a law was passed banning former felons from owning MMJ centers -- and now he's in trouble over a Las Vegas branch that was recently the target of a police raid.
That's the skinny from the Boulder Daily Camera, which reports that the Nevada business was among several targeted during police raids in the fall. Werner told the Camera that the business is a referral service, not a dispensary, and that its owner of record is his mother. He adds that he hasn't been arrested or charged with a crime -- but authorities in Las Vegas, who seized assorted patient records during the search, confirm that an investigation is ongoing.
The inquiry is the latest obstacle to confront Werner, who's best known for the Dr. Reefer outlet that once graced Boulder. He planned to open another shop in Denver circa late 2009, but he faced political challenges that inspired him to take on Senator Chris Romer in this space. At the time, he described himself as a "three-time, non-violent convicted felon for possession with intent to sell medical marijuana." Most other news agencies cite only two felony convictions.
The following January, Werner made news of a different sort after confronting burglars attempting to break in to the Boulder Dr. Reefer branch. Check out a video of him telling this tale below.
Currently, DrReefer.com lists two operations -- the one in Las Vegas and a dispensary in Colorado Springs. However, Duy Dang, reached at the latter, says he's the owner of the center, not Werner. He adds that while he's not paying a fee to license the Dr. Reefer moniker, he is in touch with the original doc. "I'm just trying to keep the name alive in Colorado," he says.
Here's the Camera clip of Werner talking about dispensing pain to would-be crooks last year:
More from our Marijuana archive: "Colorado Teapot Party: Willie Nelson's legalized-pot movement finds a home here."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.