The ONA Sugarleaf Rastafarian Church, caught up in the aftermath of Tuesday’s officer-involved shooting near Oregon House, is facing more trouble in the form of a raid, and a cease and desist order.
After an ex-con with warrants out for his arrest shot two Yuba County deputies near a Sugarleaf marijuana grow in Oregon House, another church property was raided Wednesday in Calaveras County — more than 12,000 plants were confiscated and at least a dozen people arrested, according to media reports.[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section” curated_ids=””]Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio told a local TV station that flights over a number of properties in Mountain Ranch indicated to law enforcement that armed guards were driving around.
Also, in May, a member of the church was arrested at the Stockton Airport for allegedly attempting to transport hundreds of pieces of edible cannabis to another church in Las Vegas.
Heidi Lepp, the reverend, founder and CEO of the church, said in a phone interview Thursday the Calaveras County raid was ‘desecrating church property,’ which is her complaint of the many code enforcement issues her church has faced up and down the state.
When asked why the church isn’t listed as receiving property tax exemptions as a church with the Yuba County Assessor’s Office, she said Sugarleaf is an unincorporated church and does not have to sign such paperwork.
The owner of the parcel in the 9000 block of Marysville Road, near where the shooting occurred, is registered to Jevaughn Bennett, with a New York address. Lepp said Bennett is a member of the Sugarleaf Rastafarian church. Bennett did not reply to a Facebook request for comment.
The suspect who shot the two Yuba County deputies Tuesday, Mark Anthony Sanchez, was described by police as being a caretaker for a marijuana garden near the residence where he died.
Lepp said Sanchez was not a member of the church, but instead was affiliated with that neighboring property, and had been causing the church trouble for weeks.
Lepp also said her heart goes out to the deputies who were shot, and a third officer, who pulled them out of the residence to safety. She said while calling 911 that day, she warned deputies of the danger they faced from the suspect, and feels she wasn’t taken seriously.
—My heart goes out to those people and when you hear those 911 tapes, people will think differently of me,’ Lepp said. ‘We’re saying a lot of prayers for law enforcement and appreciate that they came out in full force for us.’
Lepp also addressed the church’s association with the Oklevueha Native American Church (the ‘ONA’ that Sugarleaf claims to be an affiliate of). That church reportedly wants no association with the Lepps.
In a cease and desist order dated Sunday — two days before the Oregon House shooting — the ONAC told the Lepps to immediately cease presenting themselves as church elders, branch leaders, or medicine persons associated with ONAC; using the ONAC name, symbol or proprietary materials; and to remove the ONAC name from all filed legal actions with federal, state and local courts.
—We have bestowed on you sacred responsibilities within the church because we believed in your professed integrity, sincerity, and dedication to our principals,’ the letter reads. ‘However, it is now evident to the Church that your only commitment is to financial gain and power. You have conferred titles and power upon yourselves without consent from the Church.’
Both Sugarleaf and ONAC say they help church members in legal battles about use or possession of marijuana, a religious sacrament to them.
James Mooney, co-founder of ONAC, said Thursday that the Native American church does not practice Rastafarianism, and that the Lepps tried mashing the two together. Mooney said ONAC has not received any money that the Lepps claim they have given to the church.
—They are not an ONAC church, period, and they do not deserve same protections,’ Mooney said.
Heidi Lepp said Sugarleaf had given ONAC more than $50,000 and ONAC sent its troubled members to Sugarleaf, all of whom the Rastafarian church helped.
—If anyone is selling fake churches, it isn’t me,’ Lepp said. ‘How do you call yourself a church and not protect your members ‘. You just take their money and not respond?’
To subscribe to The Cannifornian’s email newsletter, click here.