SAN FRANCISCO — An investigation that started with the discovery of $24,000 in a piece of luggage has led to a murder indictment against four people alleged to be part of a multistate marijuana trafficking ring.

At the center of the case is a man named Marcus Etienne, a New Orleans native who  authorities say ordered others to kill a man in Oakland. He is accused of running a drug ring referred to as the “Etienne Enterprise,” which allegedly shipped hundreds of pounds of Northern California-grown marijuana to Louisiana.

[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section” curated_ids=””]Etienne, who reportedly uses the alias “Hitler,” was indicted last week on federal charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to traffic marijuana, racketeering, and murder in connection with a continuing criminal enterprise.

Three other defendants, Elizabeth Gobert — Etienne’s wife — as well as two alleged members of the Etienne Enterprise, Mario Robinson, and Craig Marshall — have been hit with the same charges. They all face life sentences if convicted.

“Whenever you’re talking about a conspiracy there’s somebody in there who has to be credible. It doesn’t sound like there are a whole lot of (witnesses) they’re going to find trustworthy,” Etienne’s attorney, Darryl Stalworth, said. “I am skeptical but I will hold back my skepticism until I’ve had a chance to look at the discovery.”

The four are charged with murdering Trince Thibodeaux, a New Orleans native who was gunned down in March 2016, on the 8900 block of International Boulevard in Oakland. Federal investigators say they found later that Thibodeaux owed Etienne money, and that he’d been driving a car registered to Gobert when he was killed.

At the time of the indictment, Etienne and Gobert were already facing charges of trafficking marijuana. Investigators linked Etienne to another homicide in the New Orleans area, but have not charged him to date.

Marcus Etienne, 36, was indicted for allegedly trafficking marijuana but authorities say he's suspected of ordering two homicides. (Lafayette Parish County Sheriff)

Marcus Etienne, 36, was indicted for allegedly trafficking marijuana but
authorities say he’s suspected of ordering two homicides. (Lafayette Parish
County Sheriff)

Authorities say Etienne and other alleged co-conspirators travelled from marijuana farms in Eureka and Arcata to the Bay Area, finding various means — including the postal service — to ship pot to Louisiana. Conservative estimates say around 360 pounds were being shipped per month, according to the FBI.

Prosecutors say Etienne kept members of the ring in line through threats of violent retaliation, against not only rival drug dealers but people who disobeyed his rules. The conspiracy charges allege that in May 2017 — while Etienne and Gobert remained in federal custody — the four hatched a plot to kill another unnamed person.

Another man named Ronald Savoy, who authorities allege was involved in Etienne’s ring, later told investigators he believed Etienne had ordered someone to kill Thibodeaux. Five months later, somebody kicked in the door to Savoy’s trailer in a rural part of Louisiana and shot him multiple times. He died, and to date, no one has been charged, according to the FBI.

The investigation into the Etienne Enterprise started at George Washington International Airport in Houston, where Etienne and Gobert were found with a bag totaling nearly $24,000 in cash. They also found a receipt in Gobert’s purse that was later tied to a mail shipment of nearly 50 pounds of pot. In an interview, Etienne admitted to getting marijuana from “white people in Humboldt,” according to an FBI affidavit.

After Etienne was indicted on a single count of marijuana trafficking in February, he is alleged to have contacted an unidentified co-conspirator and asked the man to destroy evidence. Authorities searched his home but did not find the “shoebox” Etienne allegedly asked the person to destroy.

Federal murder charges are rare, and can only be filed in certain unusual instances, including homicides committed in the course of drug trafficking. A search of federal court records found no other murder cases filed by U.S. Attorneys in the Northern District. Last year, an alleged gang member was federally indicted for allegedly orchestrating a homicide in Salinas.

The four defendants remain in federal custody, but Gobert, Marshall and Robinson are still awaiting extradition to the Bay Area.