Two weeks after she was ordered to return $100,000 seized from a medical marijuana entrepreneur and his family, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis filed a sweeping criminal complaint against the business owner, four employees and his lawyer.
Dumanis filed charges Wednesday against James Slatic, who owned Med-West Distribution in Kearny Mesa until drug agents raided the business in January 2016 and confiscated the inventory, equipment, records and $324,000 in cash.
The 15-page felony complaint also names two Med-West executives, two other employees and attorney Jessica McElfresh, who is accused of conspiring to hide evidence of illegal activities during an inspection of the business in 2015.
The complaint alleges that the defendants illegally manufactured a concentrated form of marijuana known as hash oil and distributed it across the country. They are alleged to have sold the unlawful products for more than $3.2 million.
In a prepared statement, Dumanis said the case was extremely complicated. She said it took investigators more than 16 months to examine the evidence and determine whether the business was in violation of state medical-marijuana laws.
“We wanted to be thorough and make sure we got it right,” she said.
Slatic, who successfully challenged the seizure of his personal and family assets, said Wednesday that he first learned of the criminal charges when contacted by The San Diego Union-Tribune.
“Amazing that after 16 months and right after we get our family’s money back, the district attorney brings these charges in complete opposition to the California state law legalizing this conduct and industry,” he said in an email. “I can’t help but think this is vindictive prosecution.”
Dumanis spokesman Steven Walker did not respond to follow-up questions about Slatic’s assertion that he was singled out for challenging the civil forfeiture.
The charges come just weeks before Dumanis vacates the District Attorney’s Office. She announced last month that she was resigning in midterm, effective July 7.
The raid of the Med-West offices in January 2016 made national news, in part because city officials, police and other inspectors had repeatedly visited the business with no criminal charges resulting for months.
According to the complaint, Slatic and other defendants were illegally manufacturing the concentrated hash oil, which is not permitted under state medical-marijuana laws.
“The object of the conspiracy was to use flammable, volatile and toxic chemicals to extract THC from marijuana, to purify concentrated marijuana, to sell concentrated cannabis for a profit and to hide such activity from city inspectors,” it states.
Days after the raid, agents also froze personal assets of just over $100,000 owned by Slatic, his wife and two daughters. With help from the nonprofit law firm Institute for Justice in Washington D.C., Slatic prevailed in a civil case challenging the forfeiture and earlier this month.
A separate civil asset forfeiture case challenging the seizure of the $324,000 in cash found at Med-West Distribution in 2016 is still pending.
McElfresh is accused of removing evidence from the business ahead of a scheduled inspection and intentionally misleading city inspectors during a visit to the company in 2015.
“On or about April 27, 2015, Jessica McElfresh, acting as an attorney for Med-West, visited 8210 Engineer Road to ensure all evidence of the manufacturing and possession of concentrated cannabis was removed before the scheduled inspection of April 28, 2015,” the complaint states.
McElfresh did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The allegations also say the San Diego attorney emailed Slatic after the inspection to alert him that the inspectors were suspicious of what they found at the facility, which also handled paper and packaging materials.
“I’m convinced they walked away knowing it wasn’t a dispensary in the typical sense…but it probably seemed like something other than just paper,” McElfresh continued, “We did a really, really good job giving them plausible deniability – and it was clear to them it wasn’t a dispensary. But, I think they suspected it was something else more than paper.”
The District Attorney’s Office said it executed search warrants at McElfresh’s home and office Wednesday.
Before it closed as a result of the January 2016 raid, Med-West Distribution was selling vape cartridges, topical creams and other cannabis-related products to dispensaries across the region.
At a November hearing over the $100,000 seized from Slatic and his family, an expert hired by the family testified that the process the company used to create the products did not violate state drug-manufacturing laws. The District Attorney’s Office contested that assertion.
The defendants were not arrested Wednesday. According to the District Attorney’s Office, they will be notified of the charges by mail, with an arraignment in court set for June 15.
© 2017 San Diego Union Tribune (San Diego, Calif.) Visit The Union Tribune at www.sandiegouniontribune.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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