Feds raid Keene camp in pot bust
Vermont residents face up to 20 years in prison
KEENE — Two Vermont residents with ties to a rural camp in Keene are facing federal charges and up to 20 years in prison for allegedly conspiring to sell marijuana out of their skateboard shop.
As states loosen marijuana laws, the federal government is reminding people it is still illegal nationally. Vermont state lawmakers legalized marijuana possession last year, effectively allowing residents there to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana and between two to four immature marijuana plants. But the recreational sale of marijuana remains illegal, and consumption of the drug in public is still prohibited. The U.S. attorney’s office in Vermont, however, warned in a news release that “those who deal this drug and have prior criminal records, those who deal it to children or in their presence, those who engage in violence while dealing it, those who deal it for high profit and those who deal it in areas of high commercial foot traffic” would continue to receive “heightened attention” from their office.
Attorneys for the accused duo have told Vermont news outlets that they don’t think Vermonters would support the criminal action being leveled against their clients and wish that government resources would be “spent in other ways.”
John Van Hazinga, 41, and Samantha Steady, 45, who own and manage the Ridin’ High Skate Shop in Burlington, Vermont, were arrested and arraigned in federal court last Thursday. There they pleaded not guilty to conspiring to distribute both marijuana and edibles with THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. A grand jury had previously indicted the duo on those charges.
Van Hazinga has been charged with 10 criminal counts, including conspiracy to distribute marijuana; distribution, manufacture and possession of marijuana; and maintaining a residence used for storing, distributing and using marijuana. Steady is charged with six similar counts.
The charges were levied after Burlington police launched an investigation into claims that unidentified people at the skate shop had sold a teenager marijuana.
As police investigated the report, Van Hazinga allegedly sold marijuana over-the-counter to an undercover officer, and police found that Steady had manufactured THC-infused edibles being sold at the business, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Vermont.
Throughout the course of the investigation, Burlington police were also repeatedly called to Ridin’ High for reports of disturbances there, including altercations and violence that allegedly stemmed from marijuana sales, federal prosecutors say.
After obtaining search warrants, on Aug. 6 law enforcement searched an email account Steady allegedly used to take orders for THC-infused edibles. That same day, police searched the duo’s skate shop, their home in Underhill, Vermont, as well as a camp in Keene. It’s unclear where, specifically, this camp was located. Burlington police and the U.S. attorney’s office did not immediately respond for comment Sunday afternoon.
At those three locations, law enforcement seized more than 50 marijuana plants, 11 pounds of marijuana, numerous edibles that police suspect are infused with THC, as well as $67,000.
Van Hazinga and Steady were arrested and arraigned in U.S. District Court before U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Conroy last Thursday. Steady was released on conditions; Hazinga was detained pending a detention hearing, which is slated for Wednesday.
If the two are convicted on the federal conspiracy charge, they could face up to 20 years in prison, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
This isn’t Van Hazinga’s first drug-related charge. He was previously convicted on felony charges in 2014 for cultivating 25 or more marijuana plants, according to VTDigger, a Vermont-based investigative news website. He was also charged in 2016 for possessing one pound or more of marijuana. Last year, he allegedly sold marijuana at the skate shop in front of his parole officer.
Van Hazinga is being represented by Paul Volk, and Steady by Timothy Fair and Andrew Subin. All three attorneys are based in Burlington.
Subin told Vermont’s Seven Days newspaper last week that they “had hopes and would wish that the resources of the government would be spent in other ways.” He said Vermont residents wouldn’t support “this level of criminal action against these guys.”
Fair told the Associated Press that he’s “a little curious to wonder why law enforcement and prosecutorial resources are being used on something like cannabis.”
U.S. Attorney Christina E. Nolan said in a statement that the collaboration between Burlington police and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration on this case “once again send(s) the message that open and notorious trafficking of marijuana will not be tolerated.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ophardt is representing the United States in this case.