The money was running out. The bills were coming due. And prospects for a new job seemed bleak.
Then, while surfing the Internet a few months ago, Rhonda Quince says she stumbled across a Web site that promised an opportunity for good money and the freedom to work from home.
She could start her own business: growing and selling marijuana.
"I figured I'd give it a shot," Quince said Thursday. "I thought I might be able to sell it and pay some bills."
Quince never got that far.
Instead, Quince and her boyfriend of the past 16 years, Jeffrey Scott Wagner, were arrested earlier this week in connection with running a suspected marijuana-growing operation from their home west of Brooksville.
Quince, 44, and Wagner, 52, each face a single count of cultivation of marijuana. They were taken to county jail and released after each posted $5,000 bail.
Quince is adamant that Wagner had nothing to do with the operation.
"He was totally against it," she said. "He fought with me and wouldn't even sleep in the same bed with me. But I kept asking him, 'What choice did we have?' "
According to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, deputies learned of the grow operation at the couple's home at 12491 Sun Road after receiving a tip. They showed up at the house just before 1 p.m. Tuesday.
During a subsequent search of the home, authorities found more than 130 marijuana plants, a bag containing 37 rotting plants and other equipment common to grow operations, according to an arrest affidavit.
Most of the plants were kept in the house under an artificial light, the report said. Others were grown in an open area surrounded by a 6-foot-high privacy fence near an aluminum shed in their back yard.
"We try to act on every tip that we get," said Sgt. Donna Black, spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office. "Frankly, people don't want this in their neighborhood and then they call us."
Over the past several years, there have been a number of large grow-house operations discovered in homes across Hernando County.
These are the suspects in the most recent case: Quince is a sixth-grade dropout, mother of four children and a homemaker for much of her adult life. Wagner is a former painting business owner and avid pigeon flier who suffers from debilitating heart problems.
Before coming to Florida, they lived in Gloucester, Mass., where they raised seven children — all of them from previous marriages — in what Quince called a "big, two-story house with a lot of rooms."
But Wagner started having health troubles, the kids were getting older and moving away, and his desire to race pigeons grew stronger. Wagner had made several trips to Hernando County for races and thought it would be a good place for the couple to settle.
So Wagner and Quince sold the home and the painting business, and they bought a three-bedroom home on Sun Road in July 2006 for $130,000.
Soon after, they started having money troubles.
"We thought we'd be on our feet," Quince said. "But things kept getting worse."
Wagner's health problems worsened, and his mounting medical bills quickly drained their savings. Meanwhile, Quince's attempt to make money selling aquarium lights on the Internet was mostly unsuccessful.
"I was looking around on the Internet a lot for jobs," she said. "I didn't want to go on the street and hold up a can."
That's when she says she found a couple of Web sites that sold marijuana seeds.
But big-time drug dealer she is not, Quince said. She claimed she knows little to nothing about the drug; she said she's only tried it a couple of times in the past.
Her efforts to grow marijuana plants didn't go well; most of them died before she had a chance to harvest them. And even if she had produced a healthy crop, Quince said, she had no clue how she would have sold the plants.
"It was completely stupid," she said. "I didn't know what I was doing."
Wagner said he repeatedly pleaded with her to stop.
"We both know it's against the law," he said. "But I'll be damned if I was going to call the cops on her."
Now Quince and Wagner must await their legal fate. Prosecutor Don Barbee said it's unlikely that anyone charged with cultivation of marijuana — a third-degree felony — would have to spend time behind bars.
If convicted, they could face as many as five years in prison. But Barbee said most first-time offenders get pretrial intervention or probation.
Neither Quince nor Wagner has a criminal history.
Meanwhile, the couple's money problems still loom large. And Quince has all but run out of ideas for earning a paycheck.
"They're going to turn everything off over here," she said. "I'm willing to do anything as long as it's legal. I'm never going to jail again."
NewsHawk: User: http://www.420magazine.com/
Author: Gavin Larter
Copyright: 2010 Greg Smith
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Website: OfficialWire: Women Arrested For Buying Marijuana Seeds Over Internet