A Willits man could spend up to five years in jail for growing marijuana
and failing to pay taxes on his crop's income as a result of shooting
himself in the leg, according to the District Attorney's Office.

However, a judge has indicated Adam Field Lee, 32, is more likely to get
jail time and probation, according to his attorney, Dave Nelson.

Lee on Tuesday pleaded no contest to possession of marijuana for sale and
four counts of felony income tax evasion in exchange with other charges
against him being dropped, according to Deputy District Attorney Brian Newman.

Charging marijuana growers with tax evasion is unusual, Newman said, but
warranted in this case.

"He hadn't filed any tax returns in five years," he said of Lee. Despite no
visible legal means of support during that time, Lee was able to purchase
his Sherwood Road property for $25,000 down and paid off the other $200,000
plus 10 percent interest - to the former owners - in four years, he said.

Charging Lee with tax evasion "is making the point that large-scale
commercial marijuana production is not only a drug crime, it is also an
economic crime," Newman said.

Newman said Lee managed to stay under the radars of law enforcement and
taxing agencies until his last birthday, Sept. 30.

He reportedly was practicing a gun-twirling trick he'd seen in the movie
"Tombstone," when the weapon, a Ruger 9 mm semi-automatic pistol,
discharged. The bullet struck Lee in the thigh, requiring he go to the
hospital for treatment.

"What saved his leg is he had a huge wad of money in his pocket, almost
$2,000," Newman said. But the bullet still caused a lot of damage, he said.

"The poor guy is still walking with a limp," Newman said.

When Sheriff's deputies arrived at the hospital to question Lee and a
friend about the shooting, they determined the men's stories didn't quite
match and, upon further questioning, Lee revealed he grew marijuana.

Worried someone else was wounded, or possibly dead, in a marijuana garden
somewhere, deputies asked for, and were granted, a search warrant, Newman said.

"They had visions of a gun battle in the marijuana fields," he said.

When law enforcement arrived at Lee's property, they reportedly found 215
mature, budded marijuana plants with an estimated value of more than $400,000.

They also found what Newman called a partial methamphetamine lab.

Newman, who normally handles civil cases, said it became clear as he
evaluated the case that Lee had made a substantial amount of money and that
he had not been paying taxes. He also checked with the state Employment
Development Department and found there was no record of Lee holding a
legitimate job for at least several years.

That left marijuana growing as a means of support, something Lee apparently
did well, Newman said.

"If they gave blue ribbons for growing marijuana at the county fair, he'd
have been in line to get one," Newman said. "He was growing some pretty
spectacular marijuana."

Largely because the tax evasion charges in connection with drugs is
unusual, Newman said his office decided to have a grand jury determine
whether the charges were warranted, given the current, generally tolerant
attitude about marijuana.

"I think many people aren't offended if somebody grows a little marijuana,"
Newman said. "But not paying their fair share of taxes, I do think people
get properly offended by that."

Jurors found all the charges filed initially - marijuana cultivation,
possession of marijuana for sale, manufacture of methamphetamine, five
counts of willful failure to file income tax returns and special
allegations of being armed in the commission of a felony and being armed
during the commission of an enumerated drug felony - were warranted by
issuing an indictment, Newman said.

He said there were no medical marijuana claims to deal with, which likely
would have resulted in a different sort of case.

"This man grows marijuana because he makes a lot of money growing
marijuana," Newman said.

Nelson challenged both the grand jury indictment and the search warrant,
but the challenges were denied. The last of the challenges was dismissed
July 22.

Lee faces up to five years, six months in prison and a fine of $80,000 as
well as paying for the costs of investigating and prosecuting the case,
Newman said.

District Attorney Norm Vroman said this is the first time in his tenure
that someone's been charged with tax evasion in connection with marijuana
cultivation.

"It's the exception, not the rule," he said. "This fellow's earned the
right to be in that category," he said.

Nelson said it's the first time he knows of any Mendocino County district
attorney filing tax evasion charges against a marijuana grower. It's
ironic, he said, that Vroman who was himself convicted of failing to file
tax returns is the one to do so.


Pubdate: Fri, 01 Aug 2003
Source: Ukiah Daily Journal, The (CA)
Copyright: 2003, MediaNews Group, Inc.
Contact: udj@pacific.net
Website: http://www.ukiahdailyjournal.com/