Search-warrant affidavits give insight into sting operation on local collectives—and in many cases the evidence appears flimsy
Remember back in June, when the sheriff called in law-enforcement help from all over the North State to raid eight local medical-marijuana dispensaries and their owners’ homes? Well, the search-warrant affidavits have finally been unsealed, and what they reveal is extremely interesting.
For one, they explain exactly how the Butte County Sheriff’s Office conducted its sting operation on local cooperatives.
Second, they explain how deputies discovered the identities of the people who own and/or run those cooperatives.
And third, they give reasons why search warrants were needed.
In Dylan Tellesen’s case, those explanations are especially disturbing. What most bothers him and his wife, Hilary—aside from the fact that they were in no way connected to any of the cooperatives—is that in an effort to secure a search warrant officers placed a GPS tracker on his vehicle.
“It’s a very questionable tactic for law enforcement, especially without a warrant,” Dylan Tellesen said during a recent interview just minutes after reading the affidavit for the first time.
The affidavit that includes Tellesen is linked to CPC, which the Sheriff’s Office erroneously identifies as Citizen Patient Collective (a quick Google search reveals it actually stands for California Patients Collective, a group that at the time had operations in Redding and Chico).
Tellesen has been outspoken about his plans for a place called Citizen Collective, meeting with Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney, City Council members, even Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey to make sure he does everything legitimately. He was quoted in this paper more than a year ago clearly stating he would not open up shop until an ordinance was in place. That article (“The Citizen Collective,” Oct. 29, 2009) is also quoted in the affidavit that links Tellesen to CPC.
“It’s alarming, given my situation. There’s so much information about me that’s public,” Tellesen said. “I met with Mike Ramsey and we talked for 90 minutes. He had my business card, and it looked nothing like CPC.”
Ramsey is widely considered the mastermind behind the sting operations, something the affidavits bear out.
When asked how they determined CPC stood for “Citizen Patient Collective,” both Jacob Hancock, the former deputy sheriff who penned the affidavits and now works in the DA’s Office, and Sgt. Steve Collins of the Special Enforcement Unit that oversaw the raid, declined to comment. They also declined to comment on the practice of using GPS trackers during investigations except to confirm their use.
The GPS topic is a timely one, considering it’s come before several courts this year. In August, the federal Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C., decided on a case involving the use of a GPS tracker on a person’s vehicle without a warrant, deeming it an infringement on the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights.
Part of the court’s explanation references California’s laws and reads: “[T]he Legislature of California, in making it unlawful for anyone but a law enforcement agency to ‘use an electronic tracking device to determine the location or movement of a person,’ specifically declared ‘electronic tracking of a person’s location without that person’s knowledge violates that person’s reasonable expectation of privacy,’ and implicitly but necessarily thereby required a warrant for police use of a GPS.”
Tellesen wasn’t the only one who was tracked using a GPS device. But he does appear to be the only person searched who was never seen in or near the collective he supposedly owned. He said he definitely felt his privacy was violated.
The sting operation, which began May 11 and continued through the end of the month, involved four different attempts at buying marijuana from each collective. The first was with no recommendation. The only collective that appears to have sold to the agent without a recommendation was CPC.
The second agent went in with a fraudulent recommendation, created on a computer, with a phone number that went to a non-answering phone at the Chico Police Department. Just one collective, Scripts Only Service, sold marijuana to this agent.
The third undercover officer presented a valid recommendation on which the name had been altered. When every collective checked with the doctor’s office, however, the office validated only the recommendation number, not the name associated with it. So, every collective allowed this officer to buy medical marijuana.
The fourth and final officer had a valid recommendation for himself and, unsurprisingly, was granted access to every collective.
While the aforementioned officers were inside each collective—they did not necessarily go into each location in the order listed—they took note of the employees, the clientele, the marijuana on offer and in most instances asked about the owner and whether the collective would buy marijuana from a nonmember. In this way, they collected information about each place.
With the information from the sting, Hancock, who wrote each affidavit, requested a search warrant from the judge based on the evidence. In every case, he wrote, “… sales are being made to persons with fraudulent recommendations, and there is total non compliance with verification of the authenticity of the recommendations in several instances set forth above.”
This statement ruffled the feathers of Robert Galia, who runs North Valley Holistic Health.
“How can you sit there and conclude that ‘as seen from the many instances set forth above’ we were in ‘total noncompliance with standard verification procedures,’ when all of the examples clearly showed that we were in fact turning these professional con artists out by their ear?” he told the CN&R.
Following the sting operation, the officers—with help from the Butte Interagency Narcotics Task Force—did surveillance on the collectives in order to determine the owners/CEOs. In most cases, vehicles were spotted outside the collectives several days in a row, and the DMV photographs of the drivers of those vehicles were matched with intel from the officers who had met those people inside the collectives. In most cases, the homes of those people were also watched, and some of them were followed for several hours as they drove around.
In Tellesen’s and one other case, however, officers used a GPS tracker to monitor where they went. The other case was connected to Northern California Herbal Collective, and the GPS tracked movement between the man’s home and the area of the collective over several days.
Tellesen, on the other hand, drove to Butte College—where he was teaching summer school—and then Redding, where he had been commissioned to paint a mural.
“The fact that a CPC employee stated the owner of CPC was in Redding, California and the fact that I independently obtained information that Dylan Tellesen’s vehicle was in Redding, California further shows that Dylan Tellesen is the owner of CPC,” reads the affidavit. “… [a deputy] located a local news article that states Dylan Tellesen works at Butte College. … The aforementioned information and the fact Dylan Tellesen traveled to Butte College further shows that Dylan Tellesen is the owner of CPC.”
Tellesen laughed after reading that statement.
“I work at Butte College, therefore I own CPC?” he said in disbelief.
Both Tellesen and Galia find the information in their respective affidavits ridiculous, especially since no arrests have yet been made in connection with the raids.
“This document was, from its inception, crafted with the sole intent of misleading and tricking a judge into signing a warrant,” Galia said. “What’s laughable here is that no cannabis user would bother to try to forge a document—they are too easy to get!”
For Tellesen, the issue goes even further, since he was in no way connected to CPC but he and his family were subjected to a police search nonetheless. In fact, one employee at CPC, according to the affidavit, named the owner as “Will,” not Dylan, yet no further investigation appears to have been done (although Collins assured this reporter that “Will” is being investigated).
“I committed no crime. I gave them no probable cause,” said Tellesen, adding that he wished he had a lawyer. “It’s scary to be a part of it, but it’s also scary for everybody in this county—especially anyone who is an outspoken advocate for something the DA doesn’t agree with.”